Friday January 4, 2013

The dumping of the city manager option by Pittsfield’s Charter Review Study Committee indicates that as much as the city grumbles about its politics it doesn’t necessarily want to give it up.

The committee, with two members absent, voted 9-0 Wednesday to remove the city manager from the options it will consider. Public input to the group apparently indicated little support for the city manager because, among other reasons, residents like voting for the mayor and want the system kept as it is. The logic behind the city manager concept is that the city is run by a trained professional who is hired for the job and not subject to the whims of the electorate. Pittsfield is a political city, however, and may prefer the political way of choosing its leader, which over the years, has produced mayors whose capabilities have spanned the spectrum.

There appears to be sentiment on the committee for a "strong mayor" form of government like North Adams’, which features, among other aspects, the chief executive’s ability to make appointments without City Council review. Pittsfield mayors have taken umbrage through the years when councilors challenge the credentials of one of their appointees, and as a rule mayors should get the people they want into their administration, but the review process is a check against political patronage and requires mayors to only bring forward appointees they know they can adequately defend.

The committee unanimously favored a four-year term for mayor, a long-discussed concept whose time has come. In a two-year term, as is currently the case, mayors spend nearly half their term campaigning for re-election and the long-term projects they have initiated cannot adequately be judged. The committee approved by a 6-3 vote the creation of a paid deputy mayor or chief of staff position, which is another good concept. The job of mayor is increasingly complex and this position would absorb some of the drudgery and free the mayor for big picture work.

We hope the study committee will recommend paying a stipend to School Committee members as is currently the case with city councilors. This may draw a larger field of better qualified candidates for the important board.