Berkshire Eagle, The (Pittsfield, MA) – November 23, 2013
Under Pittsfield’s new charter, school employees such as newly elected Ward 3 City Councilor Nick Caccamo will not be able to serve on the City Council. Under Section 32 of the old charter, school department employees could serve on the City Council so long as “all rights to compensation as a member of the City Council are waived in a writing submitted to the city clerk.” It is not as much of a conflict as people think – the City Council makes a lump-sum block grant to the School Committee, and the School Committee (not the City Council) decides how to specifically spend the money. Mr. Caccamo will not be able to vote on that one line item, admittedly one that is roughly half the budget.
However, there is another major change under the charter the public does not know yet know about. Under the old charter, Section 37, “no member of the School Committee . . . shall be eligible for . . . employment in any position or place which is under the jurisdiction of the School Committee.” If someone who works for the schools ran and was elected to School Committee, they were “deemed to have resigned [their] employment upon his qualification as a member of the School Comm-ittee.” But someone working on the city (non-school) side of government could run for School Committee.
Under the new charter, Section 4-3, “No member of the School Committee shall hold any other compensated city position.” So now someone working on the non-school side of government cannot run for School Committee, even if they were willing to surrender the salary for school committee, which the new charter (unlike the old charter) empowers the City Council to grant.
Over the years, I have spoken to Ron Kitterman, a former police officer, who has a mischievous gleam in his eye whenever he recollects how his supervisors at the Police Department forbid him from running. While the current change for School Committee eligibility has gone completely unnoticed, Kitterman’s run for School Committee was the local story of 1987.
Kitterman tells me there was a big Eagle story announcing his run, then his captain called the Eagle and there was a story that Kitterman would be withdrawing. Kitterman says the captain also threatened to fire him if he ran. Finally, Kitterman talked to his union and told the Eagle that he was running after all, for a third major story. The August 18, 1987 Eagle reports that Councilors Peter Arlos and Cynthia Betters filed petitions to have the Pittsfield Police amend its regulations to strike an unpaid leave clause from the Police Department’s rules and regulations that would go into effect if Kitterman was elected to the City Council. Attorney Michael McCarthy, who was the city solicitor then, and is on the Charter Commission now, drafted the legislation.
Kitterman said, “There was a rule under the Policy and Procedures that prohibited me from running,” but the “union backed me” and he ran anyway.
According to an old Eagle story Kitterman sent me, “The 1932 charter states that a person serving on the School Committee could not become a municipal employee ( Sec. 38), and a 1958 amendment rounded that out to say a municipal employee cannot became a member of the School Committee. A 1976 charter change loosened the ban to allow municipal employees to serve on the School Comm-ittee, as long as they were not under the jurisdiction of the School Department.”
All this notwithstanding, according to the Eagle story, George P. Coughlin was a member of the Fire Department and was elected to the School Committee in 1972, and later became its chair. In 1975, according to the Eagle, a James Boyle was elected to School Committee even though he was a school custodian.
According to same Eagle story, under the 1932 charter, school employees could not run for City Council. However, in 1977 “William F. Murray, a teacher, wanted to run for an at large Council seat, which prompted a charter change.” This led to the language described above. Murray lost.
Another unsuccessful candidate was John W. Shaugnessy Jr., president of the school custodian’s union, who ran for Ward 5 City Council despite an opinion by the city solicitor it would violate state law.
I asked Mr. Kitterman what he thought of the fact that now non- school department city employees such as policeman or fireman can no longer serve on the Pittsfield School Committee. Kitterman replied, “It’s my personal feeling that there [wasn’t] a conflict of interest.”
Mr. Caccamo says the new change “was probably an oversight.” Based upon my personal conversations with members of the Charter Committee who did not seem aware of the change, Caccamo may be right. It is an honest and forgivable mistake, but one that should be corrected.