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Pittsfield's Push For Revised City Charter Gets First Green Light From Lawmakers

At a recent legislative hearing, Pittsfield’s plan for a new city charter was given a favorable recommendation by a group of Massachusetts lawmakers.

Among those who testified to the state legislature’s Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government Tuesday in support of a bill that would allow Pittsfield to pursue a new city charter were State Senator Benjamin Downing, State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier, State Representative Paul Mark, and Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi.

Pittsfield’s current charter has remained in place since 1932. In August of 2012, an 11-member charter review committee was assembled, and worked over the following months to conduct the review and made recommendations with public input. In May, Pittsfield’s city council unanimously approved a draft charter.

Mayor Bianchi said that his testimony to the Joint Committee on Municipalities and Regional Government reflected the thorough work completed by all the parties involved in the charter review process.

"My goal was to give them an understanding of a very thorough process, an understanding of a very thoughtful deliberation by a great group of citizens, and I think they appreciated that," said Bianchi.

If a bill is approved by both the House and State Senate, Pittsfield voters will get the chance to approve a final charter. Some of the major changes in the draft charter include expanding the current mayoral term from two to four years, modernizing language throughout the charter, and allowing payment for school committee members upon approval of city government. The changes would not go into effect until January 2016.

State Representative Paul Mark, who represents Pittsfield’s Ward 1B, as well as a number of smaller communities in Berkshire and Franklin Counties, said that the lack of opposition to the draft charter among his constituents gave him enough reason to testify in support of the bill.

"In this it's been pretty much unanimous in favor and so we want to try and get this done as quickly as possible," said Mark. 

State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield said she will work with her colleagues in the legislature to prevent the stalling of the bill that would allow voters to adopt a new charter.

"It's easy for things to get stalled, and so we'll just keep on it, and will be tracking it as closely as possible and having a lot of one-on-one conversations with chairs of various committees it has to go through to make sure that it comes back in a timely way," said Farley-Bouvier.

State Senator Benjamin Downing said that he is confident the measure will be approved by both houses of the state legislature, signed by the governor, and returned to voters in Pittsfield for final approval on election day in November.

"We have our work cut out for us to get it done in time to get it on the ballot this fall but we fully believe based on yesterday's hearing to do that," said Downing.

And if returned to the city this summer, Mayor Bianchi hopes that it will allow time for even more public input.

"It will give us an opportunity with an approved charter to be able to have an even more lively and complete discussion and debate publicly," said Bianchi.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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