North Adams City Council Embraces “Chiefs,” Rejects Proposed Raise

Dec 27, 2018

After a city council vote Wednesday, North Adams, Massachusetts is one step closer to finding a new police chief.

The council deliberated over a pair of linked proposals from first-term Mayor Tom Bernard. Both concerned the city’s search to replace its top police official next year. The first – about the title the retiring Michael Cozzaglio holds, “police director” – passed without incident. Council President Keith Bona says Cozzaglio and his successor – as well as sitting fire department head Steve Meranti – will be referred to as “chief” again for the first time since 1981.

“I think the argument that won is really the term fire or police director is not used across the state, so it’s not something people – other departments, other communities, the state, is familiar with," said Bona. "So it’s really just a title change. There’s nothing else that came with it.”

The second proposal from the mayor – about adjusting the city’s compensation plan to give the newly renamed police chief position a $4,500 raise – went down.

“I think because he was asking for a specific amount," said Bona. "Not a low or high, I believe it was $85,000, it was a set amount versus, currently it’s like $75,000 to $81,000 – so we thought it really limited us if it came to negotiations. Also, there could be people who might apply who might accept a lower amount so why would you automatically give a higher amount?”

“Regardless, I have the authority to negotiate the salary directly, independent of the compensation plan," said Mayor Bernard. He says the initial proposal had been to encourage a healthy candidate pool.

“So one of the suggestions that one of the councilors made last night was given that this provision exists within the general law, that we put forward an ordinance revision to effectively remove police and fire chief from the classification and compensation plans, understanding that there’s this other path to determining their salary and compensation,” said the mayor.

Essentially, state law about negotiating a salary with candidates for the police chief job would have superseded any raise given by the city before those negotiations.

“The provision of general law allows for negotiation of a contract with police chief and fire chief," explained Bernard. "So it’s independent of any compensation plan. It gives the appointing authority for the city the ability to effectively set the salary.”

Bernard says he hasn’t yet posted the job listing for police chief publicly yet, but he plans to in the first week of the new year.

“We’ll do it in a way that presents the salary as commensurate with experience and qualification rather than tied to a particular number or a particular grade in the compensation plan,” he told WAMC.

In other council business, a call to move meetings from 7:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. brought by Councilor Wayne Wilkinson was moved to the General Government committee.