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State House of Representatives passes bill taking Peabody police and fire chief positions out of civil service

Posted by Terri Ogan  June 21, 2013 02:26 PM

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The state House of Representatives passed a bill earlier this week proposed by the mayor of Peabody to remove both police chief and fire chief positions in the city from the Civil Service jurisdiction.

Last March, Mayor Edward Bettencourt brought forth the proposal to the City Council, where members voted 8 to 1 in favor of his petition.

Co-sponsored by state Rep. Leah Cole and state Rep. Ted Speliotis, the bill now heads to the Senate, and must be signed by Gov. Deval Patrick become official.

"My first priority is always to represent the best interests of Peabody, and this bill had overwhelming support from the city council and the mayor," Cole said. "Representative Speliotis and myself acted quickly to facilitate the passage of this bill in the House, and now it moves onto the Senate."

The initial support of the bill came at a time when longtime Police Chief Robert Champagne announced his retirement earlier this year. Upon Champagne's retirement, Peabody will see a new chief for the first time in 25 years.

Champagne submitted his letter of resignation with the intent to retire by June 1, but agreed to stay on until the bill is signed by Gov. Deval Patrick and the process is complete.

Bettencourt said last spring that although the police and fire chief jobs will be removed from civil service jurisdiction, the departments will not be removed as a whole.

"I don't think the decision should be made just on the basis of one test, which is what the civil service currently allows," Bettencourt said. "I do want to put together a decision making process based on an assessment center in which the candidates are put through different roleplaying scenarios to determine leadership, handling of precious situations, and things of that nature. We'll work on the particulars as we get closer to making that decision, but I believe an assessment center is the way to go."

Under the civil service merit system in the state, those who are eligible and applying for police and fire chief positions must pass a competitive exam.

An appointing authority, in this case the mayor, then chooses the top scorer of that exam from a list of other certified applicants, which is provided by the Human Resources Division. The appointment is solely based on exam scores and bypasses other abilities.

Municipal departments can utilize a free assessment center under civil service to help choose a candidate for the job, but If removed from the civil service jurisdiction the individual applicant would have to pay a $250 fee to use an outside vender for assessment.

"A bill like this isn't always taken lightly, but the great weight is that it has a local community acceptance," Speliotis said. "The intention is to maximize the flexibility for the mayor to hire a person for the job. The mayor is the most accountable to our constituents and if he has ideas on how to run the police and fire, he deserves to have that person at the top to implement his policies."

Speliotis added that he is unsure as to when the bill will be read in the Senate.

Terri Ogan can be reached at oganglobe@gmail.com, or follow her on Twitter.

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