Mayor Bianchi explores scrapping civil service for police and fire chief
On Tuesday, a task force group exploring the pros and cons of such a move met for the first time at City Hall.
Police Chief Michael J. Wynn and Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski are currently provisional chiefs, both having been appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto on an acting basis and not as civil service employees.
Civil Service law affects how public employees are hired, promoted, disciplined and fired, but municipalities have the ability to opt out of the system for some or all employees.
Pittsfield Police Sgt. Matthew Hill objected Tuesday to the idea of doing away with civil service positions for other than the chief. "I'm not open to discussing it as a whole," Hill said. "I thought it was about the police chief and fire chief."
Bianchi replied, "I don't know how you separate one from the other. My intention is to focus on the chiefs and see where we go."
Officer Jeff Coco, president of the Pittsfield Patrol Police Union, said Wynn "has been in limbo" since his provisional appointment in 2007. "We've been pushing for him to be permanent chief," Coco said.
Coco said the department's employees want to continue under civil service. He said the department also wants to move away from a testing approach to a process in which in- person interviews play a greater role.
Coco asked why the city was looking into possible changes.
Bianchi said that the city needs a valid list of officers to sign up for the civil service exam so that he can make a permanent appointment.
Regina Caggiano, state deputy director for the Civil Service Unit, told the group the eligible list requires four people to test for the next highest position below the chief in order for there to be an eligible list to choose from for a new chief. The city hasn't had an eligible list to name a permanent chief.
"If you're going to be hiring a general manager at General Dynamics," you wouldn't just interview one person," Bianchi said. "We don't seem to have many choices. You would like to get somebody with different perspectives."
Bianchi said the police department has a budget of more than $6 million, and with more than 130 employees, only interviewing one person for the job "doesn't seem like a reasonable approach."
Bianchi raised the possibility of creating a new panel of civilians, which could include police officers or firefighters, to take part in a new hiring process.
Tim Bartini, president of the firefighters union representing more than 80 full- time firefighters, said doing away with civil service "is not going to be saving money.
"I think you're getting a bargain now with the chief's position," Bartini said. Czerwinski earned $ 95,607 in compensation last year. Wynn received $ 117,391 in total compensation.
" It's not about savings," Bianchi said. "A good candidate could get savings in other ways."
Bartini said he believes the state was underfunding the Civil Service Unit purposely in order to move towns away from following civil service practice. There are only 10 people in the state Civil Service Unit, according to Caggiano.
"You take a [Civil Service] test and it takes six months to get the results back," Bartini said. However, he said the system wasn't broke and just needs to be "fine tuned."
The city switched the positions of fire chief and police chief from civil service to noncivil service in 1978, but voters elected to return them to civil service again in 1991.
Below the chiefs, Pittsfield police and firefighters were hired as civil service employees. Other communities, such as Northampton and Amherst, have moved whole departments from the civil service system in recent years and adopted alternative hiring programs.
Amherst Town Manager John Musante, who was invited to speak to the group, said his town eliminated civil service and now has a civilian panel taking part in the hiring process. The town departments handle promotions internally, and Musante has final authority on hiring and dismissals.
Czerwinski, fire chief since 2010, said, "I am certainly in favor of keeping" civil service.
Without it, " you basically serve at the whim of a mayor or (committee) that has the ability to hire and fire at will," he said.
"Civil service is there to keep politics out of the job," Bartini said.
Wynn, chief since 2007, could not be reached for comment.
To reach Nathan Mayberg: email@example.com or (413) 496-6243
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