PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Charter Review Committee on Thursday weighed the pros and cons of whether the city would be better with a mayor or a city manager, term lengths, and the makeup of the City Council.
In mayor-council governments, the mayor heads the executive branch with a city council as legislative body. The council-manager form of government replace this division with the council as sole elected body, which appoints a city manager to act as the chief executive officer.
Committee member Diane Ferrero said many residents she'd spoken to had expressed real reservations about the concept of a city manager rather than a mayor.
"People were quite alarmed," said Ferrero. "They seemed to agree that it's better for a democratic form of government to have a mayor and a city council, because they could check and balance each other."
"Most recent cities that have moved from a mayor form a manager form have done so as a result of crisis," said Michael Ward, a consultant from Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts. According to one study of government in Worcester, the largest Massachusetts city to employ a manager, says this system arose in 1949 out of "widespread perception of corruption in City Hall accompanied by the reality of the City's crumbling infrastructure."
Brad Gordon suggested that the reason why city manager governments in the commonwealth tended to be seen in larger municipalities is that they might have more resources to pay for these dual positions.
"Do the people in this city want a strong mayor form of government where you call the mayor and he or she is the person in charge, or do you want something different than that?" said Michael McCarthy. "Do you want more council involvement with a more management-centered city hall with a professional manager? It really is a philosophical issue that we're going to have to get a feel from the community and from our city leaders on."
Committee members expressed a growing consensus on an increased term length, in the event it recommends continuing a mayoral form of government. Mayors currently serve two-year terms. Members cited benefits such as the completion of large projects, and the attraction of skilled department heads who can be assured of a longer administrative continuity.
"That seems to be the trend," said Judge Edward Lapointe, who chairs the fledgling committee.
The committee also continued discussion from a previous meeting about whether it was desirable to continue with the current city council structure, comprised of one councilor for each of Pittsfield's city wards and four at large. An emerging initial concensus seems to lean toward continuing with the current number and breakdown of councilors, citing a perceived need for ward specific representatives to focus on the needs of neighborhoods and to populate various council subcommittees.
"We're sort of operating in a vacuum tonight, until we get some of that additional input," said Gordon. "That will probably raise more questions than it answers, that will probably be good for us."
The committee will seek additional input on these issues in future meetings with a variety of current and former Pittsfield mayors and city councilors, beginning at its Nov. 20 meeting, along with two future public input hearings which have yet to be scheduled.
After the study committee has completed its review, any recommendations it makes must be accepted by the mayor and a majority of the City Council, then pass through the state Legislature before being put to a citywide vote. Any changes made would then take effect in 2014, except for changes to terms of elected officials, which would not take effect until the start of 2016.
The city has created a web page with information about the charter review process, including a meeting schedule, agendas, and reference materials about modern forms and trends in municipal government.
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