Pittsfield Committee Won't Back Appointments Petition

By Joe DurwinSpecial to iBerkshires
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A push to place limits on the amount of time a municipal employee can be appointed in an "acting" capacity by the mayor may be gaining slight ground in the City Council, with the latest petition losing a committee endorsement by only one vote.

The Committee on Ordinance and Rules reviewed a petition by Ward 2 Councilor Peter White asking for a 90-day cap on appointments of an acting capacity, with only one 90-day extension by the mayor permitted without City Council approval. After a lengthy debate, the committee voted 3-2 to recommend the proposal not be approved by the entire council when it goes before them on Aug. 9.

This new petition echoes that advanced by Councilor at Large Melissa Mazzeo in May, following Mayor James Ruberto's decision the previous month to bypass council approval on two appointments by installing them in an acting capacity. Mazzeo's proposal called for a 30-day time limit, with one 30-day extension. It was rejected by a 4-1 vote in the subcommittee, and 6-4 in the City Council, with Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon abstaining.

Other councilors have expressed concerns about the nature of acting appointments since the mayor removed from their consideration the nominations of Patricia Farley-Bouvier and Gregory Yon (Councilor Yon's husband) as directors of administrative services and the city's maintenance department, respectively, instead appointing them in an "acting" capacity. Some, however, feel that the problem lies in the city's charter, which includes this avenue for mayors to fill positions indefinitely without a vote from the council.

Councilor at Large Kevin Sherman, who has introduced a petition to create a charter commission to review the structure of city government, reiterated his earlier position at Monday's committee meeting.

"I don't see where this stops acting appointments from happening," he said. "I get the problem, but I don't see how this corrects it."

White, speaking on behalf of his petition, felt that providing a period up to six months for the mayor to permanently fill a position might make more sense, providing more leeway for circumstances such as an individual needing a longer trial period, or time to secure necessary training or qualifications.

"I think that this can happen concurrently with Councilor Sherman's petition to establish a charter commission ... ," White added. "I just think that this gives us some coverage while that process takes place."

Mazzeo supported White's petition, but proposed an amendment removing the 90-day extension, to allow only 90 days in total for the position to be filled permanently.

Ward 4 Councilor Michael Ward, who voted against the first proposal to the committee in May, supported the petition as well as Mazzeo's amendment.

Ward 6 Councilor John Krol opposed the limitations, cautioning against placing additional obstacles to a mayor being able to run the city administration with the personnel he or she chooses to. 

"We have a City Council that has acted differently than councils in the past," he said. "I don't think the tenor of the council over the last few months has been very positive."

Committee Chairman Jonathan Lothrop voted with Krol and Sherman to oppose the petition.

White said after the meeting that because it got two votes, he believed it could still pass before the full council in August by a 6-4 vote, with Yon once again abstaining.

"I do appreciate that the committee discussed the issue in more detail than when Councilor Mazzeo put in the original petition," he said.

Other committee business in brief:

The committee voted unanimously to table a petition by Ward 7 Councilor Joseph Nichols to create an ordinance against operating off-road vehicles within 300 yards of residential streets. This petition arose from complaints about one group of individuals from numerous residents in a neighborhood around Peck's Road. Public comment was taken from 10 city residents, including several neighbors and the off-roaders in question, who denied multiple angry accusations of excessive noise late at night and generally combative behavior toward those living around the area in question.

The committee voiced general agreement that the solution to situations such as this was in enforcement of noise and nuisance ordinances already in existence, and urged diligence and persistence from the community in reporting issues and working with the Police Department.

A motion to amend Article 37 2-191 of the City Code, regarding the Police Advisory Committee, was approved unanimously after hearing from Police Chief Michael Wynn. Wynn briefly addressed concerns about the language of the article and the need for it to be more clear and "user-friendly" before recommending its amendment.

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