New Bedford Mayor Seeks to Remove Fire Chief Position From Civil Service System
New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell is looking to change the way the City hires its fire department leadership going forward.
Mitchell has filed a Home Rule Petition with the New Bedford City Council that would remove the positions of fire chief and deputy fire chief from the state’s Civil Service system. That system is based on how an applicant performs on a standardized Civil Service exam.
“If all you had to do to pick a leader was just to see how they did on a standardized test, then we might as well be electing presidents based on their SAT scores in high school,” Mitchell said in his weekly segment on WBSM. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Recent developments within the leadership of the fire department led Mitchell to make the move toward reform.
“This obviously comes in the wake of the issues we had with the former Acting Chief Paul Coderre and the controversy around him,” Mitchell said.
Coderre was fired in January for allegedly lying about work-related injuries. The City sought to block his pension as well.
Mitchell explained that the Civil Service model dates back to the 19th century “and with good reason,” he said, noting that the idea of testing and evaluation for the hiring of Civil Service employees was designed “a system that was built on patronage.”
“We certainly don’t want to go back to those days, but we also know that when it comes to senior leadership of an organization as large as our fire department, which has over 200 members, you need somebody who has leadership skills,” he said. “It’s kind of hard, I think, to select leaders – not in every instance, but in many instances – based solely on how well they do on a standardized test. That’s the Civil Service system in Massachusetts, and that’s why a number of places have gotten away from it.”
According to a release from the City of New Bedford, many other cities and towns in Massachusetts have moved toward removing their chiefs and/or deputies from Civil Service, including Lowell, Lawrence and Dartmouth.
New Bedford already did the same back in 1996 when it removed the police chief and deputy chief from Civil Service.
“I think we need to do the same now with the fire department,” Mitchell said. “We want to make sure we have the best options available to our city residents to lead those departments. That’s what our residents deserve.”
If put into effect, the change would not apply to current Fire Chief Scott Kruger or Deputy Fire Chief Brian Medeiros, but rather begin with their eventual successors.
“Both happened to do well on the standardized test, but also happen to be effective leaders, too. They are there despite the Civil Service exam, not because of it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said he just wants to make sure the City has the ability to pick the best person going forward.
“In the long run, it could mean a little more flexibility in determining who has got the leadership chops to be effective and not just the person who happened to have the highest score,” he said.