Alcombright Ends Public Safety Commissioner Post

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff
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Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, left, and Fire Director Stephen Meranti will step into the void being left by the retirement of Public Safety Commissioner E. John Morocco, center.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A more than two-year discussion over filling the city's top public safety post has come to a halt.

Mayor Richard Alcombright said on Friday that "we have exhausted our efforts" to find someone to fill the commissioner's post and that the duties will be taken up by the current police and fire directors effective immediately.

Commissioner E. John Morocco, who has been working part time for more than a year, will finally retire Sept. 30.

"[Administrative Officer] Mike Canales and I talked about it a lot," Alcombright said. "We've got two good guys in front of our faces. .... I like the commissioner position, it's a good management piece for me, but for the city of North Adams, I wasn't going to settle." 

The city had done two searches to fill the post, an initial listing in early winter that did not turn up enough qualified candidates, and a more targeted search that resulted in 17 applications.

The search committee and mayor had winnowed those down to two but both candidates, Alcombright said, had withdrawn their applications for various reasons before any negotiations opened. After some internal discussion with public safety and Canales, it was determined to end the search.

Fire Director Stephen Meranti and Police Director Michael Cozzaglio have indicated they were willing to take on the challenge, he said, which will include more managerial and administrative duties.

"These guys run the day-to-day operations of the departments," said the mayor. "They will be more engaged in contract negotiations, and civil service type of issues, personnel issues that escalate, and more engaged in the budgeting process and more engaged in the grant writing process."

Both directors will now report directly to the mayor; the health inspector and building inspector will report to Canales.

North Adams has one of the more unusual public safety structures that only a few other municipalities in the state use. The commissioner is a "hybrid," as described by the mayor, that's played into the difficulty of filling the post for a salary of about $88,000.

The public safety commissioner post was established nearly 30 years ago to oversee both fire and police departments as a cost-savings measure.

The Public Safety Committee had been charged with determining whether to stay with the current structure or return to the separate departments headed by chiefs nearly two years ago as Morocco's retirement neared. A home-rule petition extended the commissioner's tenure but he went part time to ease budget woes last year.

But it was not until this past February that the committee voted to search for a new commissioner based on the mayor and Morocco's recommendation that it would continue to be cost-effective and would avoid changes in the command structure that would require more staffing and promotions.

Alcombright said the directors will continue doing what they've essentially been doing the last year and a half since Morocco reduced his hours, along with the added duties. Cozzaglio and Meranti will remain directors, with no raise in pay, as the city determines a new structure over the next three to six months.

"They both been very gracious in that sense, they've both been willing to accept the challenges," he said. "As we rewrite the department, we'll be looking at pay grades based on additional levels of responsibility."

Alcombright said he did not anticipate any turf issues in terms of command, saying neither director thought there would be any problems. Both men have worked together well for years and, he said,  and "know where the line is in respect to their areas."

The mayor expected a new command structure and ordinance will be brought before the City Council next winter. "This will be kind of a be a fluid moving thing."

He expressed full confidence in Meranti and Cozzaglio's ability to handle their added duties.

"I've taken a lot of time to think about this so if I wasn't confident and comfortable with it, I wouldn't do it," said Alcombright.

Tags: North Adams Fire,   North-Adams-police,   public safety,   public safety commissioner,   

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