Pittsfield charter review committee eyes longer terms, school board pay


PITTSFIELD -- Further strong support for longer terms for city officials and compensation for School Committee members was voiced Tuesday, as committee members and City Clerk Linda Tyer met with the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee.

Follow-up questions by charter committee Chairman Edward Lapointe and others also prompted views on the key issue of whether changing city government by adding a manager hired by the City Council is advisable.

Echoing councilors and other officials who have offered opinions during the charter committee's meetings, School Committee members, with the exception of Terry Kinnas, supported the idea of compensating school board members, barred under the current charter.

Alfred "Alf" Barbalunga, the School Committee chairman, and members Kathleen Amuso, Daniel Elias, James Conant and Katherine Yon said the workload for members justifies compensation, possibly equal to that of councilors.

Describing a recent five-hour School Committee meeting, subcommittee work and myriad events committee members attend, Yon said, "We do the work, yes, and I believe we are the only [elected] officials who are not paid."

She and other speakers added, however, that they were elected as volunteers and are not concerned about the pay for themselves. However, they said the sparse numbers of board candidates in recent years might be addressed with compensation.

The charter committee is expected to review options for revising the city charter and make recommendations to voters in 2013 or 2014.

Speakers at Tuesday's meeting also were in general agreement that the number of nomination signatures for committee seats, 300, is too high and should be trimmed by half. And most agreed on a four-year term for committee members.

Barbalunga requested a formal procedure in a revised or new charter specifying the duties of a vice chairman. The mayor, the speakers agreed, should be a member of the committee, as is the case today, but not the chairman.

There has been discussion of holding local elections on state election years or staggering city officials' terms, which would necessitate voting during state elections on even-numbered years. But Tyer was strongly opposed.

What is called a "dual election" would require the city to "essentially hold two elections on the same day," she said. That would require separate voter lists because of different eligibility rules, separate tallies for state and local ballots, and doubling the number of poll workers from six to 12, she said.

Tyer also said the clerk's position should remain elected rather than appointed, increase from 2- to 4-year terms, and she recommended the option of tenure, or a life appointment ratified by voters, after eight years in office.

The clerk said she opposes instant runoff voting provisions.

Kinnas noted a preponderance of School Committee members in a few city wards and recommended exploration of some form of wards or combined ward voting for some committee seats.

During discussion of the city manager option, Tyer said she would favor instead a "chief of staff" type position appointed by the mayor to undertake management functions, along with multi-year contracts for department heads under a specific city ordinance to ensure professional management and continuity in city government.

She also proposed revising the citizen initiative petition language in the charter, which she said is "extremely complicated. I can't even decipher it."


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