Pittsfield Civil Service Task Force Agrees To Disagree

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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The task force finalized its report on Thursday.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The task force looking into the city's Civil Service system has agreed to disagree.

The committee finalized its report to Mayor Daniel Bianchi on Thursday regarding the use of the system in hiring permanent police and fire chiefs.

Representatives from the three bargaining units (two for police, one for fire) voted against removing the chief positions from Civil Service.

In a roll call vote, Matthew Hill, Pittsfield Police Superior Officers Union, Jeffrey Coco, Pittsfield Patrol Police Union, and Tim Bartini,  Pittsfield Firefighters Association, all opposed removing the chiefs from the system. The rest of the committee voted to recommend another system.

"We had clearly a difference of opinion between some of the members of the task force on whether or not the process of hiring a permanent police and fire chief through Civil Service," said task force Chairwoman Pamela Green.

While the task force was divided on whether to retain the system or opt elsewhere, the members did agree with a full report, which recommends provisions for if the city opts to go outside. The committee won't make a recommendation on if the chiefs should or should not be hired through the system and the reports leaves the ultimate decision up to the mayor.

If Bianchi chooses to go outside, the committee wants a consultant to be hired to establish clear protocol for the hiring process. That would then need a special act or be an ordinance so as to not be changed at the whim of any mayor.

"I think we all want, whatever process is in place outside of Civil Service is predictable, transparent and in writing so no funny stuff happens," said Michael McCarthy.

The report says the hiring must be "as objective as humanly possible; based upon merit, and transparent." It also calls for whatever other system is used to include and assessment center.

Assessment centers are both available through the Civil Service system and through outside companies. The centers judge candidates by testing them in real life situations rather than just a written test. Both current acting chiefs voiced in favor of the centers during the task force's research.

The report says once a consultant sets minimum requirements for education, certifications and experience, the city should require all candidates admitted to the assessment center stage be given a "thorough background check" and that the hired candidate be required to sign a contract that outlines the number of years, salary range, benefits and a just cause provision.

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From there, a local committee will be formed to weed out resumes through a two-step process for the assessment center.

A committee of community leaders, elected officials and at least one member of the collective bargaining units affected by the hiring will work with the company providing the assessment center to narrow candidates down to three.

A separate, "small committee" will interview the three finalists with the mayor, who makes the ultimate decision and forwards the nominee to the City Council for final approval.

The report, which was unanimously approved, did say that the Civil Service system as is "deprives members of the department of smooth, predictable, timely and efficient and inexpensive testing, promotions and appeals."

"I want to express displeasure with Civil Service," McCarthy said, citing long wait times for getting testing results back, customer service and overall inefficiency. "It is very upsetting."

Green added that nearly every person they talked with about Civil Service expressed frustration with its operations.

"I think it is important for us to express an opinion on the lack of efficiency in the system," Green said.

The union representatives and current acting chiefs agreed that the system isn't functioning perfectly but that it is still a better system to ensure that chiefs are protected from political whims.

Nonetheless, the task force will now submit the final report to Bianchi, calling for permanent chiefs to be appointed "promptly."

"We mean promptly," McCarthy said. "Let's get this done."

Tags: civil service,   police chief,   police, fire,   task force,   

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