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Williamstown Fire District Won't Seek Retirement Exemption for Chief
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:16PM / Thursday, June 27, 2024
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Williamstown Fire Chief Craig Pedercini participates in Wednesday's Prudential Committee meeting.

Prudential Committee members Lindsay Neathawk, left, David Moresi, Alex Steel and Joe Beverly meet at the Water Street fire station on Wednesday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Prudential Committee on Wednesday voted 3-1 to not seek an exemption that would allow the fire chief to continue in his role past his 65th birthday.
Fire Chief Craig Pedercini had asked the panel, which governs the district, to seek the exemption to prevent him from having to retire in March of next year.
The five-member committee referred the question to a newly created Personnel Committee, which on Wednesday recommended that the district not seek the exemption to the state-mandated retirement age and instead begin the process of finding the department's next chief.
"After much discussion, we decided not to entertain an extension for the chief," said Prudential Committee member Joe Beverly, who served on the Personnel Committee. "That is our recommendation to give to the committee to make a vote on this evening.
"The recommendation had nothing to do with the current chief's job performance. It's a law. The process is a very complicated process to move [the exemption] forward. And the time frame we're under right now, we may not be able to do it prior to the chief's 65th birthday.
"We appreciate the 20-plus years the chief has given to the district."
Pedercini on Thursday morning said he knew the Personnel Committee was having the conversation but did not have a sense which way the full Prudential Committee would vote before Wednesday's meeting.
"To be honest, I'm disappointed with the decision, but I also knew this could have gone either way," Pedercini said. "It was a personal request. I want to see the [new] station finished and hope to see some calls run out of it before saying, 'I'm done,' and turn it over to the new chief."
The conversation about an exemption arose earlier this year when Pedercini sent the Prudential Committee a letter asking it to seek authorization to allow him to serve past age 65.
The Personnel Committee is comprised of Beverly, Assistant Chief Michael Noyes and three members of the community: Lucy Gerold, Fred Puddester and James Kolesar, who also serves on the district's Building Committee.
Prudential Committee member Alex Steel, who ended up voting in the minority of the 3-1 vote to follow the Personnel Committee's recommendation, first asked for more information about that recommendation and suggested that the Prudential Committee take more time before taking action.
"From the standpoint of management, we have a lot on our plate between September 2024 and September/March of 2026," Steel said, alluding to the district's efforts to complete a new fire station building project on Main Street. "I would be very uncomfortable moving forward on this motion without more discussion.
"There's a lot of good reasons to entertain an extension — maybe not an extension of more than 18, 26, 36 months. Maybe it needs to be broken down into smaller increments. I would respectfully request we table the vote for a month before we're able to hear more from the Personnel Committee as the Prudential Committee."
Both Prudential Committee Chair David Moresi and Vice Chair Lindsay Neathawk said they looked into the exemption question on their own, in parallel with the work of the Personnel Committee, and reached the same conclusion. The Prudential Committee's fifth member, John Notsley, did not attend Wednesday's meeting.
Beverly responded to Steel's inquiry by elaborating on the reasoning of the Personnel Committee.
He explained that the exemption only could be obtained from the state Legislature via the home-rule petition process, and that would start with a special town meeting — not a district meeting, a point the Personnel Committee double checked with counsel.
"First and foremost, the home-rule petition is more based on an as-needed situation," Beverly said. "The most current one we looked up [in the commonwealth] was during COVID. Someone applied for an extension because of the difficulties during COVID doing interviews. They were granted those exceptions. We're not under that."
Beverly and Moresi both said they had spoken to legislators about the home-rule petition process in deciding whether it was one they thought the district should pursue.
Beverly argued that putting off a decision on whether to seek an exemption from the retirement law, as Steel suggested, would just compress the time frame for either advancing a home-rule petition or hiring a new chief by March 2025.
"Not only did I just talk to people within the Fire Department, I asked people out in the community," Neathawk said. "Police officers, they have to [retire at 65]. You can't petition for an exception. It's a safety issue, is what I was told.
"The fact that we chose Joe [Beverly] to spearhead this Personnel Committee is no different than the Prudential Committee creating a Building Committee. We rely on the Building Committee to vet everything, create recommendations and report back to us so we can make the most informed decision. I feel like this is just as important."
Kolesar offered another reason why it made sense to transition to a new chief rather than wait a year or two.
He said the district faces a couple of major changes in the next two years: one is creating new operating procedures for the new station and the other is, potentially, considering adding new positions in the fire department.
"The best practice, if you're going to make decisions like that, you want them made by the new person, not the old person, no matter how wonderful the older person is," Kolesar said.
Pedercini said he first asked the Prudential Committee to consider seeking an exemption to the retirement mandate in February or March, about a year before his 65th birthday. He said his research about the state requirement tracks with what Neathawk reported at Wednesday night's meeting.
"From the things I've looked up, it has to do a lot with the firefighter's health," Pedercini said on Thursday morning. "And it has to do with the liability of the department — whether police, fire or corrections. That's the chance anybody who moves this at a town meeting — that's the risk that everybody would have to be willing to take, I guess."
Deputy Chief Robert Briggs asked during the discussion whether the decision to abide by the state retirement age in Pedercini's case had ramifications for other members of the department.
"There's more to come on that with the Personnel Committee," Beverly said. "We know that we opened up another can of worms."
Beverly said the Personnel Committee, which is authorized by the Prudential Committee to post the fire chief position and open the search process, is nearing completion of a new job description for the position Pedercini has held since 2002.
On Thursday morning, Pedercini said he appreciated the sentiment expressed at the meeting that the vote was driven by the circumstances of state law rather than any feelings about his job performance.
"We've got a good group of people, a good group of Prudential Committee members," he said. "I wouldn't put myself out there and say it was personal."
That also was his reaction in the moment, seconds after Wednesday's vote was recorded.
"Thank you for your consideration," Pedercini said before moving on to his monthly report to the committee.
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