City police residency ruling draws criticism

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State Sen. Jim Ferlo said Friday that he feels an arbitration award giving Pittsburgh police officers the right to live outside the city overstepped the bounds of state law, and a representative for the city declined to sign it.

But the legislator who sponsored the bill that says Pittsburgh police officers "may" be required to live in the city, rather than must live in the city, said the law did exactly what it was intended to do -- allow officers and the city to hash out matters in negotiation or arbitration.

Whether the city will appeal the award remains unclear. A spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto said Friday that the administration was still pondering how to proceed.

What resulted Friday were an allegation of political game-playing and arguments over the limits of a law passed two years ago.

"It makes you very cynical," said Bryan Campbell, an attorney representing the Pittsburgh police union. "As far as I'm concerned all of these people are posturing," he said, referring to those who criticized the award. "For political reasons, they're posturing."

Pittsburgh police officers have long been required to live inside the city limits. On Thursday, a neutral arbitrator drafted and signed an award that says Pittsburgh police officers must live within 25 air miles of the City-County Building, Downtown. That means some could live in parts of Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland counties, as well as all of Allegheny County.

Mr. Campbell has said he believes a re-opener in the collective bargaining agreement allowed Pittsburgh police officers to negotiate with the city over residency when the state law relaxed. He signed the award Friday and passed it along to Joseph Quinn, who represented the city in arbitration.

Rather than sign the award, Mr. Quinn wrote and signed a one-page dissent opinion criticizing the award on three major points. He wrote that he felt the award exceeded the authority of the arbitration panel and that "legislative history" shows that the city of Pittsburgh should have the discretion to choose whether to enact a residency requirement.

Second, he wrote that "the City cannot lift its residency requirement only as to its police employees, unless there is a rational basis for such a distinction. The opinion as well as the record in this case lack any evidence of a rational basis allowing discrimination in favor of police officers on this issue, and the award is, therefore, unlawful."

Last, Mr. Quinn argued that the award went against the will of Pittsburgh residents, who voted in a referendum in November to add a section to the Home Rule Charter requiring all city employees to live within the city, as they have been required to do since 1902.

Mr. Ferlo, D-Highland Park, joined the arguments Friday morning, saying in a statement, "The state law changed to empower Pittsburgh City Council and the Mayor's office to make local decisions that are in the best interest of the citizens they represent. The law was not changed to afford a third party arbiter a chance to provide city police officers with a chance to flee the city."

Mr. Campbell, an attorney representing the police union, said the city never presented evidence during argument that it felt arbitration was the wrong venue for settling the matter -- a statement Mr. Quinn disputed.

He also said that the police union invited other city unions to join them in their efforts to eliminate the residency requirement and other unions declined to do so.

"Everything here is perfectly legal," Mr. Campbell said.

State Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, sponsored the bill that changed the state law that required Pittsburgh police officers to live inside city limits. She said she thought Pittsburgh police officers were the only ones in the state required to live in the same city where they worked.

"I think the law just did exactly what it was intended to do, which was to give the officers the ability to negotiate with the city for residency," Ms. Ward said.

She noted that Mr. Ferlo voted for the bill when it passed through the Senate. "Maybe he did not understand the intent of the law when he cast his vote," she said.

Liz Navratil:, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Moriah Balingit:, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.

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