Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee tosses city manager idea

Thursday January 3, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- The city's Charter Review Study Committee has jettisoned creation of a city manager's position from among revisions it will seriously consider -- and it has taken strong consensus votes in favor of other changes.

The group -- with two members absent -- voted 9-0 Wednesday against recommending creation of a city manager form of government, in which a professional manager is hired by the City Council and the mayor is a member of the council and the School Committee who is usually chosen by a council vote.

Committee member Dianna M. Ferrero said some members of the public "were alarmed" at prior discussion of a manager. "People like voting for the mayor," she said, and like the checks and balances of a mayor/council system.

Victoria Kane said residents have told her, "Pittsfield is really too small for a city manager," and that they "feel good about the system we have."

While votes taken by the nine committee members present during a public hearing could be revisited, they were intended to provide a consensus of thinking among members.

After a public comment period, Chairman Edward J. Lapointe asked whether the committee should begin deliberating and expressing preferences with wide support. In addition to a vote against the manager option, most on the committee favored a "strong mayor" form of government, which typically includes the ability to make appointments without City Council review and other powers.

Exactly "how strong" a mayor should be described in a revised charter, as well as other details, could be decided as the committee deliberates further in coming weeks, Lapointe said.

Committee members likewise unanimously favored a four-year term for mayor, and lowering the number of signatures required to run for School Committee, councilor at large and city clerk from 300 to 150.

They also voted 6-3 in favor of a chief of staff or deputy mayor position to handle day-to-day management of departments and personnel while being hired by the mayor -- with or without City Council review. Actually creating and funding the position would have to be approved later by the mayor and councilors.

Committee member Peter Marchetti said the idea has been discussed in various forms, one of which would include enhancing a current position in the mayor's office to include a professional manager's role.

Michael J. McCarthy said "mayors do get eaten up" dealing with city department functions and citizen issues, and that prevents him or her from focusing on larger issues and the overriding needs Pittsfield has now and long term.

Speaking in opposition, William D. Barry said he didn't "see any need to create that position."

Barry, Kane and David W. Murphy Jr. voted against the option.

Committee members raised questions about how the deputy mayor would be hired, how the job would be defined, about the cost of adding salary and the exact role, responsibilities and authority the person would have.

Lapointe said the committee's task is to make recommendations by summer to the council and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi for possible inclusion in a proposal for the November city ballot. All recommendations could be revised as necessary before that step is taken.

The committee plans at least one more public hearing and the public can speak at any of the group's meetings. The next will be Jan. 15. There is also information available about the charter review on the city's website, www.pittsfield-ma.org.

During the public comment period, Rinaldo Del Gallo spoke in favor of instant runoff voting in city elections, and former School Committee member and James Boyle favored looking at options to ensure all city wards are more evenly represented.

Jeff Hunt, a member of a charter committee in the 1990s, recommended an equal rights provision and gender-neutral language, along with a provision for regular charter reviews.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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