Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee sets last meeting to finalize changes


PITTSFIELD -- Still struggling through a series of wording changes to a draft new city charter, the Charter Review Study Committee was forced Wednesday to schedule another meeting in advance of its April 16 public hearing on the charter overhaul.

Chairman Edward J. Lapointe, referring to a self-imposed deadline the committee has set to ensure the charter gets on the November city ballot, suggested another meeting on April 10 at 5 p.m. at City Hall.

At that point, the committee will likely have to finish a charter plan to put before the public for comment or fall behind in its timetable.

After the committee holds its public hearings, the document will go to the City Council and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. The council also will hold hearings and can make changes; finally at the city level, the document will require the mayor's signature.

Then a charter home rule petition would go to the Legislature for review and a signature from the governor. Normally, only technical wording changes would be made at the state level and approval is likely. The last step would be action by city voters in November.

Although there was a general consensus on the issue, there continued to be some disagreement over mayoral appointments and the council review process, which became an explosive issue last year and led to creation of the charter review committee in the hope changes would clarify the process.

Peter Marchetti, a former city councilor serving on the committee, said it is important to him that all current department heads who were not sent by recent mayors for council review at the start of a mayoral term be subjected to a review under the new charter -- even though appointments under the charter plan would be made without a set term.

"There was a huge blowup over the way mayors have handled the appointment of department heads," Marchetti said, adding that he believes the council might alter the new charter if necessary to ensure all current department heads go before the council.

However, committee member Michael J. McCarthy said he believes the issue of appointments was addressed with a revised list of officials who require council confirmation and a provision allowing prospective employees to be reviewed first by a council subcommittee. Department heads confirmed would then serve at the discretion of the mayor.

McCarthy said he was unwilling to involve the charter review in a past dispute between the council and recent mayors over "only a handful of department heads" that have been serving in some cases for several years. That is something the council would have to include if it wishes when it receives the charter, he said.

"I'm just saying, I think we need a fresh start [on all appointees]," Marchetti said.

Among other consensus decisions, the committee decided not to include a specific chief of staff or deputy mayor position, as previously discussed, but to rely on new charter language under which the mayor can request a new or altered position and required funding through an ordinance at the city level.

The committee also agreed to clearer wording for provisions on recalling an elected official and for citizen referendums on council actions or initiatives for when the council fails to act on an issue.

With Stephen McGoldrick, the city's charter review consultant, and Marilyn Contreas, a principal policy analyst with the state Department of Housing and Community Development, advising the group, members found consensus on a process that keeps the same thresholds for gathering voter signatures and petition time frames that Contreas said was similar to most cities with those provisions.

Her rule of thumb, she said, is that the process should be "difficult but not impossible" for citizen groups.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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