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Committee opposes pulling out of Civil Service

CLARIFICATION: When talking about Greenfield pulling out of Civil Service this past week, At-Large Town Councilor Mark Maloni said he has not yet heard a strong argument for taking the police and fire chief positions out. He said it appears the town’s police and fire forces want to stay in Civil Service.

At that recent meeting, Maloni asked, “How happy is our police force going to be if we go against them?”

He also said, “Police are not behind (taking the positions out).”

A word in his second quote, which appeared on Page A6 in The Recorder on Oct. 1, was misleading.

GREENFIELD — If the vote of five town councilors, who make up the Community Relations and Education Committee, is any indication of what the full council will eventually decide, it looks like the town’s police and fire chief positions will stay in Civil Service, at least for now.

The committee, which is made up of Precinct 1 Councilor Marian Kelner, Precinct 7 Councilor Rudy Renaud (chairwoman), Precinct 8 and 9 councilors Karen Shapiro Miller and Norman Hirschfeld, and at-large Councilor Mark Maloni, all voted to make a recommendation to the 13-member council to keep the positions in Civil Service.

At-large Councilor Dalton Athey, who attended the meeting, said during the committee’s public hearing that he would not speak for or against taking the positions out of Civil Service, but said the people of Greenfield voted a decade ago to put the positions back in Civil Service and should be the ones to take it back out.

“Put it on the ballot,” said Athey. “The people have spoken and the council or mayor are not qualified to overturn their vote.”

Police Lt. Daniel McCarthy said being in Civil Service provides protection from all sorts of potential issues that could arise in small- town government.

“We know the Civil Service process can be cumbersome, but it also provides safe and secure mechanisms for chiefs,” said McCarthy. “It makes sure not to let politics influence choices and decisions.”

Firefighter Peter McIver, who heads the town’s firefighters union, said there are still too many questions about how the hiring process would work if the town took the lead, instead of Civil Service.

The town’s Public Safety Commission has come up with some of those procedures, but McIver said there isn’t enough substance in its proposal.

Gary Longley, chairman of the PSC, said the commission has decided to continue discussions about Civil Service and to revisit its recommendations for the way the town would handle hiring and firing and other issues if it took the positions out.

Greenfield resident Wilson Roberts said his fear is that mayors are “political creatures” whose actions can be influenced and he believes police and fire chiefs should be free of political persuasion.

“We don’t want to undermine the authority of our chiefs,” he said.

Mayor William Martin spoke briefly about why he wants the positions taken out of Civil Service, saying it has taken the town two years to try to hire a permanent police chief under Civil Service and it still hasn’t happened.

The committee talked about tabling the issue, but decided to vote to make a recommendation to or not to take the positions out of Civil Service, saying the full council can table the issue, if it desires.

Maloni said he has not yet heard a strong argument for taking the positions out. He said the entire police force seems to want to keep its chief in Civil Service.

“How happy is our police force going to be if we go against them?” he asked. “Police are not behind us.”

“There’s a reason why in 2003 the town voted to put the positions in Civil Service,” said Hirschfeld. “That speaks volumes.”

Kelner said she would welcome more discussion, but doesn’t feel the town should make any decision until it reviews all options.

“We need to go to the people,” she said.

Shapiro Miller said she would also like more discussion on the matter.

“What the town said in 2003 holds a lot of weight,” she said.

Renaud said she has done some research and believes that some of the cities and towns that have opted out of Civil Service made sure they had strong checks and balances — it’s not just one person who decides, like it would be in Greenfield.

“At the end of the day, the mayor would decide in Greenfield and that’s too much power for one person,” said Renaud. “Chiefs need protection.”

The committee also unanimously voted to send a recommendation to the full council to keep the fire chief position in Civil Service.

The full council will continue to discuss the issue on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in the studio in Greenfield Community Television, 393 Main St.

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