Pittsfield panel endorses revised city charter


PITTSFIELD -- After seven months of deliberation and decision-making, the Pittsfield Charter Review Study Committee has endorsed the first major overhaul of the city charter in more than 80 years.

The 11-member ad hoc committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a revised charter following a review process that began in late September. Peter Marchetti, committee member and former councilor at large, noted the new charter reflects municipal government in the 21st century.

"When we look at what we've created, [the charter] has been greatly improved," he said. "And it includes a mechanism to review it every 10 years as it's a living, breathing document."

Virtually unchanged since 1932, the current charter established a system of electing a mayor every two years and a City Council composed of seven ward and four at large council seats. In one of the more significant changes of the proposed charter, the mayoral seat would become a four-year term.

The committee will now forward its recommendation to Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and the City Council. The goal is to have both those entities approve a final charter version in time for necessary review and approval by both the state Legislature and governor. Doing so would allow the revisions to be placed before city voters on the November ballot.

The provisions of a new charter, if approved, would take effect in January 2016, following the November 2015 city elections. Other changes include modern, clearer language throughout, especially in a section on the procedure for citizen initiative petitions and the recall of officials, and a provision allowing pay for School Committee members if approved by the council and mayor.

Council review of department-head nominees from the mayor would remain the same, but once appointed, those employees would serve at the discretion of the mayor without further review, as in the current charter.

The committee's 18th and final meeting on Wednesday was to finalize language on how to replace a mayor who vacates the position before his/her term expires.

The panel proposed language that calls for a special election if the mayor dies, resigns, is removed from or leaves office for other reasons during the first through 41st month of the four-year term.

Under the revised charter, the City Council president would be acting mayor until after the special election.

Should the mayor vacate within the last six months of the term, the council president would serve out the remainder of the term. If the council president is unable to be the acting mayor, by majority vote, the council would elect from among its 11 members the acting mayor.

By meeting's end, committee member and former Pittsfield city Solicitor Michael McCarthy said he was impressed with the entire charter review process.

"We had a collegial group with great leadership in Judge LaPointe," McCarthy said, referring to committee chairman Edward LaPointe, a retired Berkshire probate and family court justice. Following the meeting, LaPointe praised the work ethic of a committee that was dually appointed in last August by the council and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi.

"They all worked hard, studied and were well prepared," he said. "They were a wisely chosen group."

To reach Dick Lindsay:
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