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Waltham mayor wants to limit police and fire chief terms, merge city departments

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  February 13, 2014 02:30 PM

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Waltham's mayor is hoping to streamline the city's government by merging six city departments into two, as well as limiting the tenure of the city's police and fire chiefs.

File photo
Waltham Mayor Jeannette McCarthy
Mayor Jeannette McCarthy submitted several proposals to the City Council this month that would consolidate positions specializing in finance into one department, and merge inspectional positions into another. The measures were referred Monday to the council's ordinances committee.

Under the proposals, the building, health, and wire inspection departments would be merged into the Inspectional Services Department, which would be supervised by the building inspector. The mayor also recommended creating a Financial Services Department, which would consolidate the departments of treasurer/collector, auditor, and purchasing, and would be headed up by the city auditor.

"It makes it easier for everybody," McCarthy said. "Instead of having to go to three different departments, you’ll only have to go to one."

The incumbents' pay would remain the same, whether or not their position would be the new supervisor, McCarthy said.

"It's net zero," she said.

However, the move could possibly save the city money in the long-term: as current workers leave or retire, officials could demote some of the former "director" positions into "assistant director" jobs, which might fetch a lower salary, McCarthy said.

"As vacancies come up we can make the decision on whether we should be keeping all six or make them into assistant directors, so we could have some savings there," she said.

McCarthy pointed out that surrounding communities, including Boston, had fewer departments than Waltham: Boston Mayor Marty Walsh reportedly wants to restructure Boston's government to have between 12 and 14 department heads. Waltham has 22, McCarthy said.

"There hasn't been much movement in Waltham to streamline the number of departments doing like functions," McCarthy said, noting that the public works department is the only section that has been consolidated recently.

The mayor said she also submitted measures to limit the tenure of Waltham's police and fire chiefs. Currently, the chiefs are the only two department heads in the city with life tenure; McCarthy said she wants to limit each term to five years, with the option to renew each incumbent's contract for another five years.

"There are no other departments that have life tenure," she said.

McCarthy's proposals also follow resolutions presented by other city councilors to investigate how the city can more efficiently consider development proposals and a general economic plan after several projects languished on the city council floor for years.

However, she said the recent proposals she submitted were based on the recommendations of other departments' staff, as well as more of an "appetite" to change rules after councilor Joe Vizard questioned the city council's rules.

McCarthy also noted that she submitted similar measures when she was a city councilor over a decade ago only to see the proposals permanently tabled.

"It's kind of important that all this work was done once before and went nowhere, because the full council wasn’t willing to change the rules then," she said. "But with Joe Vizard's request, other things are coming out now, and I think after 10 years they are finally making some movement."

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