Is Pittsfield paying its building chief enough? Man who held post for a decade says no
PITTSFIELD — After jumping ship for a higher salary in Adams, Pittsfield's former building commissioner is warning that the city will have trouble recruiting a successor unless it ups the pay.
The city has gone without a building commissioner for two months, since Gerald Garner departed. Mayor Linda Tyer said that the vacancy, which officials hope to fill soon, has put "quite a strain on the department."
Whether more money is in the offing is uncertain. Tyer this week asked councilors for wiggle room on the commissioner's salary, pushing back during the budget process against those who sought to reduce the salary.
"We'd like a little bit of flexibility in that line item to be able to recruit a highly qualified candidate for this very important position," she told councilors Tuesday.
Garner served as building commissioner for more than a decade before resigning in March. He told The Eagle the city seemed to struggle for years to pay him what he believes he deserves.
Pay level debated
Several councilors said this week that the city's salaries might be on the low end, but they're what municipal government can afford.
"We've already done what we could do," Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo said, arguing that the city already has outdone itself when accounting for recent cost-of-living increases.
Mazzeo was one of several councilors who voted to cut back the line item, which Tyer budgeted at just over $70,000. The motion to reduce the pay failed 6-4.
Garner made $67,606 at the time of his resignation, according to Pittsfield's Personnel Director Michael Taylor.
Garner received a significant pay bump in his move to Adams, where his annual salary is $75,280, according to the town's accounting office.
"Money has always been a lingering issue with that place," he said of Pittsfield, noting he had pushed for years for a higher salary and finally got a raise under former Mayor Dan Bianchi.
But he said he hadn't seen a raise since then.
"It had nothing to do with my performance," he said. "I guess they just felt like not paying me."
Role of commissioner
The city's building commissioner supervises the work of building inspectors, enforces state codes and local zoning regulations as they pertain to new projects, and decides if the city's structures are safe and sound. The commissioner also issues certificates of inspection and occupancy, as well as notices of violations and stop-work orders.
Garner said he gave two weeks' notice and his last day with the city was March 22. He started working as building commissioner for Adams on March 25.
Tyer said her team interviewed finalists for the position this month but does not have anyone lined up for the job.
"We're trying to work as aggressively as we can to fill this vacancy," she said.
Taylor said no one is serving now in the role of commissioner. In its search, which is now closed, the city saw four applicants for the position, which comes with an annual salary range that starts at $67,012 and, at least theoretically, can rise to $87,116.
"I can't really give much else away right now about that, but we hope to have this wrapped up soon," Taylor told The Eagle.
During Tuesday's budget hearing, Ward 4 Councilor Chris Connell said Garner did good work for the city and, and the community isn't likely to get someone of the same caliber and tenure. He suggested cutting back the line to what Garner was making when he left.
Mazzeo said the city already did an overhaul of its salaries — "We did a lot of soul searching," she said — and agreed on bringing in people at lower salaries and then gradually increasing them to match their performance.
"The fact that we don't have a bunch of people lined up, I don't think it has to do with the salary," she said. "I just want people to remember that we did revamp these salaries."
Garner said his new gig is closer to his Cheshire home, the salary is higher and he views it as an all-around "better opportunity."
He said that with decades in the business, he had trained many of the local building department leaders. He had begun to think he'd have to leave the area to make a higher salary, but his wife encouraged him to wait for a local opportunity.
And he said it came when new Town Administrator Jay Green took the reins in Adams.
"I wanted to work for Jay because I knew he could get things done," he said. "I would like to see things happen here in Adams."
As for his successor in Pittsfield, Garner said, "They will never be not busy. ... It's quite the balancing act, doing that job there."
Garner said that in addition to understanding and enforcing building codes, the next building commissioner must be a skilled supervisor as well as politically savvy. He said he expects the city will continue to struggle to fill the position because the salary it's offering should be higher.
The building commissioner's role is less political in Adams, he said.
Still, he harbors no ill will toward Pittsfield, he said.
"I have to better myself in life," he said. "That's what life's about and that's what I have to do."
Amanda Drane can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.
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