BRIDGEPORT — Months after Mayor John M. Fabrizi appointed provisional fire and police chiefs, controversy continues to swirl around the positions, as well as the process of hiring permanent leaders for the public safety departments.

Two groups are criticizing the city's handling of the hiring process for both posts, as questions are raised about whether it's a good deal for taxpayers to continue paying higher wages to acting chiefs who were boosted to provisional status in April.

The issue will come to a head today when the Civil Service Commission meets at 4 p.m. in City Hall.

Before that meeting, Bridgeport First, a local advocacy group, plans to announce an "agreement" that it claims will ensure a national search for a new police chief.

At the same time, a group of City Council members plans to argue before the commission that acting Police Chief Anthony Armeno and acting Fire Chief Brian Rooney should not continue receiving higher wages they've been paid since Fabrizi gave them "provisional" rank.

Those council members believe the Fabrizi administration is violating the city charter by allowing both chiefs to remain provisional officials. As "acting" chiefs only, they would receive lower wages and could not retire at their current pay.

But Armeno's salary rose from $87,258 to $97,960 when he became provisional police chief, while Rooney's pay rose from $80,748 to $97,960. Both are eligible for paid vacation and sick time.

Rooney, who has enough years on the job to retire now, could retire at the current salary.

Both Armeno and Rooney are expected to seek their jobs on a permanent basis.

City Council member Robert Walsh, D-132, said the charter allows provisional status for only four months during a fiscal year, and an individual can be appointed to a provisional term only once a year.

Since Armeno and Rooney were named provisional chiefs in April — three months before the new fiscal year began July 1 — their designation has expired, and their pay should revert to previous levels, he said.

"The Civil Service Commission has adopted a practice of convenience and not of law," said City Council member Edwin Gomes, D-135.

The council members also voiced new concerns over allegations that Armeno physically abused former Deputy Chief Police Karen Krasicky while they were dating about a decade ago.

"The Connecticut Post has reported serious allegations about Mr. Armeno's past that the Civil Service Commission chose to totally ignore. Their job is not to rubber-stamp a provisional appointment, but to review and determine the appropriateness of the selection," Walsh said.

Ralph Jacobs, the city's personnel director, said the council members are misinterpreting the charter. He said provisional chiefs can serve for four months in any fiscal year. And since a new fiscal year began July 1, they can retain the title until November, he said.

As for Armeno's past, Jacobs said provisional status is not an endorsement of an official's personal history.

Fabrizi said Monday that Armeno and Rooney should receive pay commensurate with the job they are performing. Meanwhile, Kim McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for Bridgeport First, said the city agreed to expand advertising for selecting a new police chief, and to hire the Independent Association of Chiefs of Police to search for applicants and administer tests.

McLaughlin said her group become concerned when members realized the only advertisement placed so far has been in the Connecticut Post. "It raised eyebrows. The mayor said there would be a national search. We were also concerned the process had gotten under way without a consultant, which is needed to avoid political handling of the process," McLaughlin said.

Jacobs said he did not reach an "agreement" with Bridgeport First, as the group contends. He said the city explained its plans for hiring a new police chief and the group agreed to the process.

The city is hiring IACP to search for applicants and administer tests, Jacobs said. The IACP will advertise the job on its Web site, and other ads will run in cities, he said.

A consultant will soon be hired to search for a new fire chief, and ads also will be placed for that post, Jacobs said.

Bill Cummings, who covers regional issues, can be reached at 330-6230.