Pittsfield Committee Divided on Chiefs in Civil Service

By Joe DurwinPittsfield Correspondent
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The Civil Service advisory committee is split on whether to retain Civil Service for appointing the fire and police chiefs.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The majority of a temporary task force on Civil Service is leaning toward recommending the position of police and fire chiefs be taken out of the troubled system.

But representatives of those departments on the committee oppose such a move.

All members seemed to agree Thursday that permanent appointments need to be made for the chiefs of the fire and police departments, who are currently serving in "acting" or provisional capacities. The task force remains split, however, on the best way to do accomplish this.  
"I came into this leaning toward keeping Civil Service," said Michael McCarthy. "But what has really shocked me is the ineffectiveness and ineptitude of the Civil Service office."
Non-union members of the committee envision removing these two positions from Civil Service, but only if it can be replaced with an improved selection process that is fair, apolitical and transparent.
"I don't want a chief of either fire or police department to ever be selected based on political whim, or to be pressured based on political whim," McCarthy added.
Three members representing local police and firefighters voiced opposition to taking either chief out of the Civil Service process, instead stressing a need to explore previously underutilized options within the bureaucracy, such as the use of Civil Service-approved assessment centers to expedite the process.
"We can change the way we hire chiefs and still keep them in Civil Service," said police union President Jeff Coco.
"There are options within the system before taking the drastic step of removing the position of chief from Civil Service," according to a letter to the committee from the Local 447 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, stating a unified desire to keep the position within the current system to avoid political vagaries.
"One of my biggest fears is that over time, it's going to get worse, in terms of dealing with the Civil Service office," said Committee Chairwoman Pamela Green "I want to find a way to make sure that Pittsfield isn't going to be stuck not getting the service it needs to get someone fairly appointed."
Out of about 350 police chiefs in Massachusetts, only 75 are still part of the Civil Service system; 150 communities use Civil Service for all officers within their departments. In 2010, a survey of Massachusetts police chiefs found that of 100 respondents, a majority favored taking the chief position out of Civil Service.
"It sounded to me like a lot of things I was worried about, haven't been an issue," Green said of communities that have left Civil Service, based on testimony from several former Massachusetts police officers.
Green suggested the task force will still be able to arrive at final recommendations even if there is division on the key question of removing these positions from Civil Service, citing overall consensus on many of the underlying findings about the need for legitimate appointments and maintaining a fair and transparent process for selection of chiefs.
The committee, which is purely advisory, is expected to generate its finished recommendations to Mayor Daniel Bianchi at a final meeting on May 1. It has been researching the Civil Service for three months.


Tags: advisory committee,   civil service,   police chief,   

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