Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee split over Civil Service proposal
PITTSFIELD -- A distinct divide has emerged on the city's Charter Review Study Committee over a proposal to remove the police and fire chief positions from the Civil Service system.
Considered along with changes to the appointment process for all city officials, removing the top public safety posts from Civil Service requirements and protections was suggested Tuesday and won support from some on the 11-member committee.
Asked about options, the committee's study consultant, Stephen McGoldrick, said there are several valid reasons for dropping Civil Service -- especially during the charter process. Since a special act of the Legislature would be required to accomplish that, he said, the change could be approved along with other charter changes during a required legislative review of the charter proposal.
McGoldrick said other Massachusetts communities which he has consulted during charter reviews chose to drop Civil Service. The process leaves "the city bound by rules" under Civil Service, he said, including a testing requirement and a selection process that favors the person scoring highest on an examination.
While McGoldrick said the process can also include an intensive assessment process, which Pittsfield has adopted, Civil Service usually limits the choice to a single top scorer unless there is a compelling reason not to hire that person.
In addition, he said, while the test can be limited to the city department, there must be enough people taking the test to make the process valid. He added that there are other legal protections for employee rights that would not restrict the choices for police or fire chief.
The Civil Service process, and the need for its protections, has been in decline in the state, McGoldrick said, with many communities opting out except for some employees.
In Pittsfield, all police officers and firefighters, other than the two current chiefs, were hired under Civil Service, city personnel manager Karin Decker said Wednesday.
Many other city employees are in positions that were originally under Civil Service, but they technically were hired as "provisional" employees, she said.
Both Police Chief Michael J. Wynn and Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski were appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto as "acting" chiefs. Decker said she has learned that although both men have been in those jobs for several years, they are not considered under the Civil Service system -- and wouldn't be unless appointed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi as part of the Civil Service process.
It also emerged during the charter committee meeting Tuesday that a Civil Service exam testing process that led to Wynn being the top choice for chief has expired and would have to be repeated if the hiring system is revived.
Ruberto named Wynn as acting chief in part to circumvent the Civil Service process, which he considered too restrictive. Mayor Bianchi, who took office in January 2012, has expressed the same sentiment.
Charter committee member David W. Murphy Jr. and others indicated they would support dropping Civil Service for the chiefs, but Michael P. Filpi said, "I am opposed to taking them out of Civil Service. That would make it more political. I think the system does work."
Filpi said no one would be involved in the testing without an extensive background in the field or without having classroom credits as well. A chief selected through Civil Service would be better able to resist any political pressure a mayor might apply, he said, if he or she could appeal a firing to the Civil Service Commission.
The "acting" chiefs and other city officials considered to be in an acting capacity -- along with some whose office "terms" apparently have expired under the current charter -- led last year to frustration among city councilors and to proposals for a full charter review and revisions.
Earlier on Tuesday, the charter committee expressed overwhelming support for retaining council review of a reduced number of top "cabinet-level" city posts while removing others from that process.
The terms of office for many individual positions also would be considered "open-ended" and the person would serve until and unless removed by the mayor.
In addition, the charter committee strongly favored a four-year term for mayor, up from the current two years, and removing the council's current right to oppose the mayor's decision to fire an appointee -- something it was said Pittsfield is alone in having in its charter, much of which dates to 1932.
Officials appointed to a position or to a board considered to act in an adjudicatory role, such as zoning board members, would also require council review, as currently proposed.
The review committee's votes thus far have been consensus tabulations to gauge support on key topics. The group's final report to the council and mayor on recommended charter changes is expected in April.
Sending revisions to city voters in November is the goal.
The next committee meeting is Feb. 19 at 5 p.m. at council chambers at City Hall.
To reach Jim Therrien:
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