Council Seeks to End 1884-Era Police Hiring Patronage Ban

Haverhill city councilors voted unanimously to ask the legislature to remove the position of deputy police chief from civil service.

City Council Vice President Robert H. Scatamacchia told WHAV current Deputy Police Chief Donald Thompson plans to retire. He said removing civil service protections for the next deputy, as previously done with other top posts in the police and fire departments has occurred in other communities as well.

“Civil service offers a lot of protection. If you have a capable chief who’s going to do their job, no matter whether if it’s a deputy fire chief, deputy police chief, fire chief, you don’t have to really worry about the protection that civil service provides. So I think it was a good idea and passed unanimously, I think we have a good administration as far as public safety is concerned,” Scatamacchia said.

Civil service protection, however, was designed to take politics out of the appointment process. If the petition is approved by the legislature, current and future mayors will have sole authority to name anyone to non-civil service positions and determine contract terms, including length of service.

“In 1884, Massachusetts became the second state to pass civil service legislation, which intended to end patronage in government hiring. Governor Dexter Robinson signed the Massachusetts Civil Service Act of 1884, which the Boston Transcript called ‘probably the most important act which has passed the legislature for years,’” wrote Daniel D’Isidoro in 2006.

Critics contend civil service forces communities to hire and keep unqualified candidates.

The home rule petition will be forwarded to state lawmakers on Beacon Hill for their votes on the measure before it can take effect.

Meanwhile, councilors supported the city’s decision to not exercise a first refusal option to purchase about 16 acres of agricultural land in the upper Hilldale Avenue industrial park zone near Saint Joseph Cemetery. Land owner Dixieland, LLC, plans to lease that portion of a 93.4 acre parcel to an unnamed company for installation of solar panels for energy generation.

Scatamacchia said a solar farm there would help protect the environment and bring tax dollars to the city. He said he also looks forward to potential new business development in the industrial zone after the economic downturn which followed the city’s utility and infrastructure improvements for the area.

“One of the things that I think helps Haverhill is the utilities and infrastructure that we provide. Industry can’t go to Plaistow. They don’t have the infrastructure that you need for industry. I think in the long run its going to be a good idea. I don’t know if the solar farm will help with that, but I think in the long run that industrial park will be filled and will be providing a lot of jobs and a lot of tax dollars to the city,” Scatamacchia said.

One thought on “Council Seeks to End 1884-Era Police Hiring Patronage Ban

  1. The problem with removing any appointment from the protection of civil service, is that appointments then tend to be political in nature with jobs being awarded to relatives, friends, and political supporters. Just how do you plan to control that??? To assume that all supervisors are operating with integrity is leaving the door wide open to patronage appointments, and the big assumption is “If you have an honorable supervisor who is going to do his or her job.” And if you don’t have an honorable hiring person….. then what?