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City Councilors Call For Action On Employee Residency Enforcement

City Hall in Springfield, Ma

City councilors in Springfield, Massachusetts are calling on the city administration to enforce long-standing requirements that municipal employees live in the city. Councilors raised the specter of lawsuits if the residency law is not enforced.

Members of the council’s General Government Committee complained the residency ordinance is being flaunted by certain city supervisors who continue to reside in the suburbs and is not being taken seriously by the administration of Mayor Domenic Sarno.  The city solicitor and the city’s labor relations director said the residency issue is complicated by state laws and collective bargaining.

Councilor Justin Hurst, the chairman of the committee, said the roadblocks to enforcing the residency law start with the city.

" The unfortunate part is the consequences if they don't enforce this residency, I think, are going to be very significant for the city of Springfield," Hurst said. " I think we are opening ourselves up to potential litigation that we could otherwise avoid if we would just enforce the residency requirement that the City Council voted on as well as the amendment we voted on."

Hurst said he believed it is possible the city could face a lawsuit over its employment practices from municipal employees who live in the city.

A residency ordinance that dates to 1995 requires people hired or promoted by the city to live in Springfield, or move to the city within one year.  State law exempts school teachers from local residency requirements and allows public safety workers to live within a 10- mile radius of the city. Some municipal unions gained exemptions through collective bargaining. Also, the mayor was allowed to grant waivers.

Believing that numerous waivers had greatly weakened enforcement of the residency ordinance, the city council in March approved an amendment that all but eliminates the mayor’s ability to issue waivers. Sarno vetoed it. But the council on April 4th overrode the veto.

Sarno claims restricting his ability to issue waivers to the residency requirement interferes with the authority granted to the mayor under the city charter.  He’s pointed out that there is more to hiring decisions than where a person lives including licensing and degree requirements for certain jobs.

" Everything equal ,I will pick a Springfield resident, everything being equal," said Sarno. " But I am running a corporation here and I need to be accountable to the taxpayers and the residents to hire the best individual to put forth that service to the taxpayers and residents."

City Councilor Bud Williams, pointing to a report that only 11 of 43 people hired or promoted by the city since October 2013 had moved into Springfield, said waivers had become the rule rather than the exception.

" We need to enforce residency," said Williams. " It sends a terrible message on the diversity piece of it. At the top of the police department and fire department there are no women, no people of color."

Springfield is not alone in Massachusetts in wrestling with municipal employee residency requirements.  Boston recently enacted a new ordinance requiring all top municipal officials to live in Boston, but exempts current employees.

Officials in Lawrence are struggling to write a residency law for municipal employees after voters endorsed the idea in a non-binding referendum.     

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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