Members of the Charter Review Committee and Mayor Daniel Bianchi advocate for the proposed charter changes on PCTVs CityLink channel with moderator David Cachet.
PITTSIELD, Mass. — With about a month left until the municipal election, Mayor Daniel Bianchi and members of the city's Charter Review Study Committee are urging voters to look favorably on a new edition of the city's governing document.
"The ultimate check and balance sits with the voters of Pittsfield," said Bianchi in a panel discussion hosted by Pittsfield Community Television on Thursday.
Last year, at the behest of the City Council, Bianchi initiated an extensive process of review and revision for the city's current governing charter, which has not been significantly updated in 80 years. Over a six-month span of 18 meetings and two public hearings, an 11-member board selected by the mayor and council evaluated and rewrote the document, with the help of paid consultants from the Edward J. Collins Center for Public Management.
"I wanted to make sure that we had one that was most efficient," said Bianchi of his intentions for the charter review. "One that is up to date, and one that the people of Pittsfield would be satisfied."
Judge Edward Lapointe, who chaired the special temporary committee, praised its members for their diligence throughout the process.
"They were all dedicated, very serious, they studied a lot, they argued and debated a lot, always politely," said Lapointe.
Lapointe said the charter revisions came out of a healthy process that included expert consultants, testimony from invited elected officials, input from the public, and reasonable deliberation by the eleven member body.
"We wanted to develop a charter that would stand the test of time, that would survive and lead to good government in the city of Pittsfield," said committee member William Barry.
One of the most significant changes to the charter is the change of a mayor's term from two years to four years, a decision committee members defended on Thursday.
Committee member Michael McCarthy said four-year terms are becoming increasingly common across the state as cities review and update their charters, suggesting two years is insufficient time for an electee to acclimate to the job before having to ready for re-election.
"Getting to know the city council, the department heads," said McCarthy, "To me, I thought that was a sign that they need four years, there was no doubt about it."
Members of the committee said the increased mayoral term was offset by other changes to maintain "checks and balances." This includes clarifying the process of political appointments to eliminate the issue of holdovers and acting department heads by instituting a time limit for putting forth appointees to the City Council for confirmation.
These appointments were a key issue for the committee
, as impetus for the charter revision arose partly out of City Council frustrations with a controversial 2011 decision by former Mayor James Ruberto to appoint some positions
without seeking council acceptance.
"What this charter does is make very clear delineations of powers that various departments and branches of government have," said McCarthy.
Committee representatives also defended another somewhat controversial provision of the new charter, a clause that allows for compensation of elected School Committee members. Under current government, Pittsfield city councilors are paid $8,000 annually and are eligible for benefits. During the committee's hearings, it was suggested by many that the work of the School Committee members is nearly as intensive, and that some form of compensation might be an inducement to bring qualified candidates to a body that has traditionally fielded lackluster elections from a small pool of candidates.
Under the new proposed charter, the city would have the option, but not the obligation, to decide whether or not to extend payment to School Committee members and in what amounts.
"The people who hold the purse strings in Pittsfield, the mayor and the City Council, are the ones who will have to decide," said McCarthy. "It's not under the control of the School Committee what they pay themselves, it's by ordinance of the city government."
Bianchi said the proposed charter has been fairly vetted through an extensive process, that included unanimous approval by both the charter group and the city council, followed by his sign off. Following that it went through a process of review in Boston by the state House, Senate, and governor.
Whether or not the new document, which by its own mandate will need to be reviewed each decade, goes into effect will be decided by voters in Pittsfield's general election on Nov. 5.
Copies of the charter are available online
, and in hard copy from the office of the City Clerk or at the Berkshire Athenaeum.