Greenfield City Council removes Civil Service from police department

  • The Greenfield City Council meeting Wednesday night at the Greenfield High School auditorium. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2019 10:42:52 PM
Modified: 5/16/2019 10:42:41 PM

GREENFIELD — The City Council gave a near unanimous vote to remove Civil Service from governing the city’s Police Department for its rank-and-file officers.

The Greenfield Police Department now needs the approval from the state Legislature and the governor’s office before it can become official.

The vote was delivered before an all but empty Greenfield High School auditorium, Wednesday night around 11 p.m. Earlier in the evening about a hundred people packed the room voicing concerns over the library vote and the school budget.

“I appreciate the fact that both of my units were willing to participate in it,” Greenfield Police Chief Robert Haigh said Thursday. “This wasn’t done in a vacuum. I’ve been pretty open and honest about it.”

Haigh previously expressed to the council that today’s Civil Service limits police departments that are located in rural regions. It can make it harder to hire quickly and diversely.

“Civil Service had a place back in the day when it was here,” Haigh said. “Now it’s a hindrance to us. We can’t really be as demographically conscious as we should be, and can be.”

With a new hiring policy drafted by the patrolman’s union and a promotional policy in the works, Haigh is confident the police department can better represent the area.

“There’s nobody in the department that says we shouldn’t be more in line with the community’s needs,” Haigh said.

Civil Service limits how far away a potential officer can reside from a future department.

This may work in the eastern part of the state where different neighborhoods are closer together. In Franklin County it can lead to hiring issues. Haigh has given the example of someone living in a hilltown with a home and family who is willing to commute to Greenfield but wouldn’t be eligible because of Civil Service.

The hiring guidelines also require departments to go through the top of the statewide list and down. This leads to Greenfield having to ask potential applicants from across the state if they are willing to come work in western Mass. This process can be time-consuming, Haigh has said.

The police department currently has two vacancies and two officers on leave for injury, which is cutting heavily into the overtime budget, Haigh said.

Removal of Civil Service does not apply to the chief. If the city wants to remove the chief’s position from Civil Service, it would require a ballot vote. Haigh hopes the question would be decided at the November mayoral election.

“It makes zero sense to have the chief still on Civil Service and the department out,” Haigh said.

Removal of the chief from Civil Service would not change Haigh’s status. Any changes would be applicable for a future chief.

At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass was the lone objection to the vote. He also opposed the idea of having the chief removed from Civil Service, worried that politics could slip into the hiring process for the future mayor.

Mass explained to the council he is working on reforming Civil Service guidelines that restrict rural areas with the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Mass, who is the vice president of the association’s council arm, said he’s optimistic about change.

Mass said “common sense and simple reforms that will not require legislation and that will make his job easier” can be achieved in the near future.

His fellow councilors did not budge on their support of the chief’s recommendation for the patrolmen, which has already been negotiated with the union’s bargaining team.

Precinct 6 Councilor Sheila Gilmour, who introduced the proposal, said in the late hour with much of the council’s time spent focusing on the library and budget that she was open to postponing the vote.

Councilors said they were ready to vote on an issue that has been before them since late January.

The Greenfield Fire Department have expressed interest in walking away from Civil Service as well, although it is taking the process slower.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




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