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North Adams City Council OKs Chiefs, Rejects Salary Plan
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
01:28AM / Thursday, December 27, 2018
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The City Council gave final approval to switching back to police and fire chief but rejected a change in the compensation plan for a new police chief.


Assistant City Clerk Deborah Pedercini has been recommended to become the next city clerk. 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Wednesday affirmed an ordinance change first approved two weeks ago to change "director" to "chief" for both the fire and police director.
 
But the council rejected 5-2 final approval of the compensation and classification plan that would change the wages for the police chief. The council's preference was for Mayor Thomas Bernard to negotiate a contract rather than setting a salary, acknowledging the compensation plan would limit the pool of applicants.
 
The changes were set in motion by the announced retirement of Police Director Michael Cozzaglio, who has been in his post for 15 years.
 
Mayor Thomas Bernard had recommended two weeks ago changing the classification of the police chief to equal that of the commissioner of public services, which would raise the post's salary about $4,500 to $85,000 a year. However, Bernard's research had found most surrounding communities were paying their police chief's a higher wage than North Adams, the county's second largest municipality.
 
City Councilor Jason LaForest again objected to limiting the pay to the classification plan rather than negotiating a salary with the successful candidate, which the city's labor attorney, Fred Dupere, had stated could be done. 
 
"I don't know why we're going to change the classification tonight see what happens, bring it back, change the classification again," he said. "Frankly it's silly to suggest we keep bringing it back to council until we get it right."
 
Councilor Benjamin Lamb said the order could be postponed and if another ordinance were to introduced removing the chief positions from the compensation plan, this order could be filed. 
 
"I'm comfortable with this overall," said Councilor Eric Buddington. "It doesn't preclude the council taking it up to a negotiable salary in the future." 
 
The mayor had said he wanted a wage in place before posting the position at the beginning of the year. He told the council on Wednesday night that he was finalizing a new job description and a search committee.
 
Bernard acknowledged that further conversation with Dupere had confirmed a state statute allowed for negotiating contracts for both fire and police chiefs. 
 
Abandoning the classification if necessary wouldn't require another paper, he said. "The section of law is very clear that the appointing authority may establish an employment contract for these positions ... the authority already exists."
 
MGL Chapter 41, Section 1080 gives the appointing authority of any municipality the ability to establish an employment contract with a fire or police chief. "Said contract shall prevail over any conflicting provision of any local personnel by-law, ordinance, rule or regulation," the law states.
 
City Councilor Marie T. Harpin asked the mayor how he wanted to proceed: would having the base salary listed be a benefit or hindrance in hiring? Bernard responded that there had been some trouble in closing other posts because of the set wages while negotiating would provide some freedom within bounds.
 
"All we're gaining is paying our current police chief more," said Councilor Joshua Moran.
 
In the end, only Buddington and Councilor Paul Hopkins voted to change the compensation plan; LaForest, Harpin, Moran and Councilor Rebbecca Cohen voted against, defeating the measure. Council President Keith Bona and Councilor Wayne Wilkinson abstained from discussion and voting on compensation because they have relatives who work in the Police Department. 
 
Before the vote, LaForest also expressed his frustration on the amount of discussion that was occurring at council meetings. 
 
"Time and time again rather than referring things to committee, we have these protracted debates at the City Council meeting instead of investigating the question and the agenda item," he said. "I don't think we are fully utilizing the legislative powers of the council."   
 
The recent lengthy meetings are what prompted Wilkinson to submit a communication asking that the council reconsider its starting time of 7:30 p.m. The councilor said he appreciated the mayor's "agenda has been robust" but would prefer getting home a little earlier in the evening. He said he's also heard from viewers who had trouble staying up to hear the mayor and councilors' concerns at the end of the meeting.
 
"The Planning Board started at 7:30 also and we went to 6 and it's worked out great," Wilkinson said. He suggested 6 or 6:30 p.m. but other councilors thought that might be too early.
 
The communique was referred to the General Government Committee and to return for the first meeting in February.
 
In other business, the council voted to accept the recommendation of an ad hoc committee to appoint Assistant City Clerk Deborah Pedercini as the replacement of City Clerk Marilyn Gomeau's retirement in January. 
 
Hopkins, who chaired the committee, had high praise for Pedercini's work when he was on the Planning Board and heartily endorsed her as the next city clerk.
 
The council also approved the mayor's recommendations of reappointing Joanne Hurlbut and Christopher Wondoloski to the North Adams Historical Commission for terms to expire Jan. 2, 2022, and the appointment of Andrew Barsotti to the North Adams Local Historic District Study Commission to replace Kurt Kolok.
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