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Residency Requirement Pursued Despite Questions Of Legality


       City Councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts are weighing a proposal for a strict residency requirement for non-union municipal employees.  But the proposed ordinance faces questions about legality and a likely mayoral veto.

       Undaunted by past failures to impose a strict residency ordinance, Springfield City Council President James Ferrera has filed a new ordinance that requires any person hired to work for the city after January 1st, 2014 must live in the city. Furthermore, municipal employees who do not now live in the city would be required to become a resident by July 1st, 2014.

       A city ordinance adopted in 1995 that requires municipal employees to reside in Springfield has largely been ineffective as a result of lax oversight and numerous waivers. Complicating matters is the fact that the bulk of the city’s workforce—teachers, police officers, and firefighters—is exempt from residency requirements as a result of state law or union contracts.

       Ferrera said 32 city employees, including several department heads, have been granted waivers allowing them to live outside the city.  Their combined salaries total almost $2 million.

       The new residency ordinance proposal was filed with the council earlier this month and referred to the Special Committee on Residency. 

       Ferrera made an attempt last June during the council’s deliberations on the city budget to crack down on waivers to the residency requirement.  He proposed to defund the positions of employees who do not live in Springfield unless they became city residents within six months.  The full council rejected the proposal after a warning from the city law department that it would result in wrongful termination lawsuits.

       City Councilor Michael Fenton, who chairs the ad-hoc committee on residency, said city employees who have been granted waivers from the residency requirement cannot be forced to move into the city.

       A proposed residency ordinance sponsored by Fenton was approved by the city council earlier this year, but was vetoed by Mayor Domenic Sarno. The council later fell one vote short of overriding the veto.

       That ordinance would have required city department heads and  their deputies, hired after January 1, 2014  to live in the city with no exceptions.  The mayor’s authority to grant waivers would have been curtailed.  Sarno said he vetoed the ordinance on the advice of the city solicitor who warned it would infringe on powers granted to the mayor by the city charter.

       Sarno said all things being equal he will always give a hiring preference to a Springfield resident.

       An opinion from the city’s law department questions if any new residency requirement can be imposed without opening the city to the possibility of a lawsuit based on constitutional claims of discrimination.   The opinion urged the council to undertake a study to collect data to justify a policy that would impact a relatively small percentage of the city’s workforce.

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