Pittsfield civil service task force to recommend options to mayor by May 1


PITTSFIELD -- Members of a city task force studying the pros and cons of the civil service system honed their goals Thursday and received some input from Police Chief Michael J. Wynn.

The group, appointed by Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi to recommend whether civil service coverage should be retained for the police and fire chiefs, and possibly other employees now in the system, also elected attorney Pamela Green to act as chairwoman.

After some discussion, the group decided it should recommend to Bianchi by May 1 "options for appointing permanent police and fire chiefs."

Information concerning civil service in general and other options adopted elsewhere also will be considered, but task force members indicated the focus will be on the two positions.

A principal impetus for creation of the task force was to end a situation in which both current chiefs were appointed several years ago on an acting basis and not under civil service provisions, even though the two posts are considered within civil service in Pittsfield.

Former Mayor James M. Ruberto appointed both Michael J. Wynn in the police department and Robert Czerwinski in the fire department on a provisional basis after expressing dissatisfaction with the civil service process.

Bianchi also has expressed dissatisfaction with civil service, particularly its testing and job candidate qualification provisions, and has left the situation intact. During the study that led last year to adoption of a new chief government charter, options for civil service were discussed but quickly tabled as ardent supporters and opponents of the system emerged.

However, a study of civil service options for Pittsfield was recommended, to begin early in 2014.

The task force, meeting for the second time, also has heard from a representative from the Civil Service office and an official involved in a switch from civil service to a localized testing and hiring system in Amherst.

"I don't necessarily believe civil service is the best system, but it is the system we have," Wynn told the group Thursday. But he said that for a number of years in Pittsfield, administration of the system's options has been handled "extremely poorly."

The chief said the system offers flexible options that the city hasn't taken advantage of on testing and hiring, particularly when combining the use of "assessment center" evaluations for top administrative personnel.

While a city could set up its own testing and hiring system and conduct assessment centers with realistic job simulations, Wynn said those services will require funding that is provided under civil service.

Input on the costs of a local system will be sought from Northampton officials during the group's next meeting on Feb. 27.

Concerning testing, the chief said he has found the civil service tests themselves more on "things you could look up," while assessment center simulations force an applicant to react and perform in a lifelike job situation.

Asked how his acting chief status affects him, Wynn said he has felt he has the authority of a permanent chief during the nearly seven years since his appointment, but he believes "the bottom line is this should not be stretched out this long."

Residents and the departments' employees deserve to know they have a permanent police or fire chief, he said.

Group members, including police Officer Jeff Coco, president of the patrolman's union, firefighters union President Tim Bartini, attorney Michael J. McCarthy -- who also served on the charter study group last year -- indicated that they want to explore the greater use of assessment centers and the associated costs, as well as other testing options.

Summing up, Green said they should consider "Civil service, yay or nay, and if civil service, how do we use it? And what are the costs?"

To reach Jim Therrien:
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