Voters to decide on removing officers from civil service

  • MEETING SITE — The Athol Police Department, 280 Exchange Street, is the site of the Athol Police Advisory Panel meeting, on Thursday, February 15 at 6 p.m. The public is urged to attend. ADN/Deborrah Porter—Deborrah Porter photo

Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2018

ATHOL — Athol Police Chief Russell Kleber will discuss removing full-time officers from Civil Service during a meeting on Thursday. The town will vote on the issue at a Special Town Meeting.

The Athol Police Advisory Panel will meet at 6 p.m. in the police department, 280 Exchange St. The meeting is open to the public.

Kleber will lead a discussion on the two articles pertaining to Civil Service, which will appear on the upcoming Special Town Meeting Warrant asking voters to remove full-time officers from the Civil Service requirement.

Voters approved a request, nearly unanimously, in Nov. 2017 to remove part-time officers from the Civil Service requirement.

Chief Kleber said Tuesday, “We should have done the part-time and full-time officers together.”

The department didn’t have any part-time officers at the time, only full-time officers. The action was taken to facilitate hiring.

The department currently has 19 full-time officers and two part-time officers, and more are needed, said Kleber

On March 5, voters will be asked to rescind Article 55 of the March 20, 1916 Annual Town Meeting to include full-time officers of the Athol Police Department under the provisions of Mass. General Law Chapter 31, the Civil Service law. A companion article directs the Selectmen to file a petition with the Massachusetts Legislature for special legislation to complete the process.

According to Kleber, removing the provisions of the Civil Service law allows greater flexibility in hiring officers when needed. He said Civil Service tests candidates every two years and the state grades the tests. When a candidate takes the test he or she must indicate three communities they are willing to serve in. Candidates who indicate they are willing to serve in their hometown, provided they have lived in that town for at least 10 months, are generally given a higher priority.

The chief said the Civil Service Commission handles promotional exams, as well, and whoever scores the highest on the test receives the promotion. He believes it is important to look at the work of the whole candidate.

“I don’t like the idea of Civil Service in Boston telling Athol who they should hire and promote.” he said.

The tests, which the towns pay for, is conducted at assessment centers and can cost up to $5,000 per officer.

“As chief, I am conducting assessments of my officers every single day,” said Kleber, “I know my personnel better than a private company.”

He also does not believe the town should be required to hire officers from an existing layoff list. The town and department can determine what hiring preferences they want to acknowledge in areas such as residency, military experience, language proficiency and prior academy training.

He envisions the town forming a panel, such as the one used to hire himself, to conduct interviews and set requirements, with the chief having the final say on hiring.

“It is important for us to be independent,” said Kleber, “Otherwise, the process could be dragged out weeks, months or even years, for certain things to be decided.”

Other business may be discussed at the meeting.

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