There was a rush to congratulate Michael Cozzaglio and Stephen Meranti, who will become police and fire chief, respectively, after a final vote on Dec. 26.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city will have a fire chief and police chief for the first time in 37 years.
Or at least it will by the end of the year.
The City Council on Tuesday easily passed to a second reading an ordinance change that switches "director" to "chief" as department heads as the first step in pulling down the public safety governance structure established in 1981. It also passed after much more discussion a change in the compensation plan raising the salary for the police chief.
The adoption was prompted by the announced retirement of Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, who has been in his post for 15 years. However, the changes have been discussed off and on after the past administration abandoned attempts to fill the commissioner of public safety post six years ago.
The current administration says it's time to acknowledge that the spot at the top of the public safety structure is empty and to begin rewriting the enacting ordinance. In the meantime, trying to find someone to replace a "police director" comes with its own issues.
"If you advertise for a police director outside the immediate area, people won't apply because they're looking for a police chief position," explained Fred Dupere, the city's labor attorney. "We really feel tonight this is the best way to move it forward."
While councilors agreed it was "a logical thing to do," per Councilor Benjamin Lamb, they questioned the limited scope of the ordinance change and the wisdom of shifting the classification and compensation plan.
Mayor Thomas Bernard said a rewrite of Chapter 8 of the city's ordinances related to public safety would be brought forward later but it was his intention to get the chief situation settled so the search for a new police chief can begin by the first of the year.
Dupere said the title change would have no effect on the rest of the public safety ordinance because directors have the same authority as chiefs and there is no public safety commissioner.
Bernard asked that the classification be changed to a higher wage, S-27B on the compensation schedule, to attract a competitive field of applicants. The directors are currently are at S-33B, with a starting wage of $76,748 to a maximum of $81,505; S-27B has a flat rate of $85,535.
Cozzaglio is currently at $81,007 and Councilor Jason LaForest questioned why the city would change the rate now and not when the new person is hired.
It wasn't about the current police director, he said. "I'm just looking at the numbers."
Bernard said it was a matter of having the higher rate on the books in time for the job to be posted. Cozzaglio is retiring on Feb. 8, so it was a matter of weeks. Plus, he said, the current wage is siginificantly lower than other communities.
The North Adams police director oversees a larger department than both Adams and Williamstown but makes less, Bernard said, and compared to surrounding communities the salary difference ranges from $5,000 to $30,000 less.
"We did some comps looking at communities within a thousand individuals of the population of North Adams, they are all in eastern Mass, and they all begin in the six figures," Bernard said. "The lowest of the ones we looked at was the town of Charlton, 13,523 individuals living in Charlton, and their chief ... makes $118,426."
But when Dupere raised the possibility of negotiating a salary rather than going by the compensation plan, several councilors thought that made sense.
"Why would we limit ourselves rather than negotiate with the applicant?" asked LaForest, or discuss in more depth the salary rather than capping it. "Is S-27B the appropriate salary classification for a broad search for a police chief?"
Councilor Marie T. Harpin was agreeable to the idea of sending it to committee to "take the time to do it right the first time so we're not coming back in here in a month" if the salary didn't attract candidates.
In response to a question by Councilor Rebbecca Cohen, the mayor said the figure was arrived through looking through the classification plan and comparing to other positions of similar responsibility. S-27B is also the rate for the commissioner of public services.
"A a base salary for unclassified, there are limited options in the budget," he said.
The entire compensation plan has "peculiarities," Bernard said and would benefit from a significant review.
"It's not the most ideal situation," said Lamb. "Right now the pay is so low we're not going to get any traction at all, this gets us up a little bit while we figure out the process of a potential classification change. ... We can't just go into a classification plan adjustment right now."
Councilor Eric Buddington said he was comfortable moving on this classification change.
"Maybe we should at least let it play out," said Councilor Joshua Moran. "At least that S-27B gives us a jumping off point of $85,000."
The motion to change the compensation passed with only LaForest voting against and Councilors Wayne Wilkson and President Keith Bona abstaining because they have family members employed in the Police Department.
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Drury Graduate to Direct Horror Film in North Adams
By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — A Drury High School graduate is hoping to bring his dream — or, more appropriately, his nightmare — to film life.
The horror film "The Uncredited," written by Nick Burchard, will be filmed in North Adams this spring, pending fundraising and the COVID-19 pandemic. Burchard's Tiny Viking Productions is making the film in conjunction with Sancha Spiller and Kasey Rae of Skylah Productions of New York City.
"I grew up in the area, and I've always appreciated the historical places, in particular the Hoosac Tunnel, Mohawk Theater, and the old mills," Burchard said. "I think North Adams has a very unique setting, with the mountains surrounding the city and of course, all the steeples.
"The Uncredited" follows a young woman who appears in an independent film. While watching it, her friends notice something disturbing in the background of her scene. This leads to rumors and distrust in even the closest group of friends.
"My goal is to make great characters, and even though it's a spooky thriller the characters in it are just friends sitting down to watch a movie together," Burchard said. "They crack jokes, roast each other, and are all collectively trying to have a good time … but that juxtaposed with the realization that one of them might be hiding something is what creates the thriller edge to this. I think it's really fun."
Spiller added that the film does not rely on horror tropes such as jump scares. She said the screenplay is character-driven.
"It showcases our greatest fear of not knowing the people around us as well as we think," she said. "It makes us second guess who we trust and remember that just being in the wrong place at the wrong time can have horrifying consequences."