PEABODY — It’s the law now. But fire Chief Steve Pasdon said he believes the city and the state made a mistake when they recently removed the positions of Peabody’s police and fire chief from Civil Service.
Now, he said, chiefs could be at the mercy of political influence.
“Fire chiefs and police chiefs need to be independent,” he said.
Loss of Civil Service protection robs the chief of his independence, by putting him on a contract with renewal at the whim of the political process, he said.
“This is not directed at the mayor,” he stressed, praising both former Mayor Mike Bonfanti and current Mayor Ted Bettencourt for protecting the department from political influence. He added that he did not speak out previously out of a desire to avoid a political situation.
Bettencourt promoted the change, which was recently passed by the Legislature as a home-rule petition, in order to have more flexibility in choosing and discharging a chief. The Civil Service process forces the mayor to choose from a limited number of candidates with high test scores. And the process of firing an employee under Civil Service is seen as difficult.
“I understand why the mayor did it,” Pasdon said. “I understand why he thinks it’s a good thing. ... I do think his intentions are honorable.” But he wondered if it will seem to have been an improvement in coming years if a less ethical mayor takes the corner office.
For his part, Pasdon is not affected by the new law — it will apply only to his successors. He will remain under Civil Service.
The most immediate impact will be in hiring a new police chief to replace Chief Robert Champagne. Champagne had planned to retire but has stayed on at the request of the mayor, waiting for Beacon Hill to approve the home-rule petition.