Mayor wants out of Civil Service
GREENFIELD — The mayor says he has waited long enough and is again pushing to take the town’s police and fire chief positions out of the state Civil Service system.
Prompted in part by reports that none of the local candidates for police chief passed the most recent state exam, Mayor William Martin wants to end months of talks with police and fire unions over the Civil Service issue. On Monday Martin asked the Town Council to ask the state to remove Greenfield from Civil Service.
“We still haven’t come to a word-for-word agreement,” said Martin. “It’s going on two years at this point and we need to institute a recruiting policy and get ourselves a permanent police chief and a permanent fire chief.”
It doesn’t look like fire and police unions are ready to agree.
In early 2012, the issue of leaving Civil Service came up and the town’s police and fire unions became involved. Many police officers and firefighters were concerned that taking the positions out of Civil Service would mean chiefs would lose their independence. They said Civil Service was adopted in Massachusetts to keep politics and corruption out of the departments.
Police provisional Lt. Todd Dodge, who is president of the town’s police supervisors union, said he doesn’t feel the communication between police, the mayor and the Public Safety Commission has been good enough.
“We haven’t even seen what they’ve come up with for a hiring policy if we left Civil Service,” said Dodge. “We have no confidence that the mayor has any confidence in us.”
Martin said some members of the Police Department recently took the Civil Service exam (for chief), but he heard they did not pass. He said the fire chief exam won’t be given until next year.
Dodge said it is true that officers who took the exam this time around did not pass.
Greenfield Human Resources Director Dennis Helmus said Civil Service is not releasing the names of those who took the exam — it only releases the names of those who pass.
“We just can’t keep waiting,” said Martin. “I think we’re waiting for a negotiated solution that just isn’t going to come.”
Martin said he would like to see the town set up its own hiring and testing system. He said candidates would go through a rigorous interviewing process and would take a test. He said the town could work with an outside agency experienced in the assessment process.
“We would have very high standards for our candidates,” said Martin. “Doing it that way would allow for a large number of qualified candidates to apply for each position.”
Martin said a town the size of Greenfield should not continue to run two of its most important departments with provisional, temporary chiefs.
“The two provisional chiefs that we have are not likely, at least at this point, to become permanent under Civil Service,” said Martin, of Joseph Burge (police) and Robert Strahan (fire).
He said many in the two departments have voiced their desire to stay in Civil Service, so the mayor said he has been playing by the rules of Civil Service to this point, which means no one in either department is qualified to be chief.
“We need strong organizers and managers, and someone who has passed the Civil Service exam,” said Martin.
Dodge said his union is open to listening to the reasons the Police Department should get out of Civil Service.
“We’re interested in getting a permanent chief,” said Dodge. “We need more information before we can support the mayor.”
“We want to know what life is going to look like post Civil Service,” said Dodge.
Peter McIver, president of the town’s firefighters union, said the union remains unchanged in its opinion: it does not want to leave Civil Service.
“Under Civil Service we know what to expect when it comes to promotions,” said McIver. “We don’t want to just have the mayor or commission hiring and changing the rules whenever they want.”
McIver said firefighters know all of the stipulations and laws of Civil Service.
The mayor told Town Council in a letter dated Aug. 26 that he wants to file a Home Rule Petition with the state Legislature to remove the two positions. He will need the council’s approval.
“The Town of Greenfield is at a critical stage in professionalizing the administration of town departments, and the ability to draw from the largest pool of qualified candidates for these two important positions will assist in this effort,” said Martin.
The Public Safety Commission has worked for nine months to draft a new hiring policy and procedure for vacant fire and police chief positions, should they be taken out of Civil Service.
During the hiring process, candidates for both chief positions would have to provide work and performance records and would have to have professional accreditation. They would also be tested, just like they are for Civil Service positions.
Martin said the town recently appointed Deputy Fire Chief Robert Strahan as provisional chief when former Chief Michael Winn took a job on Cape Cod earlier this summer.
He said Burge, on the other hand, is one of several who has held the temporary chief position with the Police Department.
The first was former Lt. Gary Magnan, who was appointed provisional after former Police Chief David Guilbault retired for medical reasons in September 2011. Magnan retired in May 2012.
Martin then hired Richard Marchese as temporary police chief. Marchese had served as a consultant for the town previous to his hire. He was the former police chief of Longmeadow and the former president of the Massachusetts Police Association.
A few weeks later, Martin appointed (Det. Lt.) Burge the town’s provisional police chief. He has served since mid 2012. Recently he had to take a personal leave for several weeks and Lt. Daniel McCarthy was temporarily appointed acting chief.
Martin has complained there hasn’t been enough stability since Guilbault left in 2011.
What happens next?
If the council votes to request special legislation to take the positions out of Civil Service, the request would go to state legislators for a vote, and it would eventually make its way to the governor for his signature.
Helmus said the town will now wait to see if it receives a list of eligible candidates from the most recent exam given by Civil Service.
He said if there are three candidates on the list, the mayor, according to Civil Service rules, will have to hire one of the out-of-towners as chief.
Helmus said if there are only two names — or even just one — the mayor may hire at his discretion or not. He said there is also a possibility that the town won’t receive any names.
Martin said he will see what happens when the time comes. He expects to receive word from or a list from Civil Service sometime in September.