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Mayor: getting out of Civil Service has nothing to do with confidence in police and fire personnel

GREENFIELD — The mayor says the main reason he wants out of Civil Service is not because of his confidence in the town’s current provisional police and fire chiefs, but because its process is archaic and burdensome and restricts the hiring process.

“What I meant when I said that provisional (police) Chief Burge and provisional (fire) Chief Strahan would not be able to become Greenfield’s permanent chiefs is that neither has passed the Civil Service chief exams,” said Martin. “Under Civil Service, I can’t choose either. I have complete confidence in both — that’s why I appointed them as our provisional chiefs.”

Martin said Civil Service does not serve the town, or its departments, well.

He said instead he is looking for a “fair and judicious” way to hire the town’s police and fire chiefs in the future that is independent of Civil Service’s process.

“Let no one doubt that I have complete confidence in both of the town’s provisional chiefs,” said Martin. “They are both fully qualified to serve in those capacities, and I would not have appointed them provisional chiefs if I did not have full confidence in them and their abilities.”

Some of Greenfield’s police, who remain unnamed, took the Civil Service chief exam in May, but did not pass. Therefore, if the mayor receives a list of at least three qualified names from that exam, he will have to hire someone from outside the community, he said.

“The test is very difficult and candidates study for months, but of course, are not always successful,” said Martin. “That doesn’t mean they aren’t qualified to serve as Greenfield’s police chief, but as long as we’re under Civil Service, they can’t.”

Martin said that is why he wants to use an assessment center like the town currently does under public safety’s promotional policy when Greenfield has a Civil Service list.

If the town were to receive three names from Civil Service, Greenfield would then use an assessment of each candidate to decide which was the best fit for the town.

“Actual work problems and scenarios assessing job-related performance are a better indicator than a book test,” said Martin.

He said he is hoping the town agrees to leave Civil Service so that he may appoint a permanent police chief within the next year.

The town didn’t participate in the fire chief Civil Service exam this past March, because there was no indication at that point that former Fire Chief Michael Winn would eventually take a job on Cape Cod.

Martin said that Winn is a good example of why the town should leave Civil Service.

“He took a job in a community that is not under Civil Service, so they were able to quickly hire him,” said Martin, who has said he hated to see Winn go.

“If the town is still in Civil Service in March 2014, it will participate in the fire chief exam,” said Martin. “If the town is not in Civil Service, it will follow a fire chief hiring policy similar to the police chief policy our own Public Safety Commission has crafted.”

“Last year, when discussions began about getting out of Civil Service, I said we could expect a delay of at least a year in finding a permanent police chief, because we had to wait for the exam,” said Martin. “Well, here we are again. Another delay of at least a year possibly exists, which is why I believe the best interests for all parties is to be out of Civil Service for these important community positions.”

Police and fire departments react

Representatives of both the town’s police and fire unions have said they still aren’t sure that leaving Civil Service is best, because it provides independence and keeps politics and corruption out of the departments.

Police provisional Lt. Todd Dodge, president of the police supervisors union, said police would like to see what the Public Safety Commission has crafted before it makes a decision on the matter.

“We’re a little apprehensive about following the mayor’s lead out of Civil Service,” said Dodge. “We feel like part of the reason he wants to get out of it is because he doesn’t have any confidence in anyone here.”

Dodge said that if the town leaves Civil Service for the chief’s position, the police department will have three different promotion methods.

He said patrolmen will be hired through an assessment center, while lower- and mid-level supervisors will continue under Civil Service.

“Then, there would be an exclusive hiring process for police chief,” said Dodge. “It doesn’t seem right or efficient that one department have three ways of hiring.”

Martin has asked Town Council to revisit his request to pull out of Civil Service. It appears the council will most likely discuss the matter in September.

Dodge said he feels police and fire should have seen what the mayor and commission are proposing by now.

“We’ve heard the policy was completed, but haven’t seen a copy,” said Dodge.

Firefighter Peter McIver, president of the town’s firefighters union, said that union remains unchanged in its position: 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.”

He said firefighters know all of the stipulations and laws of Civil Service.

“We know what to do when it’s time to take an exam,” said McIver. “We know what books we need, we know how much we’ll have to study, and we know the timeline. The process never changes.”

If the council votes to request special legislation to take the chief positions out of Civil Service, that request would go to state legislators for a vote, and it would eventually make its way to the governor for his signature.

Then, Martin could hire anyone from anywhere as the town’s fire and police chiefs, assuming that person passed the town’s assessment, which it would contract with an outside company to do.

Martin said the town expects a list from Civil Service of those who passed this year’s police chief exam sometime in September. He said if there are three names on the list the town will be required, under Civil Service rules, to choose one.

If there are fewer than three, Martin will not have to choose unless he wants to.

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