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Editorial: Change of mind

Just shy of six months.

That’s how long Greenfield Mayor William Martin shelved his desire to take the fire and police chief positions out of Civil Service.

And the only reason we suspect that it lasted this long was that the latest round of police chief exams hadn’t take place at that point. More important, the results of those tests in May hadn’t been tabulated.

But now, with results in hand, and we know that those in Greenfield’s department who took the test failed to pass, the mayor is back pushing to have both leadership posts taken out of Civil Service.

“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,” Martin said last week. “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.”

While we understand the mayor’s frustration, a feeling that is no doubt shared inside and outside of the two departments, there remains a large question in what the mayor has in mind: ensuring the independence of each chief.

To date, all the departments and public have been getting from Martin are assurances that it will be maintained in the future.

As we have said in the past, we have no reason to doubt Martin’s word in this matter. But the same can’t be said of anyone who occupies the mayor’s seat in the future.

And while the Civil Service process is neither quick nor a breeze when it comes to studying and passing exam, it does ensure that there’s a degree of separation between the chief and the mayor.

What the mayor needs as part of his plan to remove the chiefs from Civil Service is a permanent mechanism that would keep some future mayor from appointing a crony to one of the posts.

When this issue came up previously, we suggested turning the Public Safety Commission into an elected board. As it stands now on the commission, with its fire and police oversight powers, sit at the pleasure of the mayor. Making the commission an electable body would make them more autonomous and that might be enough to calm fears about undue mayoral influence over the hiring of chiefs or running the departments.

At the very least, the Public Safety Commission’s plan for a hiring process outside of Civil Service should include enough checks and balances to ensure against the sort of corrupt situation we’ve seen all too often across the country.

That’s something we’ll be able to evaluate when that plan, in the works for months now, is released to the public.

Then the mayor, the departments and the public can move forward in determining whether a change is justified.

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