Pittsfield Task Force favors removing chief positions from Civil Service


PITTSFIELD -- Six of nine task force members voted Thursday in favor of removing the Pittsfield police and fire chief positions from the Civil Service system.

Members did not specifically recommend that action, however, saying that the proposal and related issues should be negotiated in a collective bargaining setting.

The group unanimously supported all other conclusions and recommendations in a five-page report that will now go to Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi. The mayor appointed the committee in January to study the pros and cons of keeping police officers, firefighters and other city employees in the troubled statewide system.

The committee decided in March to limit its focus to the chief positions, rather than to other police, fire or other employees currently under Civil Service.

The draft report to Bianchi contained 15 statements of generally agreed-upon facts and three multi-part conclusions. On the key issue of keeping the chief posts under Civil Service or not, the two police officers and one firefighter on the committee supported keeping the system for the chiefs.

The report, drafted by members Michael J. McCarthy and Pamela Green, the committee chairwoman, stated in part: "Members of the task force disagree as to whether the chief positions should come out of civil service, but the task force is unanimous as to the facts found and the conclusions expressed in this report."

It then asks members to state whether they favor removal of the posts from Civil Service. Firefighter Timothy Bartini and police officers Jeff Coco and Matthew Hill were opposed, while Green, McCarthy, Arthur Jones, city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis, city Personnel Director John DeAngelo, and City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan voted in favor.

Green said no formal recommendation was made on removal of the positions because that would require collective bargaining and a special act of the Legislature. But the committee "expresses its displeasure with the current status of the Civil Service system, which deprives members of the department of smooth, predictable, timely and inexpensive testing, promotions and [employment-related] appeals."

The report then recommends that the city and employee unions "evaluate the efficacy of the civil service system, particularly in light of the current decline of the [system] due to limited budget and personnel."

Several of the public safety officials the task force met with during the study pointed out such issues, and some outlined how their departments had been removed from the statewide system in favor of a city or town hiring, promotion and appeals system that was put in place after negotiations with municipal employees.

The report also called for Bianchi to "promptly" appoint a permanent police and fire chief. Both Police Chief Michael J. Wynn and Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski were appointed by former Mayor James M. Ruberto on an acting basis, after Ruberto was critical of Civil Service job candidate testing procedures.

Bianchi also has been critical of the system and maintained the status quo before appointing the task force in an attempt to resolve the situation and name chiefs on a permanent basis.

The report also recommends that, if the posts are removed from Civil Service, a consultant be hired to establish a protocol for hiring a permanent chief and drafting a related ordinance or special legislation.

The report also advises that if the posts are removed from Civil Service, the city use an assessment center-style interview process to test candidates in realistic situations and mandate participation by employee union representatives on a candidate evaluation advisory committee.

To reach Jim Therrien:
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