Confirmation of utilities commissioner questioned by Pittsfield City Council


PITTSFIELD -- City councilors want Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to explain why Public Utilities Commissioner Bruce Collingwood's name hasn't been brought forward for confirmation in that position -- or whether confirmation by the council is not legally required.

Former Councilor Lewis Markham had petitioned the council seeking an explanation as to the appointment of department heads under the process outlined in the new city government charter, approved in November.

Markham said Tuesday his reading of the charter is that appointments to a new department head post would require submission of the nominee's name by April 1, unless the mayor had requested a 90-day temporary appointment.

Collingwood, although he has served in a similar post for a number of years, has a new job title, Markham said, which he said should trigger a one-time council review.

"This has been bothering me for some time," Markham said, adding that he had a good relationship with Collingwood when he was on the council and did not bring the petition "with a sense of vindictiveness."

However, Markham said he would like to see the issues surrounding council review of mayoral department head appointees resolved -- particularly since disputes over such appointments were a spur for creation of a charter review committee and the new charter's ultimate adoption by voters in November.

The appointment should be brought forth, Markham said, or the mayor should provide a legal interpretation that it is not necessary to do so in Collingwood's case, such as that only the title of the job has changed. One purpose of the new charter was "to decide this," Markham said.

The council should also "put some teeth into the [referral]" to the mayor, he said.

Council President Melissa Mazzeo had referred the agenda item to the mayor, but Councilor at large Barry Clairmont proposed also asking the mayor to come before the council at its next meeting to discuss the issue.

As an April 1 deadline cited under the new charter has passed, the mayor should have filed by now for a temporary 90-day appointment for Collingwood, Clairmont said, or else provided a legal opinion as to why that isn't necessary.

Clairmont said he would like to see the matter cleared up before the issue of whether Collingwood can legally still receive a paycheck arises.

Council Vice Chairman Christopher Connell suggested asking City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan to attend the meeting as well. The amended petition then passed the council unanimously.

Bianchi did not attend the meeting, nor could he not be reached Tuesday night for comment.

Also Tuesday, the council approved a petition from Clairmont to adopt a section of state law that allows the city to establish an employee retiree health insurance trust fund with an initial $50,000 to be invested and added to over time.

Because the investment funds would grow, it was estimated in an actuarial report that the city could reduce the long-term cost of paying for retiree health insurance by up to two-thirds, said Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop.

The council also heard a presentation from Elizabeth Keefner on Lineman Appreciation Day at Wahconah Park on June 12, at 6 p.m.

Keefner, who's brother was killed last year while working as a lineman, said the organization honors those who work under dangerous conditions to restore electric power and other services when storms strike.

She said 17 line workers have died nationally while working during the early months of 2014.

To reach Jim Therrien:,
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