Monday May 28, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In the coming weeks, Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi vows to determine what aspects -- if any -- of the City Council's version of a city charter review committee he would merge into his proposal.

By an 8-3 vote, the council last week recommended Bianchi support an 11-member ad hoc panel in which the councilors would choose seven of the committee members and the mayor would select the other four. Coun cilors Melissa Maz zeo, Ch urch ill Cot ton and Chris topher J. Connell were opposed, primarily over the council making appointments.

Bianchi initially asked the councilors to create a nine-member committee, with him appointing all the mem bers, subject to council approval.

Despite the significantly different proposals, the coun cil's plan merits careful consideration, according to Pittsfield's chief executive.

"I plan to talk with the city solicitor, Council President [Kevin] Sherman and others on what we can legally do," he said. "I want this to be a council thing, too."

Sherman welcomes the mayor's collaborative approach.

"The most important thing is to get this [charter review] moving," he said.

The mayor could return with his response to the council's proposal as early as its next regular meeting on June 13.

Philosophically, Bianchi and Sherman feel both sides favor a larger committee, appointed with council input and possibly assisted by a consultant. However, Bianchi and the 11-member council differ on the details establishing the committee -- mainly whether the council should split the appointment duties with the mayor.

Bianchi shares the dissenting councilors' concern: the council making appointments appears to violate the charter. The document outlines how city governments set up and operate.

"We want to make sure what we do is right," he said. "I want to accommodate the council's wishes within the parameters of the law."

During Tuesday's meeting, Mazzeo pointed out the city charter states that the mayor shall make all appointments to boards and committees, subject to council approval, and the charter review board is no different.

Sherman disagreed, saying, "I see this as more of an ad hoc committee than something dictated by city ordinance. It's not a violation of the charter."

The council majority be lieves sharing appointment duties will ensure diversity on the city charter review committee.

Bianchi claims he has always envisioned a diverse committee.

"I want to make sure we have enough people and the right people from across the city," he said.

If Bianchi opts against supporting council appointments, Ward 7 Councilor Anthony J. Simonelli could live with that decision.

"I trust the mayor's judgment," said Simonelli during Tuesday's meeting.

Bianchi says he's fine with an 11-member committee provided they get the work done effectively and efficiently. He also agrees the panel could use some professional help in reviewing the charter, but possibly at no cost to the taxpayers.

The council recommends hiring a private consultant costing no more than $30,000. Bianchi cited how their are officials within the state Department of Revenue who have experience assisting in municipal charter reviews -- and they have done it for free.

"If nothing else, a consultant will keep us on task and address what we need to regarding the charter," said the mayor.

Both Bianchi and the council expect the charter would take one year to examine the entire charter, seek public input on potential changes and make recommendations to the council and mayor. Any changes to the charter ultimately would need the state legislature's approval.

All committee meetings would be open to the public and the panel would request that Pittsfield Community Television consider broadcasting the gatherings.

The charter's last major overhaul was in 1932, which resulted in the current system of electing a mayor every two years and a City Council comprised of seven ward and four at large council seats.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.