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Pittsfield Voters To Decide on Charter, City Council and School Board

Tuesday’s elections in Pittsfield, Massachusetts will include a new proposed city charter, city council races and the current mayor running unopposed.

Along with determining who will make-up the city’s government, voters will decide whether or not the city will operate under a new charter. The proposed charter would update language and fix conflicts with state law. The current city charter dates back to 1932. One of the new provisions would involve expanding the mayoral term from two to four years. City Clerk Linda Tyer spoke with WAMC News in August.

“Primarily the reason people who were involved in the drafting of this ordinance, the reason that they felt they wanted to increase the term was to allow the mayor to have more opportunity for long term planning," said Tyer.

The process of creating a new charter began in August 2012. An 11-member charter review committee formed and worked over the following months to conduct a review and make recommendations with public input.  The proposal was approved by Governor Deval Patrick a year later, this past August. Mayor Dan Bianchi says having city councilors elected every two years and a mayor every four creates a dynamic for greater cooperation within government.

“One of the things I was hoping that the charter commission would do would depoliticize the charter and I think this does it,” Bianchi said. “I felt, quite frankly, there was a couple of city councilors who were campaigning within a couple of months of me taking office. Setting the stage for an election cycle that was only 18, 20 months away. That just creates a certain level of dysfunction in government.”

Bianchi says he would have liked to see the city move towards a city manager form of government, saying municipal governing in the 21st century requires professional management experience. He says members of the charter commission were hesitant about a manager that would be hired, fired or even controlled by the city council.

“Their concern was that that position would then be manipulated and under the control of the city council,” the mayor said. “That’s concerning. We don’t have to examine the operations of the city council too deeply to realize there’d be people who would try to manipulate and control that office.”

The proposed charter contains a provision allowing school board committee members to be paid by approval of city government. Bianchi sits on the school board. 

“There are communities who literally don’t have enough people to serve on their school committee,” he said. “There are communities whose school committee can’t take a vote because they can’t achieve a quorum. That’s very problematic. So if we’ve got the capability or possibility in our charter of at least being able to pay a stipend or some sort of compensation in the future to the school committee, if we find a point in time when we’re having a tough time attracting people then let’s have that available to us.”

While Bianchi is running unopposed for a second term, the city council races feature seven candidates seeking four at-large seats as well as three ward races. Also, seven candidates, including two incumbents, are vying for six spots on the school board. Bianchi says he is pleased by what he has heard during the school board debates.

“I love the idea that we will have a lot of new blood,” Bianchi said. “I think we have a group of people who get the need for a well functioning education system. I think we’ve got a group of people who appear to be willing to work and work collaboratively.”

If approved, the new charter would go into effect immediately. Provisions relating to elected positions would go into effect for the 2015 municipal elections. Polls will be open Tuesday from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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