Who gets to serve on city boards? Pittsfield City Council sends residency proposal back to committee
PITTSFIELD >> Divided over a residents-only requirement for local boards and commissions, the City Council wants its Ordinances and Rules Committee to take another crack at tweaking the proposal without kicking out key out-of-towners willing to serve Pittsfield.
By a 7-4 vote Tuesday, the council majority felt some form of the citizens petition should be discussed and brought back to the entire 11-member panel for a vote. Another 7-4 vote failed to place the petition on file, effectively killing the proposed regulation.
Ward 4 Councilor Christopher Connell felt limits may be necessary to prevent any one board from having more nonresidents than residents. Councilor-at-large Melissa Mazzeo suggested maybe certain high level boards should be residents-only.
However, a majority seemed opposed to an outright ban on nonresidents being appointed by the mayor, and in many cases, approved by the council.
"It would be a drain on our [human] resources," said Councilor at large Peter White. "If the council doesn't want someone from out of town, we can refuse [him/her.]"
The Ordinances and Rules Committee had been debating the residents-only rule since May, a month after resident David Pill formally petitioned the council.
The five-member subcommittee tabled the matter twice, before they voted 3-2 to support the measure.
Pill believes city people should decide what's best for Pittsfield.
"The rule has more value if made by residents," he told the council Tuesday night.
Pill believes municipal boards are one way to get residents more involved in the city.
Pittsfield has 40 active boards and commissions with roughly 360 seats to fill; 18 currently vacant according to the list kept by the city clerk's office. Some 40 nonresidents serve on those volunteer panels — an 11 percent occupancy rate.
Mayor Linda M. Tyer often presses the flesh to encourage city folk to seek out a board appointment, a recruitment process that isn't easy.
"The goal is to make sure the boards and commissions are diverse ... but often it's difficult to find people to serve," she told the council.
Ward 5 Councilor Donna Todd Rivers was one of the subcommittee members who initially supported the out-of-towner ban, calling it a philosophical issue and not directed toward any one individual.
Nevertheless, veterinarian Dr. John Reynolds of Richmond and Krista Wroldson Miller from Windsor, both on the Animal Control Commission, still felt slighted by the proposal.
Reynolds owns Pittsfield veterinary Hospital, has served on the commission for 20 years and regularly supports other city businesses.
"I consider myself part of this community," he said.
Wroldson Miller works at the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter, has a son at Taconic High School and had been living in Pittsfield before moving.
"My husband and I are committed to Pittsfield, while others just sleep here," she said.
Since several boards, by statute, require people with certain qualifications, the residency requirement could force some nonresidents to resign, hindering the affected board/commission's decision making, according to Councilor White.
"We don't need to be tying our hands to be filling boards and commissions," he said.
For example, Animal Control must have a veterinarian, the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee includes the public schools' personnel director who lives in the Albany, N.Y. area and the recently reactivated Resource Recovery Committee has Jamie Cahillane of Lenox. Cahillane is the recycling guru for the Pittsfield-based Center for EcoTechnology.
"It was important to have his expertise, [even though] he doesn't live in Pittsfield," she said.
With the privately run Covanta trash burning plant on Hubbard Avenue scheduled to close, the city is scrambling to find alternative trash disposal and recycling options for residential garbage.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233