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Voters may decide on adding residency rule to Pittsburgh charter

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Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Pittsburgh Councilman Ricky Burgess wants to make sure city employees remain city residents.

Burgess said he will introduce legislation on Tuesday that would allow voters to decide in November whether to add a residency requirement to the city's Home Rule Charter. Voters, not council, must approve any changes to the charter.

“I want to put it in the Home Rule Charter because I believe it strengthens the position,” Burgess, of North Point Breeze, said Monday. “It makes it clear to anyone who is listening that this is the will of the city of Pittsburgh.”

A city ordinance now requires all employees to live in Pittsburgh, but the state Legislature last year passed a bill permitting the mayor and City Council to waive the requirement.

The Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 for years has argued against the mandate, saying it's a prime reason that officers seek higher paying jobs with suburban departments. The main hang-up is that many officers don't want their children attending Pittsburgh Public Schools, according to FOP President Mike LaPorte.

“There's a big spillover to our families, especially our children,” he said. “They get picked on in school because their mother or father is a cop, and there's a lot of bullying that goes on. Our members want some choice in terms of educating their kids.”

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has said he wants employees living in the city.

The two candidates for mayor ­­— Democratic Councilman Bill Peduto of Point Breeze and Republican Josh Wander of Squirrel Hill — have said they are open to change. Peduto was unavailable for comment but said last year that he would rather waive the requirement than lose officers to other jobs.

“It's almost unheard of in the private sector to require residency, and I think we can take an example from that,” Wander said. “I believe professionals are professionals regardless of where they live.”

FOP members are challenging the policy before a panel of arbitrators. The panel is scheduled to hear testimony from the city in October.

“The (FOP) went to arbitration to try to live outside of the city,” Burgess said. “My communities want me to do everything within my power to prevent that.”

Burgess hopes to push through his legislation by early August so that the question can appear on the Nov. 5 ballot, and he may have the five votes on council to do that. Theresa Kail-Smith, Corey O'Connor, Bruce Kraus and Darlene Harris also support requiring employees to live in the city, though O'Connor and Kraus would not commit to voting for Burgess' bill until reviewing it.

“I don't think it's a benefit for the residents of Pittsburgh for them to change residency,” said Kail-Smith, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

Burgess said several high-profile confrontations between police and residents in predominantly black neighborhoods have pushed tensions to a critical stage. Waiving the residency requirement would compound the problems, he said.

“We do not want them to become the Roman Legion patrolling an area with which they have no investment in,” Burgess said.

Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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