By Alan Burke
---- — PEABODY — Mayor Ted Bettencourt can bypass civil service when hiring a new police chief or fire chief.
The Legislature has passed the home rule petition requested by the city, and the governor has signed it. The intent of the measure is to give this mayor, and future mayors, more flexibility in choosing the leaders of the two top public safety positions.
It comes as police Chief Robert Champagne has announced his retirement.
State Rep. Ted Speliotis (D-Danvers), whose district includes parts of Peabody, is crediting Bettencourt’s ability to get local support as essential in the Legislature’s quick action. “On a home rule petition — especially one that affects civil service — it’s critical to have local support. ... Philosophically, public safety unions support civil service. This is a concession to allow the mayor to make this decision as long as the rest of the department remains under civil service.”
Speliotis said that even a former firefighters union president voiced his support for the measure.
The mayor built a level of trust with the City Council, as well as the unions, said Speliotis, He cited a council vote in late March that saw only one member, Anne Manning Martin, turning thumbs-down on the home rule petition. She said that the change is unfair to those who have been working toward advancement under the civil service system.
Once the City Council approved the measure, it needed approval of the state Legislature. The city’s two newest advocates on Beacon Hill made a special effort to back the plan.
“I gave the measure my full support, and it passed the Senate in only nine days,” said Sen. Joan Lovely (D-Salem) in a press release. “This was a clear priority for the city of Peabody, so I’m glad that the Legislature approved this request in a timely manner.”
“This was one of the first items that passed my office as a new state representative, and I was excited to take the lead,” said Rep. Leah Cole (R-Peabody), also in a press release. She cited the work of Speliotis and Lovely and added, “It’s always great when we can come together to help the city.”
”It’s a good thing,” said City Council President Tom Gould. “It gives the mayor some flexibility in getting the right person to replace the police chief or the fire chief.”
Champagne’s retirement was scheduled to begin in June, but he stayed on at the request of the mayor, who was waiting for the legislation to pass. Fire Chief Steve Pasdon has expressed no desire to retire, and as he was hired under civil service, he remains subject to its rules.
In the past, Bettencourt has complained that the civil service system locks him into choosing between the three top scorers on a standardized test with few other criteria. Additionally, outside of civil service, chiefs can be given contracts and removed more easily.
Staff writer Alan Burke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.