Bourne Town Administrator Anthony E. Schiavi has shown a clear preference for what he sees as the future of the Bourne Police Department. Mr. Schiavi is of the mind that the department should follow a trend he sees of departments across the state exiting civil service.
The subject was brought up during the Bourne Board of Selectmen’s remote meeting on March 30. Mr. Schiavi commented on Article 13 of the proposed warrant for next month’s Annual Town Meeting. The article calls for the Bourne Chief of Police to be removed from civil service. Mr. Schiavi opined that civil service, in general, may have outlived its usefulness.
“I think that civil service, my personal opinion, is dying a slow death,” he said.
Civil service municipal employees are employed in occupations that are neither political nor judicial. In Bourne, the police and fire departments are both civil service departments. Department heads, the chiefs, are hired and promoted under the civil service merit system, which includes examinations.
Under civil service procedure, applicants are tested and scored. The state civil service office formulates a list of applicants, based on the scores, and the person at the top of the list gets the position, he said.
“At the end of the day, civil service gives us the list and says, ‘This is what you got,’” he said.
Before making his comments, Mr. Schiavi announced he was appointing Bourne Interim Fire Chief David S. Cody to the position of permanent fire chief. The administrator noted that the process that led to Chief Cody being selected was done under civil service procedure.
While he had no problem with appointing Chief Cody to the full-time post, Mr. Schiavi said he found the civil service process to be “very prescriptive,” with “not a lot of wiggle room” for the town to make its selection. His primary criticism of the civil service process was that there is no input from townspeople as to what they expect from their police chief.
“What is the culture of our community? What are our values? What does that person need to bring to the table? None of that is looked at in a civil service type of a process,” he said.
Mr. Schiavi told the board that of the state’s 351 cities and towns, fewer than 50 percent of them are in civil service. Of those that are in civil service, less than half have civil service chiefs, about 18.5 percent, he said.
He noted that the City of Framingham recently pulled out of civil service.
“When you see those types of departments,” he said, “make that kind of a change, that’s a signal, frankly. Over time, civil service has started to decrease in numbers, not just in chiefs, but in actual departments.”
Mr. Schiavi added he has heard of another police department on Cape Cod, “not too far from us,” that may be getting ready to abandon civil service. Bourne, he said, “may be one of the last bastions on the Cape” for civil service, other than the Town of Barnstable.
Civil service towns have the option of conducting either an internal or external search to fill the position of police or fire chief. In the case of Chief Cody, an internal search was done. Should the same be done for the police department, Mr. Schiavi said, civil service also requires at least four applicants.
Lieutenants are most fit for promotion to chief, he said, as they have been developing administrative, personnel and leadership experience. The Bourne department has only two lieutenants, which means that sergeants, possibly even patrolmen, could wind up vying for the job.
“I would argue that they’re great people and all of that, but is that really the right thing?” he asked.
Selectman Peter J. Meier pointed out that patrolmen, if laid off from their job, can go to another department in another civil service town. Mr. Meier asked if civil service offers chiefs any protections for their jobs. Mr. Schiavi argued that the best police chiefs keep their job by doing a good job for the community, not through civil service protections.
“It’s about coming to work every day as a public servant and giving your 100 percent to the community and to the men and women under your command each and every day,” Mr. Schiavi said.
Mr. Schiavi said that, if voters at Town Meeting pass Article 13, the measure will then go up to the state legislature for passage of special legislation. Leaving civil service will not happen automatically with approval at Town Meeting, he said.
Whatever is decided at Town Meeting, he said, will dictate the process for selecting the next police chief in Bourne. He added that his endorsement for leaving civil service is not a reflection of the “readiness and fitness of anybody in our police department to be our next chief.”
“That’s not our goal here,” he said. “It’s to make sure that we achieve the best possible outcome for the town that’s under our control, and not abdicating that to a state agency to decide for us.”