“It would provide me, as the hiring authority, the opportunity to look at a person’s overall skill set, what their leadership skills are,” the mayor explained.
In addition, giving chiefs a contract makes it easier to replace them, he said.
“I do not believe in lifetime appointments,” Bettencourt said. “All of us. ... we’re all held accountable for our performance.”
While the new process would allow the mayor to choose a chief from within the two departments, it would also make it easier to invite applicants from outside Peabody.
“The idea is to get the best person for the job,” Bettencourt said.
Beverly hires its police chief on a contract basis; Salem remains under civil service.
In opposing the removal from civil service, Councilor Manning-Martin said, “I don’t think the mayor gave compelling reasons to change the way we’ve been doing things.” A veteran of city politics, she also has a brother who is a Peabody firefighter.
“It’s detrimental to morale,” she suggested. “You have people who have worked for years under one system ... only to find the rules changed at the end of the game.”
Councilor Jim Liacos was one of those supporting the mayor’s position. “Having someone under contract keeps them sharp,” he said. “I think the mayor made a good decision.”
While he was careful to add he was not critical of Champagne, Liacos lamented the fact that a chief’s tenure could stretch over more than two decades.
Liacos rebuts the notion that a new system will impact morale, pointing out that the practice of keeping chiefs on the job for years on end denies advancement for others and, as a consequence, hurts morale.