PITTSFIELD -- A debate over the status of Commissioner of Public Utilities Bruce Collingwood’s appointment to the post could come to a head if a city councilor’s expected resolution on the long-simmering issue is approved by the council.

City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan provided an opinion to councilors this week that essentially found the commissioner was first appointed during the Hathaway administration and still serves in a similar post with a different title. Therefore, she said, Collingwood’s name does not have to be submitted for confirmation by the council, like that of a new appointee.

Councilor at large Barry Clairmont disagreed. He came to the council meeting Tuesday with copies of city records he said show Collingwood has never been reviewed by the council for his current post, which Clairmont contends has significantly changed.

At Clairmont’s request, the council voted to table the issue until the next meeting so everyone could consider the solicitor’s opinion and the material he submitted.

Clairmont said he intends to ask the council to approve a resolution to compel Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to submit Collingwood’s name for review -- as well as to explain whether a reorganization of the department was carried out without council approval.

Clairmont contends that, under the city’s new government charter, any department head not reviewed by the council under the old charter must be reviewed now.

Degnan, in giving an opinion to the council, said charter provisions dealing with mayoral department head appointees "shall not apply to individuals who were duly appointed under [the old charter]."

She added, "To the best of my knowledge, Bruce Collingwood was appointed by Mayor Sara Hathaway as commissioner of Public Works and Commissioner of Public Utilities."

While titles have changed over the years, Degnan said, the duties have remained similar. Collingwood "was appointed prior to the ratification of the new city charter [in November], so there is no need to re-appoint him," she said.

Asked Thursday about the organization of the department, Bianchi said, "The department is essentially the same as it has been for years."

Language in the new charter indicates that reorganizations of city departments must be approved by the council. Clairmont said it appears from the fiscal 2015 city budget proposal that Bianchi has placed Collingwood over two formerly separate departments -- Public Services and Public Utilities.

"That department does not exist," Clairmont said Thursday, referring to an organization chart included in the proposed fiscal 2015 budget plan, showing Collingwood as commissioner.

Such a "reorganization," the councilor said, would require council approval.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo said Thursday she agrees with the solicitor’s opinion that Collingwood’s job has essentially been the same for many years, no matter the title.

She added that under the administration of Mayor James M. Ruberto, she challenged what she thought was a change in the director of administrative services post, and the city attorney gave an opinion that it was similar and no council review was required.

"I disagreed, but I just got past it and we moved on," Mazzeo said, adding that she believes the council should do the same in this case.

"We are spending too much time on it," she said.

Clairmont said he believes the issues raised are important because mayor-council disputes over the appointment process and council reviews led to creation of a charter review committee and to the charter overhaul approved by voters in November.

Former Councilor Lewis Markham recently raised the issue of the commissioner’s status under the new charter and reiterated his petition to the council on Tuesday.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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