Our Opinion: Keep election season out of city politics

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Pittsfield has lost its respected building commissioner, Gerald Garner, to Adams, where he will make more money and undoubtedly have less aggravation.

Meanwhile, Pittsfield's search for a replacement is dragging along, beset perhaps, by the politics that Mr. Garner apparently found burdensome.

Mr. Gardner, who made $67,600 in Pittsfield, is earning $75,200 annually for a similar job in Adams. In a frank interview with The Eagle's Amanda Drane (May 25), Mr. Garner, who was the city's building commissioner for 10 years, said, "Money has always been a lingering issue with that place," in reference to Pittsfield. His requests for a raise were unavailing, aside from one during the administration of Mayor Daniel Bianchi.

The city has been without a building commissioner for two months, which Mayor Linda Tyer told the City Council has put "quite a strain on the department." We don't doubt that, as the commissioner's duties are many. Mr. Garner supervised building inspectors, enforced state codes and zoning regulations and assured that structures are safe, among other responsibilities. This is a particularly important position in a city with an aging infrastructure.

Mayor Tyer has expressed the desire for some flexibility on the building commissioner's salary as she seeks a replacement and budgeted the line item at $70,000. Mr. Gerard told The Eagle it will be difficult for the city to find a capable replacement without raising the salary. Nonetheless, there was push among city councilors to actually reduce the salary line item, which was defeated by a narrow 6-to-4 vote. Lowering the salary may have assured that the city would not be able to find a replacement of the caliber needed for the position.

In outlining the skills needed for the job to The Eagle, Mr. Garner noted that his replacement should be politically savvy, adding that the building commissioner's role in Adams is less political than it is in Pittsfield. He didn't amplify, but anyone who reads The Eagle or watches City Council meetings on PCTV knows that city government is heavily politicized and that the ongoing battles between rival camps impacts many aspects of city business.

This goes double in an election year and that can be doubled again in this particular election year, which features a race for mayor that includes the incumbent and at-large city councilor Melissa Mazzeo. They represent two rival forces that have long battled in Pittsfield, perhaps most notably during the years of mayors James Ruberto and Daniel Bianchi. Their differing philosophies will be on display during this year's mayoral campaign and it will be good for the city to have that debate.

Politics should stay in the political arena, however, and the vote to lower the line item for the building commissioner's salary after losing a veteran building commissioner to another Berkshire town was so illogical it appears obvious that politics was behind it. It is not the first vote in recent months that has that taint. This is the recipe for the kind of polarization that paralyzes our federal government.

Pittsfield looks forward to a vigorous political campaign. And let's keep it out of City Council chambers.

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