FITCHBURG -- City councilors are vowing to make legislative changes to straighten city hiring processes, and are calling into question the legality of the city department structure currently being followed.

At a Council as a Whole Committee meeting Tuesday evening to discuss the process and manner in which Mayor Lisa Wong hired new Economic Development Director Jerry Beck without council confirmation, Council Vice President Marcus DiNatale revealed that the city department structure being followed by Wong and city employees came from a proposed 2010 reorganization that was never approved by the council..

In fact, DiNatale said, it is still tabled by the Council as a Whole Committee four years later.

He said the city should still be following the reorganization structure approved in 2008, and is breaking its own laws by not doing so. Also, he said the city may be breaking state law by having the building commissioner report to the Board of Health director rather than directly to the mayor.

Under the 2008 restructuring, DiNatale said, the housing, building and planning divisions all fell under the Community Development Department, which currently does not exist due to lack of funding.

Each division head reported to a community-development director, who reported to the mayor and was approved by the City Council, he said.

Under the proposed 2010 reorganization, DiNatale said, the housing and building divisions were moved under the Board of Health, and planning was moved to the Department of Public Works.

The problem, he said, is that it never should have happened.

DiNatale said it's embarrassing that the council did not pick up on this during its past few budget sessions, but that should not excuse the mayor from following city law in constructing a budget.

"Don't tell me, 'Well, you passed the budget all those years so that negates the code,'" he said. "Then why do we have a code?"

DiNatale said he's also concerned that since the restructuring, some department and division heads have joined unions, including the building commissioner and an assessor, who are precluded from doing so by law because they serve in an appellate function on a board or commission.

Wong did not attend the meeting, but said afterward that having the building commissioner share resources with another department does not change to whom he reports.

She said the city ordinance changes made in 2008 are being followed, with the exception that the community-development director is not funded, so the various divisions report to other department heads in the absence of that position.

Wong said she intends to reinstate the community-development department head -- whom Beck would report to -- in the fiscal 2015 budget.

Councilors are still taking issue with the manner in which Beck, former director of Lowell's Revolving Museum, was hired and the limited involvement they had in the process after approving funding for the position.

Councilor-at-Large Dean Tran, who had entered the successful petition to bring the economic-development position back, said he was "extremely disturbed" that Wong would exclude the council from confirming someone to a post councilors initiated and collaborated to create.

DiNatale said the council discussed the creation of the economic-development director's position for four months, and the hiring process only took three weeks, with only two candidates.

He and other councilors believe more qualified candidates should have been sought, and that the position should have been advertised statewide and nationwide, rather than just internally.

"Even if the (selection) committee determined that that person was qualified, do we only want one qualified candidate, or don't we want to put it out there to get as many qualified candidates as we can get and then select from that group?" Council President Stephan Hay said.

He said he hopes to get clarification from Wong as to why marketing and event planning were added to the economic-development director's functions.

In the coming weeks, DiNatale said he intends to file petitions to change the city code to better define hiring processes, and which positions require council confirmation. 

The petitions would also define the operational structure that goes into place when a department head is absent due to lack of funding.

Other councilors voiced support for those moves.

DiNatale also wants to define the process by which the mayor creates selection committees, to mandate that they not only have a council representative, but one that is chosen by the council president, "not unilaterally by the mayor."

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