From The Berkshire Eagle:

The state Civil Service Commission has rejected a request to allow acting Police Chief Michael Wynn to become the city’s permanent chief.

The commission has denied the request from Mayor Linda M. Tyer, and it advised the city to offer a Civil Service exam for police chief “forthwith.”

The Civil Service process relies on competitive examination rather than political appointment to determine leadership. A mayor can then choose from the top three candidates.

While the city subscribes to the Civil Service process, its mayors long have opted to appoint acting chiefs, circumventing that process.

Wynn was a captain with the department in January 2009 when he was named acting chief by former Mayor James M. Ruberto. He retained that title under Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, whom Tyer defeated in November 2015.

Tyer asked the commission in June to officially appoint Wynn chief based on his Civil Service exam results in June 2009 — the last time it was given — when Wynn and Lt. Jeffrey Bradford took the test. Wynn placed first; Bradford ranked second.

“I felt that it was important that we undertake this administrative appeal, to settle once and for all whether Michael Wynn had any remaining standing to be eligible for the appointment permanently as our chief of police,” Tyer told the Eagle on Thursday.

But in a five-page letter dated Dec. 8, commission Chairman Christopher C. Bowman said Wynn should have appealed to the commission on his own — and more immediately following his 2009 appointment — if he wanted to serve as more than acting chief.

The commission also cited the need to avoid the “appearance” of a conflict of interest: Wynn’s wife served on Tyer’s campaign committee. Bowman acknowledged the commission found no evidence that the request was politically or personally motivated.

The results of the 2009 tests were good through 2012, the letter stated.

Members of the police union, who had opposed Tyer’s request, applauded the commission’s ruling.

“All we asked for was a fair process,” said Pittsfield Police Sgt. Matthew Hill, who represents Local 447S, the union for department supervisors. “We really wanted to see the Civil Service process followed. We’ve been going far too long without a Civil Service chief.”

Hill said having an acting chief leaves the department in limbo and diminishes the point of Civil Service.

The union opposition “has never been about [Wynn] or how he has done the job. It has been about doing the process right,” he said.

The Civil Service exam can take two forms: a written test and what’s known as an “assessment center,” which tests police on real-life scenarios in addition to the written exam.

Historically the city has only offered the written exam.

Tyer said the city will offer another test, though she was unclear on a timetable or which version it will use.

“We are assessing what our options are,” she said. “Within the next week or so will we have a final plan for how to proceed.”

She said Wynn will remain acting chief in the interim.

Wynn directed all questions regarding the commission’s decision to the mayor; he confirmed he will remain with the department.

“I’m proud of my service with the Pittsfield Police Department, and I’m happy to continue my service in my current capacity, or any other capacity that may be requested or required,” he wrote in an email.

Regardless of the type of test, Hill said he knows of at least three officers who are interested. He did not have a time frame in mind but added, “We’d like to have something happen sooner rather than later.”

The city has had an on-again off-again relationship with Civil Service.

In 1981, after 70 years with Civil Service, the city voters opted out of the process. During the 10 years without it, the police department had three different appointed chiefs, a temporary chief and went two years without one.

Civil Service was reinstated by voters in 1991.

The city’s fire department is also led by an acting chief. Tyer said she does not plan to make changes there any time soon.

It is very hard to know what to make of this. PTC: Help us out!

Comments:

1) In the numerous Williams College puff pieces about Wynn (example here), I have never seen him referred to as an acting chief. Politeness, sloppiness or something else?

2) Does race play any role here? Wynn is African-American in a city (and department?) that is overwhelmingly white.

3) What is the deal with the Civil Service in Massachusetts? I am embarrassed to admit I know nothing about it. Does it also play a role in the governance of Williamstown and North Adams?

4) One of the many sad side effects of the destruction of the business model for regional papers is that there is so much less coverage of local events. Any Williams student with an interest in writing/journalism should start by reporting on news in the Williams region. We would be eager to provide hundreds of daily readers for her prose . . .

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