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Peduto appeals ruling allowing police to live outside Pittsburgh

Bob Bauder
| Tuesday, March 18, 2014, 3:44 p.m.

The city of Pittsburgh contends that an arbitration panel overstepped its authority by lifting a residency requirement for police officers, according to an appeal filed on Tuesday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.

It puts on hold the panel's 2-1 decision, which said police could live within 25 air miles of the City-County Building, Downtown. Officers have long sought to live outside the city so their children can attend suburban schools.

Attorney Bryan Campbell, who represented the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 on the panel, said the union has a contract stipulation that allowed it to challenge the residency requirement.

“This is the way it is in every other municipality in the state,” Campbell said, predicting that appeals could continue to the state Supreme Court. “I don't know where the city's coming from.”

Neutral arbitrator John M. Skonier, who also ruled for the union, could not be reached for comment.

Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement that he is willing to discuss the residency requirement with the police union, but state law permits only the mayor and City Council to officially lift it.

“I've long said I would make residency part of contract negotiations with the police union in exchange for changes to management and disciplinary improvements that both residents and officers can be proud of,” Peduto said.

An FOP official said the union attempted to sit down with the previous administration, but the city's attorney walked out.

“That's what took it to binding arbitration,” said Detective Mike Benner, the union's vice president. “It's not going to be something we sit down and negotiate over when the city already forced our hand and made us go to arbitration.”

Pittsburgh, for more than a century, has required all employees to live in the city. In 2012, the state Legislature passed a law stating the city “may” require police officers to live within its borders.

Last year, Councilman Ricky Burgess, looking to strengthen the city's position, persuaded council to put the question to voters. In November, they overwhelmingly approved putting the residency requirement in the Home Rule Charter.

State Sen. Jim Ferlo said last week that the Legislature intended council to decide the issue, not arbitrators. The panel held hearings last year and issued its ruling last week.

Joe Quinn, who represented the city on the panel, wrote in a dissenting opinion that it did not have the legal authority to lift the residency requirement.

Staff writer Margaret Harding contributed. Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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