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Pittsfield Ordinance Committee Debates Hiring Consultant

By Joe Durwin
Pittsfield Correspondent
02:24AM / Friday, February 21, 2014
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The Ordinance Review Committee is charged with updating the city's ordinances to align with the new charter.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The newly convened Ordinance Review Committee weighed the possible need for paid consulting services in the task of updating the city code to bring it in line with its recently enacted charter. 
 
The formation of such a committee was mandated under a provision of the charter itself, and its configuration intensively vetted in the City Council, whose petition expanded its purpose to generate recommendations for getting its ordinances in conformity with not only the charter, but with state law where necessary. 
 
The committee consists of Councilor Barry Clairmont, two members of the Charter Review Committee, Vicki Kane and David Murphy, along with former City Clerk Jody Phillips and current City Clerk Linda Tyer, who they elected to chair the group at its inaugural meeting.
 
 Both Tyer and Clairmont urged the committee to consider engaging professional services for the most comprehensive review possible, though City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan, assigned to the committee in an advisory capacity, opposed the idea.
 
"This is an opportunity to really examine our city code in terms of conflicts it has not only with the charter but within the individual ordinances themselves there are often conflicts, and then also some conflicts with Massachusetts General Laws," Tyer told the committee. "We could take the more narrow task as the charter suggests, or we could make a more comprehensive review that really in the long run will be of much greater value to the administration of local government."
 
"I'm not one to want to spend money, but I think it would be money well spent," said Clairmont, "It would be an investment in getting it right."
 
Degnan adamantly resisted the idea of bringing in outside services, maintaining that the necessary legal and administrative work can be handled through her office. Degnan pointed out that the city of Northampton, whose new charter is similar to Pittsfield's, handled this type of review process internally.
 
"I don't think that once you get going, it's going to be impossible for us to do it, and I do think that my office could do it and do a thorough job," said Degnan.
 
"Northampton's previous charter wasn't over 80 years old, and some of our ordinances are dated back that old as well," Clairmont answered. "So we probably have more inconsistencies and more conflicts with Mass. General Law as well."
 
City Clerk Linda Tyer, center, argued for a full outside review, saying the ordinances also don't align with state law and are contradictory; City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan insisted that her department could handle it.
The provisions put forth by the council allow for the possibility the committee could utilize such services, if the expense is subsequently approved by the mayor and council. In that event, a likely prospective vendor for these consulting services is a Rochester, N.Y., firm, General Code, which already provides software management for Pittsfield's city code. A preliminary estimate for these services ranged from $12,000 to $14,000, according to Tyer.  
 
It's believed that this vendor is in contract with the commonwealth and therefore could be hired for the service without sending the job out for bidders, as is generally the case with projects more than $10,000.
 
"I think that a $12,000 to $14,000 expenditure is minimal when you're talking about the rules that this city operates under are correct," said Clairmont.
 
"They'll make recommendations to us, and it will still be up to us to review it with the city solicitor and fine tune the ordinances so that it suits our community," offered Tyer. "I think it really would be an opportunity for a double layer of review."
 
"It would certainly lighten our load to have them analyze it before we start to work on it," agreed Murphy, "Assuming that they are competent at this, we'll probably wind up doing a better job, because there'll be two sets of eyes on this."
 
The committee ultimately agreed to invite General Code to an informational meeting later this month to hear more about the process before reaching a final decision on whether to request the city approve a request for its services. This session is tentatively scheduled as part of their next meeting for Feb. 26.

Tags: city charter,   city code,   ordinances,   

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