Our opinion: Considering a city manager in Pittsfield

Monday December 10, 2012

The interest expressed in a city manager position was the most noteworthy aspect of last week’s meeting of the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee, which heard from city councilors about possible charter changes. It is a concept that should be explored thoroughly by the committee in the months ahead.

A main argument in favor, as articulated by Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon, is that a professional in municipal management would be able to handle the increasingly complex responsibilities of running a city. The mayor’s role would be largely one of providing vision and leadership. Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, Ms. Yon and others pointed out that continuity in city government would be enhanced, and this may be the strongest argument for hiring a city manager. It is difficult to persuade qualified people already holding secure jobs in a tough employment market to abandon them to take a job as a department head or other city position when they could lose that job if the mayor who hired them is voted out. There would presumably be less turnover among city managers, who would be hired by the City Council and not answerable to voters.

A city manager would certainly remove much of the politics from city government, as Mayor Daniel Bianchi observed at a committee meeting last month in which he did not endorse the concept but urged that it be explored. Former mayors James Ruberto, Gerald Doyle Jr. and Edward Reilly expressed opposition. Adding a city manager would mean adding a substantial salary at a time when budgets are tight, and voters may object that the mayor will be less answerable to them and the city manager not at all. The pros and cons should be hashed out in depth by the committee.

There was strong support expressed at the meeting for increasing the mayor’s term to four years, which is definitely a worthy idea. In a two-year term, a mayor barely has time to begin executing his or her agenda when it is time to run for re-election again. If the city does not go with a city manager, a four-year term for the mayor becomes even more of a necessity as the additional two years may make it somewhat easier to hire people away from the private sector.

Another good idea, paying School Committee members, also drew strong backing from councilors, who are paid for their service. Compensation, perhaps the suggested $4,000 a year, would reward committee members for performing duties that are often time-consuming and would also encourage more and better candidates for the committee, which rarely draws a large field of applicants in election years.

There is plenty to debate, but there is no debating that the long overdue charter review process is welcome.


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