Higher pay seen as key tool in drawing candidates for North Adams police chief

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NORTH ADAMS — The city's next police chief is likely to make more money than his or her predecessor.

But just how much more remains in question.

The City Council turned down a proposal by Mayor Thomas Bernard on Wednesday to reclassify the police chief position, effectively raising the starting salary by $8,787, to $85,535.

Instead, the council wants Bernard to negotiate with the next chief directly and settle on a salary commensurate with experience.

The theory behind Bernard's proposal was that, as the city sets out to find a replacement for retiring Police Chief Michael Cozzaglio, a higher starting salary would draw a more competitive field of applicants.

But on Wednesday the council learned that, regardless of how the position is classified, state law gives the mayor authority to negotiate a salary directly with a police or fire chief — an option many seemed to prefer.

"The section of law is very clear that the appointing authority may establish an employment contract for these positions as part of the appointment responsibility, specifically for police or fire," Bernard said. "The authority already exists."

With that information on the table, councilors turned down the reclassification proposal — airing concerns that setting a salary under the classification plan might be too limiting, given that it would be below what other area police chiefs earn.

"I do not see the logic in picking the highest possible classification rather than negotiating a salary with a new chief," said Councilor Jason LaForest. "The mayor would do better negotiating a salary with the applicant that is selected."

The city's police chief earns less than those in a number of smaller towns throughout the county, including Adams, Williamstown and Dalton.

Cozzaglio earns $81,007 annually.

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Had the council approved the reclassification of the chief's salary, Cozzaglio would have received an effective raise until his retirement.

"If you go to negotiating and you're above the [classification] limit of $85,000 anyway, then really all we're gaining is just paying our current police chief two months more salary," Councilor Joshua Moran said.

Bernard acknowledged that he learned of his negotiating power after filing his initial proposal with the City Council.

"Being able to use the provisions of [state law] to do the direct negotiations provides the maximum flexibility for this, and I think this is a critical hire and we need to do everything we can to attract the most competitive pool we can — within reason," Bernard said.

Bernard now has the option of coming forward with a proposal to remove the police chief position from the city's employment classification and compensation plan.

The mayor said the city will post the police chief position in the new year.

Although the appointment is entirely the mayor's to make, Bernard said he is creating a search committee that will include representation from the City Council.

Bernard's initial proposal, which required two-thirds approval, was supported by Councilors Paul Hopkins and Eric Buddington.

"I'd like to state my preference for hiring under the compensation plan if it's possible," Buddington said. "I feel as though when challenged by members of the public as to salaries of officials, it's a lot easier to defend if we have agreed-upon values."

Councilors LaForest, Benjamin Lamb, Moran, Rebbecca Cohen and Marie T. Harpin also voted against it.

Councilors Keith Bona and Wayne Wilkinson abstained from the vote because of familial ties to the Police Department.

Adam Shanks can be reached at ashanks@berkshireeagle.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.


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