GREAT BARRINGTON

Here we go again. The Pittsfield Firefighters union wants one of the three top scorers on the chief's civil service exam to get the hiring nod from his honor, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. We have seen this happen time and again. If your mayor has integrity and is good at the job, wouldn't it make sense for that mayor to choose his or her own police and fire chiefs? That way, the nominees are more accountable to the mayor and are part of the leadership team. The commonwealth's civil service laws make it impossible for a mayor to control an overly difficult or ineffective police chief. Think of the business that you run. You want your people and you don't want your hands tied by some rule.

Here we go again. The Pittsfield Firefighters union wants one of the three top scorers on the chief's civil service exam to get the hiring nod from his honor, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. We have seen this happen time and again. If your mayor has integrity and is good at the job, wouldn't it make sense for that mayor to choose his or her own police and fire chiefs? That way, the nominees are more accountable to the mayor and are part of the leadership team. The commonwealth's civil service laws make it impossible for a mayor to control an overly difficult or ineffective police chief. Think of the business that you run. You want your people and you don't want your hands tied by some rule.

It is no surprise that when asked, the police and fire people inevitably want the person who passed the civil service test to get the job.


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Unfortunately, as Mayor Bianchi puts it, test results are only one of the criteria used when making the selection. Sometimes the best person for the job isn't necessarily the best test taker. What's more, everyone should have a boss. When you are protected by civil service you are, as the old joke goes, like an Atlas missile. You may not work and you can't be fired. The down side of not having a civil service chief is that the mayor may choose to appoint a politically connected nincompoop.

In order to get around Pittsfield's civil service laws, mayors have been appointing "acting" chiefs. This ticks off the unions who are now bringing the issue to a head. I say that if the mayor appoints a jerk, the people have the ability to throw him out in the next election. Neither way is perfect but on balance, I believe the mayor should appoint his choice and be held responsible. Of course, you might want to build in some minimal standards for the job.

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Rep. Ed Markey, the eastern part of the state's liberal congressman, recently came to Pittsfield. Some of the most progressive Democratic types in the Berkshires are supporting Markey against his more conservative primary opponent, Stephen J. Lynch. We hear that this is going to be a very close race. While Massachusetts is bathed in Democratic blue, history proves that its citizens are clearly capable of electing Republicans and conservative Democrats.

When Lynch showed up, he seemed to be avoiding the "Berkshire Brigades" while Markey gave a strong speech centering on the environment, women's rights, and the stuff that good progressive Democrats should be for. Assuming that Markey wins, he may actually end up getting a free ride with little or no Republican opposition. Many of the potential Republican candidates got faked out, assuming as I did that Scott Brown would get the nomination. When Brown said he didn't want it, I said that he would run for governor. I still think that he will.

Massachusetts Democrats don't really want a guy who, no matter what he says, will still go to Washington and vote for Mitch McConnell, one of the most despicable politicians in this country. But those same Massachusetts voters have no problem voting for a Republican governor. In any case, it looks like Markey will take home the turkey.

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Finally this week, a group of folks on the Great Barrington finance committee do not believe that the town's selectmen deserve pay. Part of this was brought on by personality differences with members of the select board but it makes a lot of sense to me. As a former Alford selectman, I assure you that this can be very hard work. But there is something about serving on town boards and committees that makes for good citizenship. I really don't believe that people run for office because of the pay or even the health insurance that some of them get. No matter what their motives, I believe that the finance committee has a point.

Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.