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On Residency, Where’s the Beef?…

UPDATED 12/13/12 3:32PM: An earlier version of this post identified the Patrolmen Union Lawyer as Kevin Boyle. His name is Kevin Coyle.


SPRINGFIELD—Since the city’s convoluted residency ordinance has come into vogue at the City Council, the emotions of councilors and labor leaders alike have run high.  The highly sensitive issue has attracted long-winded soliloquies on the Council Floor and an flurry of proposed fixes.  Yesterday, the Council General Government Committee met to flesh out some fresh concerns and consider another proposal.

Ward 8 Councilor John Lysak, the committee’s chair, had proposed a day earlier a measure that would essentially move forward the grandfather clause in the current ordinance from March 17, 1995 to January 1, 2013.  Employees hired before 2013 would be exempted from the ordinance entirely. Lysak, in his opening remarks, also noted his proposal included other minor tweaks to Animal Control employees requirements and to the office charged with enforcement.

Presiding over the Committee in the roomy Council Chamber as opposed to the cramped subcommittee room, the meeting featured a few labor leaders and mayoral staffers in the audience. Ward 2 Councilor Mike Fenton and Ward 7 Councilor Tim Allen, who are not members of the Committee, were also on hand.  No other councilors, despite complaints from some last month on the floor of the Council, were present.

Just before Thanksgiving, several councilors, including Allen, Fenton and Lysak introduced a substantial revision to the Council’s residency ordinance.  It would reestablish residency as a policy in the city, but also reward employees with a financial bonus for following the ordinance faithfully despite the city’s non-enforcement.

Councilor Clodo Concepcion (WMassP&I)

That revision, particularly its financial incentives, provoked backlash among several councilors including at-large Councilors, Tim Rooke and Bud Williams, Ward 5 Councilor Clodo Concepcion and Ward 6 Councilor Ken Shea.  Concepcion, in particular charged that the revision, assembled during public hearings, was “a backroom deal.”  As a result of those objections councilors sent the revision back to committee.

However, as Fenton did not “see any of the detractors in the audience.”  Indeed none of them were present.  The committee meeting had taken place during the city’s big public casino hearing at City Stage, prompting some to wonder if councilors attended that meeting instead.  However, WAMC reporter Paul Tuthill tweeted that those councilors were not at that meeting either.

(Our original tweet at right was in reference to those councilors’ who objected to the ordinance revision submitted that night).

Williams, who has made rather theatrical displays of support for residency, had his own item before the committee, despite his absence.  He proposed a home rule petition that would relieve Springfield  from a state law, Mass. Gen. Law 71, Section 38, which prohibits any municipality from enforcing a residency ordinance against teachers and other school employees.  All communities in Massachusetts are bound by this law, including Boston, an oft-cited example of effective employee residency requirements. Fenton, speaking of Williams‘ item, said the Council should consult the city‘s legislative delegation and determine the item’s prospects before passing it.

Discussing the broader debate, Allen pointed out that critics of residency requirements for city employees cannot realistically say the policy has failed since it has in effect not existed in the city for years.  He added that a working residency proposal could bolster the city’s tax bases and solve problems such as its declining tax levy ceiling.  Fenton said less comprehensive measures, like Lysak‘s, do not address other issues.  Specifically, he cited past employee adherence—or lack thereof—to the policy.

Councilor John Lysak (WMassP&I)

Labor officials at the meeting, once intractable opponents to residency reforms, were largely comfortable with the broader revisions that included the incentives.  Kevin Coyle, an Attorney for the Springfield Patrolman’s Union admonished councilors who supported residency, and the concept of running the city like a business.  Lysak replied that he willingly thought himself such a councilor.

Springfield Education Association President Tim Collins spoke in opposition to Williams’ home rule petition to exempt Springfield from the state ban on mandatory teacher residency.  While beneficial to teachers, obviously, he also described it as helpful to school districts, too.

Councilor Bud Williams (WMassP&I)

Collins also described it as a means to make efficient use of a school district’s resources.  The purpose, he said, was to put teachers on a career development path within the particular school system in which they were trained.  Otherwise, Collins argued, they could receive training in one district and then, armed with those qualifications, go to work for another district that did not require residency.

Collins was also worried about language in the ordinance that would limit the collective bargaining rights of workers.  Both the current ordinance and proposed changes, require the city to avoid bargaining away its residency ordinance during negotiations.  However, the state’s collective bargaining law allows local personnel ordinances or by-laws to be subject to bargaining.  In other words, no ordinance can have the practical effect of prohibiting labor from bargaining on it or a municipality responding to such bargaining.

Councilor Michael Fenton (WMassP&I)

A city library employee, Linda Lajoie, did offer her concerns about Lysak’s proposal possibly foreclosing her ability to receive a promotion.  However, councilors said that as long as she got a waiver from the mayor, neither the current ordinance nor Lysak’s proposal would inhibit her career.  However, Fenton noted that Lajoie’s situation proves questions remain and typifies the confusion that can and has ensued under the current regime and, possibly under less comprehensive solutions.

“Would she even be asked?” about her residency Fenton inquired rhetorically.

With little more to discuss, the meeting wrapped up quickly. Lysak promised to hold another meeting next week, likely forestalling any further action on the Council floor until Janurary.