Pittsfield officials at odds over need for consultant on charter issues


PITTSFIELD -- The committee reviewing city ordinances for potential conflicts with the new Pittsfield charter remains at loggerheads over whether to seek funding to hire a consulting firm.

The five-member group decided Thursday to seek input from Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi on whether he would recommend funding for the work, prior to another committee meeting on March 13.

Patrick Smith of General Code of Rochester, N.Y., gave a presentation to the committee Thursday at the request of group Chairwoman Linda Tyer, who is also the city clerk. He described the steps his firm would take in reviewing the charter and ordinances for conflicts, as well as for conflicts with Massachusetts General Law.

Included would be a review of the city code for possible updates, along with comparisons with codes of other municipalities in the region. The firm already works with Pittsfield on newly adopted ordinances and works with more than 100 Massachusetts cities or towns.

Smith said the cost for the service would be $13,900 and would include final preparation of the list of changes for a vote on adoption by city officials.

City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, who is designated as an adviser to the committee, contended, however, that the committee's charge in the new charter is to review the ordinances only, not check for conflicts with state law or take on other tasks.

For that purpose, Degnan said, her office could assist the committee.

Quoting from the charter, the solicitor said the City Council, which under the charter provision appointed the review committee, was not authorized to also ask it to look for conflicts with state law and therefore the request was not valid. "This is the trump card," she said, referring to the charter section calling for an ordinance review.

Committee member and City Councilor at large Barry Clairmont disagreed, saying the council was seeking to expand the review while also covering the requirements in the charter. The charter also specifically lists the council as the appointing authority for the review committee, he said.

Tyer cited another section of the charter that calls for a periodic complete review of the document for potential conflicts or the need for updates. A review by General Code, she said, would accomplish that and ensure the city's governing documents were as well crafted as possible from the first year under the new charter. The city charter -- the first complete revision in 80 years -- was adopted by voters in the Nov. 5 election.

Tyer also noted Smith's comment that the cost might ultimately be lower than the cost of having to hire General Code to advise on changes and updates identified through an in-house review.

"Doing this piecemeal, I think might cost more," Smith said.

He said the firm would have an attorney/editor experienced working in Massachusetts review the current city code and send back detailed recommendations, along with a checklist for possible changes. After receiving the draft document back from the city, the firm would review it again and send back a final draft for consideration.

A comprehensive ordinance change package could then be readied by the consultant for adoption by the city in a single vote, Smith said, adding that General Code has performed the service for Gardner, Springfield, Braintree and other communities in the state.

After more debate, the committee unanimously decided to send two representatives to meet with Bianchi to determine whether he might request funding for the consultant.

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