Pittsfield Civil Service panel eyes excluding police, fire chief positions


PITTSFIELD -- The city's Civil Service Task Force is poised to recommend the Pittsfield police and fire chief positions be removed from Civil Service, primarily due to how the statewide system operates.

In two weeks, over the objection of city police and firefighter union leaders, the majority of the 10-member panel will likely issue a report calling on Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to find an alternative way of selecting the city's top two public safety officials.

The task force expects to finalize a recommendation May 1 -- the deadline for the ad hoc group to issue a recommendation to the mayor. The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. at City Hall.

"I came into this leaning toward Civil Service ... but what shocked me was the ineffectiveness and ineptitude of Civil Service," said local attorney Michael McCarthy.

"My biggest fear is, over time, it's going to get worse dealing with the Civil Service office," added task force chairwoman Pamela Green.

Green and McCarthy's remarks echoed the sentiment of most task force members, during a 90-minute meeting Thursday afternoon at City Hall. While most of the group, along with Bianchi and the current Pittsfield chiefs, have found fault with how Massachusetts funds, staffs and manages Civil Service, city police and firefighters say it's worth keeping.

"We are in agreement we need to change the way we pick the chiefs, but let's stay within Civil Service," said task force member Timothy Bartini, president of Pittsfield Firefighters Association Local 2647.

Pittsfield Police Chief Michael J. Wynn and Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski have said there are problems with Civil Service but that its testing and other procedures could be taken advantage of more efficiently by the city. They favor retaining the system for their positions, especially as it affords chiefs independence from political influence by elected officials.

Wynn and Czerwinski are technically acting chiefs, appointed several years ago by former Mayor James M. Ruberto, who was critical of the Civil Service format.

When Bianchi succeeded Ruberto in 2012, he also expressed dissatisfaction with the system, and appointed the task force this year in hopes of resolving the situation of having acting chiefs.

In a draft report unveiled Thursday, the panel listed 10 steps for a proposed protocol of the mayor picking permanent chiefs -- subject to City Council approval -- outside of Civil Service.

Green says the process would be "fair and just" and ensure the chief appointments aren't political influenced by elected officials -- the same philosophy behind the creation of Civil Service nearly a century ago.

Green noted the task force won't recommend how the city should legally remove the chiefs jobs from Civil Service, leaving that up to Bianchi and the City Solicitor, should the mayor agree with the removal recommendation.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
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