After hearing from the Chief of and the presidents of the two police unions, Town Meeting voted Monday night to withdraw from the Civil Service process, moving the hiring, promoting and disciplining of future police officers and superior officers up to the town.
Town Meeting spent just under an hour on the Civil Service question. Police Chief James Cormier and Sergeant Richard Abate, president of the superior officers’ association and Officer Chris Picco, president of the patrolmen’s association, along with Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner, strongly recommended that the town withdraw from the Civil Service system.
Several Town Meeting members strongly disagreed.
The Civil Service process is cumbersome, time-consuming, expensive, doesn’t meet the town’s needs and is “broken,” Hechenbleikner said. Civil Service had its place – in 1918, he said. Today, laws cover issues -- like conflict of interest – that the Civil Service system was established to prevent.
Cormier described the system as a “hindrance” to the operation of the Reading Police Department. The town doesn’t receive the results of Civil Service tests for six months, for example, he said, and if the local department wants to select anyone but the top scorer on the test, the department must justify its decision with a negative evaluation of the person with the higher test score. When labor disputes arise, he said, labor contracts now cover resolving them. Fellow chiefs speak about getting out of Civil Service, he said.
Civil Service doesn’t offer officers job protection, according to Abate. His union worked out promotion language with the chief, he said.
The system is better without Civil Service, agreed Picco.
Town Meeting member Nancy Docktor argued that Town Meeting was opening itself up to corruption and a watered-down candidate pool without Civil Service. She said she called 10 communities around Reading and none were considering getting out of Civil Service. She also questioned how many Reading officers support the proposal.
Town Meeting member Jack Downing asked why 80 to 90 percent of officers in eastern Massachusetts are still covered by Civil Service and whether removing Reading from the Civil Service system would discourage those officers from coming to Reading.
Most police departments are going through the same process we are, Cormier replied; removing the Civil Service system would make Reading more attractive to candidates who want to join its police force.
Town Meeting will continue Thursday evening.