Our Opinion: Stockbridge must explore new system of government

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Stockbridge residents are wondering about the viability of their volunteer fire department today, but that problem is only a symptom of a larger one. The town needs professional management and should explore ways of obtaining it.

By a vote of 2-0 Tuesday, the Stockbridge Select Board fired Fire Chief Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo on the grounds of mismanagement, poor judgment and a failure to cooperate with interim department leaders. (Eagle, Feb. 6). The third member of the board, Mr. Cardillo himself, did not vote because of the obvious conflict. Twelve volunteer firefighters have resigned according to Matthew Szwyd, a firefighter and Mr. Cardillo's son-in-law, but town officials assert that five were not on active duty and others who recently left have returned.

The selectmen had accused Mr. Cardillo of costing the town $83,000 in overbilling and excess shipments of supplies for the department from two New York vendors. His defenders claim the former chief was the victim of a scam, but this doesn't sound like a scam from the way Mr. Cardillo describes it. He said he was "pressured" by the vendors, but applying pressure is what vendors do and it is the responsibility of the purchaser not to succumb. Also, as a selectman, he was in a position to know how these excessive payments would impact his town's budget.

Going forward, the town should explore the possibility of a statute prohibiting department heads from also serving as selectmen, which can lead to conflicts of interest. Town leaders have declined opportunities to fully embrace the concept of shared services with Lee and Lenox, which could provide the kind of professional management that nips problems like this one in the bud. Absent a change of heart on shared services, Stockbridge should consider a town manager form of government. It is difficult to imagine that this issue within the fire department could have festered for years if an experienced manager was on the job. The town has an administrator in Danielle Fillio, but in hiring her the Selectmen maintained control of hiring and firing, duties which ordinarily fall to a town manager.

Stockbridge clearly needs to investigate its governmental options. Voters should demand it.

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