SALEM — A City Council subcommittee effectively killed the mayor’s proposal to remove the police and fire chief positions from the civil service system last night after it got an earful from firefighters and officers who oppose the change.
As dozens of firefighters and police officers looked on, Mayor Kim Driscoll opened the hearing with a presentation on her proposal to abandon the current system and the process she envisioned replacing it.
As it stands now, the mayor chooses a new chief from the top three scorers on the civil service exam. Under the proposal, the city would open up the application process to external applicants, with the most qualified invited to participate in an assessment center.
Among other things, the new requirements would mean police chief candidates would generally need to have 15 years of experience in policing and at least a four-year college degree. Driscoll said the process would favor candidates with lengthy service records.
All qualified internal applicants would also be invited to participate in the center, and Driscoll said that change would mean more candidates could apply. Under the present system, only a set number of candidates can sign up for the test to become chief, an opportunity that’s based on rank and seniority.
“Internal candidates, I think, always have a leg up, frankly, in just about any position,” Driscoll said. “If you’re on the ground, know the issues, qualified — that’s always going to give you a leg up.”
The center would recommend three to five finalists, who would be interviewed by a nine-member advisory committee composed of city officials, a city councilor, a local resident, and representatives from unions, a human service agency and a public safety agency.
That committee would provide the mayor an evaluation report, and she would decide who to appoint — but her choice would still be subject to council confirmation. It would be the first time the council has had a say in who becomes chief.