Payroll residency mandate on ballot in Pittsburgh

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Pittsburgh government no longer has a "City Gauger" or a "Bureau of Light" but it does still require police and all other employees to reside in the city limits.

At least for now.

The Pittsburgh residency requirement goes back to the start of the city's modern era at the turn of the 20th century and was reaffirmed during another modernization in the 1970s. On Tuesday voters will have another chance to adopt the requirement, even though the issue eventually may have to be resolved in court.

In October 2012 the state Legislature opened the door for the Fraternal Order of Police to challenge the city residency rule. The matter is currently before a three-member labor arbitration panel, which may issue a ruling by the end of this month, but in the meantime Pittsburgh City Council voted to place a referendum on Tuesday's ballot that would write the requirement into the city charter.

The referendum reads:

"Shall Article 7 of the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended by adding the following Section?

Section 711: Residency Requirements for All City Employees. All City employees and officials, including Police and Fire Bureau personnel, shall be domiciled in the City at the time of their initial appointment and shall continuously maintain their domicile within the City throughout their terms of employment with the City. This section shall take effect immediately upon passage."

The sponsor of the council resolution, which was approved unanimously, was Councilman Ricky Burgess of Homewood. He argued that the referendum, if passed, would strengthen the city's position should the matter be taken to court.

"We want in the strongest terms to show the court what the will is of the residents of the city of Pittsburgh," he said. "Putting it in our home rule charter, our main governing document, will show that will and desire."

The Black Political Empowerment Project also is pushing for approval. It released a statement saying "if police officers are allowed to move out and/or live outside of the City of Pittsburgh the already challenged diversity aspect of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police will be further diluted."

Police union officials, who could not be reached for comment last week, have argued that the requirement should be waived to gain a wider pool of recruits, and to allow officers to send their children to suburban schools where they would have less fear of being bullied over a parent's job. They also have warned against council wading into a collective bargaining matter through the ballot question.

Democratic mayoral nominee Bill Peduto, who is expected to win Tuesday's election, lands somewhere in the middle on the issue. In an ideal world, he said, he'd like to force officers to live in the city. And he, too, anticipates the fight over the requirement will move to the courts, regardless of whether the referendum prevails.

While he supports the concept of requiring officers to live within city limits, he also believes it could be used as leverage to push police overhaul when the police contract reopens next year. He's willing to give up the residency requirement if he can persuade the FOP to agree to changes in recruitment and retention practices, including making it easier for the bureau to fire problematic officers.

"What we need to be able to get back is the management of the police bureau," he said.

"If we could get changes on recruitment which make it more fair, open and diverse, changes in retention which keep our good officers on and recognizes there are some that the city should be able to fire ... we will reform the police bureau," he said. "And at that point I wouldn't worry about where they sleep at night because we would have the best police officers."

The city's worker residency requirement goes back to 1902, when the city began passing self-governing laws enabled by the state the year before.

An ordinance approved Jan. 7, 1902, created Public Safety, Public Works, Police, Fire and other departments and bureaus still in place today. The same law also said all employees "shall be residents in and inhabitants of the city of Pittsburgh, and shall reside therein during their term of service and employment."

The ordinance also had some old offices, including the gauger (who measured barrels of whiskey) and the light bureau (charged with lighting "streets, lanes, alleys, public squares or public places of any kind whatsoever" in the city). When the city's code was modernized in May 1979, drafters wrote that "prior ordinances have been clarified" and "archaic provisions have been removed or updated."

The whiskey gauger didn't make the new law book, but the residency requirement stayed.

Timothy McNulty: or 412-263-1581. Follow the Early Returns blog at or on Twitter at @EarlyReturns. Moriah Balingit contributed.

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