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Our Opinion

Our Opinion: Mayor Tyer won't pick Pittsfield's new police chief — but her administration could make the process smoother for her successor

When Pittsfield Police Chief Michael Wynn retires later this year, Mayor Linda Tyer will appoint an interim chief. With no plans to seek reelection, though, Mayor Tyer will leave the selection of a permanent police chief up to her successor. That choice — or lack of choice — is the mayor’s prerogative. This gives the mayor a chance to address long-lingering official concerns about the process of hiring a police chief now so those concerns won’t further delay the next administration in making that critical decision.

While discussing her plans to appoint an interim chief, Mayor Tyer touched on two factors that affect the process of hiring a new permanent police chief in Pittsfield: a residency requirement and the civil service system.

A city ordinance mandates that the city’s police chief (as well as the fire chief and commissioner of public services) must live in Pittsfield. Meanwhile, the job of police chief has been a civil service position in Pittsfield since the early 1990s, meaning chief candidates are tested and ranked by the state’s Civil Service Unit, which limits the mayor’s ability to choose lower-scoring candidates.

The residency requirement ensures that a chief is familiar with and connected to the community he or she is sworn to serve — but it necessarily restricts the candidate pool. Civil service exams are meant to objectively rank the aptitude of chief candidates and reduce the influence of local politics on the hiring decision — but there are qualities and values the exam can miss that the mayor must overlook if a candidate with those intangibles scores low.

Both conditions come with pros and cons for a city seeking a new leader for its police force. We can’t conclude what the balance is for Pittsfield, but the Tyer administration should study these issues with an eye to settle them before the permanent chief decision falls into the next mayor’s lap. Mayor Tyer said she is considering filing a petition to amend the residency requirement ordinance. Extracting Pittsfield from the civil service system would be a bigger lift, requiring the City Council to pass a home-rule petition as well as approval from the state Legislature.

We urge Mayor Tyer not to leave these questions hanging for the next administration. Outgoing Chief Wynn agrees with Mayor Tyer’s move to leave the new permanent police chief decision to whomever Pittsfield voters choose as mayor this November. If Mayor Tyer chooses to defer the selection of the next chief, it gives her administration the chance to sort out once and for all the delicate issues of whether the city should stick with its residency requirements and civil service process. Study and settle those issues now so the next mayor can move swiftly on what should be a priority for city leaders: selecting a new permanent leader for the Pittsfield Police Department.

Chief Wynn has served admirably in his nearly three decades of working for the PPD, including his 16 years leading the department. It’s worth noting that he spent his first decade as the city’s top cop under the title of “acting chief.” We don’t want to see the next chief and the entire department similarly saddled with such years-long impermanence.

We hope the outgoing Tyer administration sees it the same way and moves to assess, once and for all, questions on the residency and civil service requirements — so that these long-lingering questions don’t trip up the next mayor on this chief decision.

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