Pittsfield weighs hiring consultant to check for charter conflicts
PITTSFIELD -- The committee reviewing city ordinances for compatibility with the new city charter and state law may request funding to hire a consultant to help with the task.
The five-member study group, which met for the first time this week, also named City Clerk Linda Tyer chairwoman. Other committee members are former City Clerk Jody Phillips, Councilor at large Barry Clairmont, David Murphy and Victoria Kane. City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan is acting as adviser.
Following more than a year of work, Pittsfield last November formally adopted its first complete charter overhaul since 1932.
Tyer and Clairmont said they favor hiring General Code of Rochester, N.Y., to analyze Pittsfield ordinances and present the committee with options to consider and advice.
General Code already is familiar with Pittsfield ordinances, as the firm has been retained to help with code issues, Tyer said. She said she obtained a rough cost estimate of from $10,000 to $14,000 to review all the ordinances for discrepancies or conflicts with the new charter or with Massachusetts General Law.
The services the firm would provide, Tyer said, include looking for duplications and conflicts with the charter, among ordinances or with state law; analyzing fines, fees and penalties; providing recommendations in a checklist format, and suggesting ways to modernize the charter compared to others.
The firm works with many communities in New York and around New England, she said, and specializes in those tasks.
"They would look at this with their experience, but it would still be our job to take their recommendations and review them," Tyer said, adding that any final decisions would be made by the committee.
Clairmont said the committee likely could review the ordinances, but checking the code for conflicts with state law "is a more daunting" task. He termed the amount reasonable for the potential benefits gained from the firm's experience.
He made a motion to ask the mayor and City Council for funding for the consultant, but before voting the committee instead decided to first arrange a meeting with a firm representative and then decide on a funding request.
Phillips said the issue would have to wait for placement on the agenda at least until the first council meeting in March, allowing time to meet with a General Code representative.
Degnan said she doesn't believe a consultant is needed. "I'm pretty good with my workload right now," she said at one point. "I believe I can do this."
She pointed out that Northampton, which also adopted a new charter recently that is very similar to the Pittsfield charter approved in the Nov. 5 election, did not use a consultant to review its ordinances for compliance.
Clairmont argued that "Northampton's charter wasn't 80 years old," adding that he believes the firm would likely have a computer model that could immediately highlight areas of conflict or other potential problems.
Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said Thursday that he is skeptical of the need for a consultant and would have to look at the reasoning if such a request is sent to his desk before requesting council approval for the funding. He said he has confidence the solicitor can perform the necessary review.
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