In the Arena: Chief Winn headed for Cape

I guess Greenfield Fire Chief Mike Winn wasn’t buying whatever Mayor Bill Martin was selling, because he is officially leaving to become the new chief of the Osterville-Centerville-Marston Mills Fire District on Cape Cod.

“He has notified the town in writing that he will be leaving for the Cape,” Martin told WHAI’s Jay Fidanza earlier this week. “It’s a great opportunity for him, and even though he’s going to be tough to replace, we should feel proud that a Greenfield-trained and -educated firefighter is so sought after by other communities.”

Martin said he planned to try to entice Winn to stay, but his inability to do so may actually provide His Honor with some extra political leverage toward his ultimate goal of eliminating Civil Service as a requirement for hiring police and fire chiefs.

“With the next fire chief’s exam not scheduled until March of 2014, we are facing the prospect of 18 to 24 months without a full-time fire chief, unless we get out of Civil Service,” Martin said.

And that’s exactly the plan under consideration by the Public Safety Commission, which would replace Civil Service with a less formal “assessment process” which Martin believes will allow the town to more quickly and easily fill public service management when vacancies occur.

“The process would give potential candidates the opportunity to showcase their talents and skills and knowledge, and then be selected based on that,” Martin said. “I think that’s better than the Civil Service process of a rigid schedule and anyone who takes a test and is ranked one, two, or three is in line to get the job.”

One downside of going to non-Civil Service assessment system is that it increases the possibility that the process would become more subject to political influence, and could leave chiefs at the mercy of an activist mayor — two big reasons why the current public safety unions have opposed the change. That opposition doesn’t seem to be slowing down Martin, who says he will personally take the change directly to the town council once the Public Safety Commission signs off. And, assuming the council agrees, the change would go to Beacon Hill, where it would have to be ratified via special state legislation.

It may never get that far, but it is sure going to be interesting, especially for Winn, who will presumably be watching from a beach somewhere.

* * *

One of the few advantages of lame-duck incumbency is the ability to tell your most ardent supporters to go pound sand as you work to craft your post-electoral “legacy.”

It seems that Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick figured that out this week, when he basically plunged a dagger in the back of the environmental lobby this week by announcing that he is lifting the state’s 23-year moratorium on solid waste incinerators, which Patrick believes will allow the commonwealth to help meet its goal of reducing the amount of trash it is sending to other states.

Patrick has been on something of an energy kick recently, and believes that new technology will allow these incinerators to generate new power sources while doing a better job of controlling and reducing the potentially harmful environmental byproducts of incineration — which I’m sure is going to be a great source of comfort to the one-third of Massachusetts residents whom the American Lung Association says already live in counties with failing or near-failing air quality.

Maybe Greenfield’s decision to pass that biomass moratorium wasn’t such a bad one after all.

* * *

I want to believe the citizen participation in democracy is still alive, but I continue to have my doubts.

What else are we I supposed to think when a meager 4.6 percent of registered voters turn out for an annual town election where write-in voters had to be recruited to fill vacant seats on the School Committee, as occurred in Erving this past week?

But perhaps the most absurd voter-apathy-related story in recent memory came recently from the Hampshire County town of Ware, which has had so much trouble getting people to come to town meeting that it is considering a bylaw change that would drop the minimum quorum requirement for town meeting from 100 residents to zero — meaning that nobody actually has to show up for the town to conduct its business.

I have a hard time believing the attorney general will agree to that change, assuming 100 people show up Monday to pass it. But the mere fact that someone could propose that concept with a straight face should give you an indication how widespread this particular problem is starting to become.

Chris Collins is the Franklin County News Bureau Chief for WHAI, WPVQ and WHMP Radio. He is a former staff reporter for The Recorder, and is a Greenfield native.

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