PITTSFIELD — City Council chambers were packed to overflowing Tuesday night as the names of five new firefighters were submitted by Mayor Linda M. Tyer, and a police officer was put forth for promotion to sergeant.
Family members and friends always attend meetings when public safety posts are filled, but support for Frederick Conyers Jr., whose appointment had drawn some criticism because he once served 3 1/2 years in state prison, seemed both strong and emotional.
"I had the opportunity to see him change," said his longtime employer, Paul Shepard, of Gentleman Painting, for whom Conyers has worked for eight years.
Speaking during the public comment portion of the meeting, Shepard acknowledged that Conyers had a few rough edges following his release from prison. But Shepard added: "He is not that man anymore. I am very proud of him, and proud of the mayor and the fire chief [Robert Czerwinski]. I am proud of my city."
Warren Dews Jr., a minister and vice president of audience development for New England Newspapers, which owns The Eagle, said, "Once again, Pittsfield and the Berkshires have made me happy to be here. This is not only important to one person, not only important to the city of Pittsfield; it is important to the world."
The positive message, Dews said, is that "even though he made a mistake," a second chance was possible.
A standing ovation met the formal presentation of Conyers, Michael Anthony, Max LaCasse, Jarrett Robitaille and Jesse Underwood-Miller as new firefighters.
Matthew Kirchner was formally named as a sergeant with the Pittsfield Police Department, also to sustained applause.
During the press conference a week ago in the mayor's office, Conyers said he can understand the misgivings of those who know of his 2003 arrest on drug and weapons possession charges. "I understand it," he said. "I don't want them to just give me some respect; I want to earn that."
Czerwinski said during the press conference that all new firefighters undergo basic training for five weeks and will be considered on probationary status for one year. "Over time, they [firefighters] will accept him, if he can prove himself," the chief said.
The council on Tuesday also approved the mayoral appointments of Floriana Fitzgerald to another Community Development Board term; Paul Saldana as an associate member of the Community Development Board; Jennifer Kerwood as a member of the Board of Registrars, and Barbara Mahony as a member of the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee.
Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.