Pittsfield fire union pushes for chief from civil service list
PITTSFIELD -- City firefighters plan to push Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi toward choosing a fire chief from the state civil service list -- something that hasn't occurred for nearly a decade.
Pittsfield Firefighter's Local 2647 is mounting legal action that could require Bianchi to pick a chief from among the top three candidates who passed the civil service exam almost a year ago, according to the union president, Tim Bartini. The test was administered shortly after Bianchi took office Jan. 2, 2012.
"We are in the process of filing arbitration to get the mayor to hire one of the three," Bartini said Tuesday night before the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee.
"We've also filed a complaint with civil service," he added.
Bianchi, who wasn't at the meeting, told The Eagle he will respond to the firefighter's complaint and is aware the union wants a state arbiter to help settle the matter.
Whether Pittsfield's fire and police chiefs should remain a civil service job is one of the last major topics for the committee to tackle before possibly wrapping its work in two months. The 11-member ad-hoc panel hopes to make proposed changes to the charter in April and pass them along to the City Council, mayor and state Legislature for review in time for submission to voters in November.
The council last fall charged the committee to do a thorough review of the charter, Pittsfield's governing document, which has been virtually unchanged for nearly 80 years.
The committee plans to discuss if the chiefs should be appointed through civil service and other charter issues at its next meeting at 5 p.m. March 7 in City Hall. Union officials were invited to weigh in at the gathering on whether the police chief should also be a civil service position.
Pittsfield's current fire chief, Robert Czerwinski, is the third mayoral appointment to serve as an acting chief in the last 10 years -- two of them by former Mayor James M. Ruberto -- in order to bypass Civil Service.
Ruberto, Bianchi's predecessor, also appointed Michael Wynn as the current acting police chief, over the objections of the city's police officers union.
The firefighters union feels a fire chief chosen through civil service keeps it from being a political appointment.
"One hundred percent of our guys in the department want the chief to stay civil service," Bartini said.
"I think civil service is very limiting and archaic," Bianchi responded in a phone interview with an Eagle reporter. "Taking a test is one element to picking a chief."
The committee Tuesday night did take several consensus votes on potential key changes to the city charter.
The panel initially supports extending the terms of the mayor and City Clerk from two years to four years, and eliminating the need for special acts of the state Legislature to consolidate city departments and grant "compensation" to six of the seven School Committee members. The mayoral is the seventh member by virtue of his position.
The committee didn't specify how the committee members -- the only elected city officials who are unpaid -- would be compensated.
In addition, a committee consensus vote backed an overhaul of the budget process. The proposed changes include establishing a five-year plan for capital projects, to be updated annually, and a joint meeting of the City Council and school board prior to the mayor's unveiling of the next fiscal year's proposed budget. Pittsfield's chief executive has traditionally presented the council with his budget book the week before Memorial Day in May. The council has until July 1, the start of the fiscal year, to adopt a new budget.
During the joint meeting, the mayor would review the city's financial status and projections for local and state revenue to help pay for the new spending plan, according to Stephen McGoldrick, the city's charter review consultant.
"This puts the onus on the mayor where it should be ... to provide more information to both at the same time," said McGoldrick.
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