, Salem, MA


March 12, 2014

Our view: Time to take chiefs out of civil service

Tonight, the City Council will hold its first hearing on Mayor Kimberley Driscoll’s proposal to remove Salem’s police and fire chiefs from the civil service system.

We think the plan deserves support for the simple reason that the city needs to be able to pick the best people for its most important jobs.

Under the current rules, a new chief must be chosen from among the top three candidates based on scores on a promotional exam. With few exceptions, outside candidates, no matter how qualified, need not apply.

Imagine a corporation looking for a new CEO deciding to limit its options to three people already in the office. It simply doesn’t make sense, and it’s not an approach the city uses to fill other high-ranking positions.

In a letter to the council, Driscoll said the plan is “identical to actions taken by both Beverly and Peabody recently, and would allow myself or future mayors to select a candidate for the chiefs’ positions based on a more robust and informative set of criteria than civil service scores alone, should there be a vacancy.”

The city’s police and firefighter unions, meanwhile, are using the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument.

“We have internally developed great leaders to run this department, and there is no reason to believe this won’t continue in the future,” police Lt. James Walker and Patrolman Robert Phelan said in a letter to City Council members. “There is absolutely no need for the possibility to bring in an outsider to oversee the department’s daily operations.”

While noting that Beverly and Peabody dropped civil service, the pair wrote, “just because they are doing it doesn’t make it right or necessary.

“Both of those aforementioned departments had severe command and leadership problems not found here in Salem.”

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