SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

April 4, 2013

Peabody civil service vote goes to Beacon Hill

PEABODY — The fate of a proposal designed to remove this city’s police and fire chiefs from civil service is now heading for Beacon Hill.

The measure, promoted by Mayor Ted Bettencourt, passed the City Council by a vote of 8-1 last week. The mayor expects the change will give the city more options in choosing its chiefs, including the replacement for police Chief Robert Champagne, who will retire at the end of May.

But before it can take effect, the change must be approved by the state Legislature, in the form of a home rule petition.

In getting that done, the mayor said he expects to work closely with Rep. Ted Speliotis, who serves West Peabody and Danvers. Bettencourt also expects to consult Leah Cole, winner of Tuesday’s special election for state representative in Peabody.

Asked if she would back the home rule petition, Cole said yesterday, “My job is to help the mayor.”

He has never worked for a home rule petition before and isn’t certain how difficult it will be to get action from the Legislature.

Speliotis declared himself similarly inexperienced in the procedure for this type of home rule petition, but said, “It does take time. It could take months. ... Much of it depends on local support. A strong vote (in the community) is important in the Legislature. We look at that.”

Bettencourt had precisely that in mind when he worked to get a vote in favor of the measure from the City Council.

“I wanted to show that the council is behind it by a wide margin,” he said.

Only Councilor Anne Manning-Martin voted against the change. Councilors Rico Mello and Barry Osborne were absent.

The mayor has complained that the civil service system locks him into choosing between the three top scorers on a standardized test with few other criteria. Removing the positions from civil service would give him more flexibility in hiring.

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