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Local News

February 27, 2014

Firefighters, police hit back over civil service

SALEM — The city’s police and firefighter unions are trying to block Mayor Kim Driscoll’s attempt to remove the chiefs from civil service.

In two recent letters to City Council members, firefighters and police officers stressed their opposition to the proposal, which would do away with the current system in which a chief is chosen from the top three candidates in the department based on civil service exam scores.

Without civil service, the mayor would be able to choose chiefs from inside or outside their departments and would enjoy greater leeway in firing one.

The issue took on special timeliness with police Chief Paul Tucker’s announcement this week that he plans to run for state representative, though it’s unclear whether the matter would be resolved in time to affect the hiring of his replacement, should one be necessary.

Beverly and Peabody recently removed their chiefs’ positions from civil service.

Lt. James Walker and Patrolman Robert Phelan said in the letter on behalf of the Superior Officers Union and Salem Patrolman’s Association that the civil service requirement was meant to keep politics out of job appointments and that the department doesn’t need an outsider to take the wheel.

“We have internally developed great leaders to run this department, and there is no reason to believe this won’t continue into the future,” the letter said. “There is absolutely no need for the possibility to bring in an outsider to oversee the department’s daily operations.”

The letter noted that while civil service had been dropped in Beverly and Peabody, “just because they are doing it doesn’t make it right or necessary.”

“Both of those aforementioned departments had severe command and leadership problems not found here in Salem,” Walker and Phelan wrote.

The letter also suggested that police were afraid that outside interference could extend to the chief’s ability to hire, fire and promote officers.

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