Pittsfield Council Balks at Committee AppointmentBy Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires
03:15PM / Wednesday, February 15, 2012
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The City Council tabled on Tuesday a mayoral appointment to the Ambulance Review Committee after heated argument over the candidate's character.
Mayor Daniel Bianchi's appointment of former city employee and recent Ward 3 candidate Jeffrey Ferrin was a relatively rare challenge during an otherwise routine series of mayoral appointment confirmations.
Council Vice President Jonathan Lothrop was first to raise an objection to Ferrin's appointment. "I normally look at my job with appointments as giving the mayor broad deference... but I do have concerns about this nomination."
Lothrop pointed specifically to Civil Service Commission findings from Ferrin's 2009 appeal of disciplinary suspensions as raising questions about Ferrin's suitability for the position on this volunteer committee.
"I do think that as an appointee to a committee, we do need to have consideration for people's overall character," said Lothrop. "I may be the discordant vote here, but I really do believe that if we're going to put somebody on a committee, they need to be able to work with people, they need to be able to work together, and they need to be able to get the job done."
Lothrop said there were too many instances of disciplary issues with Ferrin as a city employee laid out in the Civil Service document, which is a matter of public record, too support his appointment to this committee.
Ward 1 Councilor Christine Yon echoed Lothrop that while she generally felt the mayor should have a right to make his own choices about appointments, "I feel our only job is, if there is a matter of character, we need to weigh that heavily. After reading all those Civil Service reports, I can't support this."
Specifically, the councilors referred to findings by the Civil Service Commission upholding two suspensions against Ferrin, one for a perceived racial epithet regarding President Obama made over the city's two-way radio system, and one for leaving a city truck running with the keys in for more than 30 minutes parked near the busy Charles Street access point to Berkshire Medical Center. In addition to the findings against Ferrin in these cases, the documents also outline 13 other instances of disciplinary actions while working for the city between 2006 and 2009.
Councilor Barry Clairmont also declined to support Ferrin's nomination, as did Ward 3 Councilor Paul Capitanio, who defeated Ferrin in last November's election.
Bianchi, along with Councilors Melissa Mazzeo and Kevin Morandi, voiced surprise and disappointment at the objections to this appointment.
"I don't think we should hold it against people whether they've run against us," said Mazzeo, "If we start talking about the issue of character on boards, we could get into a real sticky situation. If we're going to start doing that, and start judging, we're going to start being like McCarthy. I'm a little shocked by this."
Morandi said that while he had not read the aforementioned report, he agreed with Mazzeo about "passing judgement" on character in this situation. "We might want to take a look at some current people that are also on certain boards, if we're going to do that."
Ward 6 Councilor John Krol, who also said he had not read the Civil Service findings, suggested tabling the appointment until everyone on the council had a chance to review the document. "It seems like a lot of councilors feel strongly about this particular appointment, based on information not all of us have seen."
Councilors Anthony Simonelli and Christopher Connell echoed this sentiment, the latter making the motion to table.
"I think this issue has been blown way out of proportion," said Bianchi. "I think that when Mr. Ferrin ran for office, he was quite candid about the issues he had in the past."
The mayor also expressed concerns about setting a precedent in assessing appointments in this way, saying the council's reaction would make him "more careful" in bringing forward appointments and that he would need to "dig more into" the backgrounds of people already serving on such committees.
Connell, before making the motion to table, acknowledged that, "I think we're on a kind of slippery slope, but I just would like to look at it, because it was a focal point that was brought up."
The motion to table the appointment was passed by an 8-3 vote, with Melissa Mazzeo, Kevin Morandi, and Churchill Cotton voting against it.
Reached later, Ferrin was "amazed" at the controversy.
"The mayor took the time to discuss these matters with me then and even before the appointment," he said. "So if he was willing to take the time to look at these issues and found that they were not an issue I am hopeful that the councilors will as well."
The debated Civil Service Commission findings can be found here and here in PDF format.