Pittsfield ordinance review off to slow start


PITTSFIELD -- The city's Ordinance Review Committee has now met three times without beginning its review of ordinances for discrepancies in light of the new Pittsfield charter adopted in November.

The work of the five-person committee, which was appointed for the task by the City Council, has stalled amid discussions over the scope of the review and whether a consulting firm should be hired to provide experience in the field and advice.

City Clerk Linda Tyer, the group's chairwoman, has advocated hiring General Code, a Rochester, N.Y.-based firm that works with dozens of municipalities in the region on government code-related issues. The firm already is retained by the city to advise on updates to city ordinances and maintain the city code, which is posted online. During a presentation at a prior meeting, a representative of the firm provided an estimate of $13,900 for assisting in the ordinance review.

That figure included reviewing the existing ordinances for possible updates and for potential conflicts with language in the new charter, and a review of ordinances relative to Massachusetts General Laws.

The latter task is one that the clerk said should ideally be done at the same time and one she and other committee members have said they don't feel qualified to undertake.

However, City Solicitor Kath-
leen Degnan, who did not attend the committee meeting Wednesday, has said she could advise the group on any conflicts between the charter and the ordinances, which she said is the task as specified in the charter itself.

At the committee meeting, Tyer said she has asked officials in other Massachusetts communities in which General Code has provided such a service and received "very positive recommendations" for their work.

She added that those communities, like Northampton, that did an in-house ordinance review after adopting a new charter nevertheless had to pay a consultant -- also General Code -- to update the code with the needed wording changes. That city's cost, she said, was $16,600, or more than the estimate to have the firm to undertake the Pittsfield review from the beginning.

In addition, she said, the review would be more complete if General Code had its professionals review all the documents and make suggestions for the committee to consider -- and to ensure there are no conflicts with state law.

Funding, however, would require that Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi submit that request to the City Council. Committee member Jody Phillips, who with David Murphy was asked to contact Bianchi with the funding request, said the mayor "is not interested in hiring a consultant at this time."

Bianchi, citing the opinion of the city solicitor, previously told The Eagle he would have to be convinced there is a compelling reason to spend money on a consultant.

Committee member and Councilor at large Barry Clairmont then proposed a formal vote to request the funding in light of the cost figures Tyer had received from Northampton.

However, his motion did not receive a second.

Murphy proposed that the committee begin its review of the ordinances and the charter and consider asking for a consultant in the future if that seems the best choice. But he also suggested informing the mayor of the newly acquired cost information for an in-house review.

The group resolved to begin its review by sections of the documents while seeking input from Degnan on each section.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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On Twitter: @BE_therrien


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