Pittsburgh, police union argue over residency requirement

An Allegheny County Common Pleas judge will decide in coming days whether an arbitration panel’s decision allowing Pittsburgh police officers to live outside of city limits will stand.

Attorneys for the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 argued Monday before Judge Robert J. Colville, who said he would need a few days before making his decision.

In March, a three-person arbitration panel ruled, 2-1, that officers should be permitted to live within 25 air miles from Downtown.

Officers sought the change in residency requirement, which since 1902 has required a home address in the city, saying it would increase officer retention and recruitment.

City officials want the requirement to remain, and in November, a referendum of city voters overwhelmingly affirmed the long-standing rule.

FOP attorneys argue that a change in state law in 2012 opened up the possibility of relaxing the restriction.

The language in Act 195, the Public Employee Relations Act, changed from saying that an officer “shall” be a resident, to saying that a city of the second class “may” require residency.

That change in the law opened the issue up to be bargained in the FOP contract, argued FOP attorney Eric Stoltenberg.

But under the city’s argument, Wendy Kobee, assistant city solicitor, told Judge Colville that the residency requirement falls under the category of “managerial prerogative” and therefore cannot be bargained.

The FOP countered that residency is, instead, a “condition of employment,” which does fall under issues that can be bargained.

The referendum was “irrelevant,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

“They just don’t have the legal power and authority to do that,” he said. “Residency is a mandatory subject of bargaining.”

Ms. Kobee disagreed.

“It’s really about who has the power and authority to decide a question of this sort,” she said. “Our citizens can dictate certain rules, obligations, requirements for how things can happen around here.”

She told Judge Colville the Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter dictates that all public service employees reside within the city.

Ms. Kobee also noted that “there is no rational basis” for the arbitration panel’s 25-mile radius.

Liz Navratil contributed. Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard.

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