Pittsburgh to appeal decision allowing police officers to live outside city limits

The city of Pittsburgh will appeal a decision upholding an earlier arbitration award permitting Pittsburgh police officers to live outside the city limits.

Judge Robert J. Colville issued an order on Wednesday affirming the March 14 award.

"An interest arbitration panel has authority to impose changes in 'terms and conditions of employment' such as residency rules," the judge wrote. "The city's attempt to use an ordinance to limit the collective bargaining rights of the officers is contrary to the powers granted under [Pennsylvania's collective bargaining statute]."

Tim McNulty, a spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto, said the city law department will ask for a stay of the opinion pending appeal.

"The mayor isn't necessarily against giving police the option to move," Mr. McNulty said. "But a city requirement going back more than a century shouldn't be decided by a flawed arbitration system, it should be subject to contract talks between the city and the police union."

Officer Howard McQuillan, president of the Pittsburgh police union, said officers were excited that the judge's decision grants them the ability to choose where they would like to live.

Of the city's decision to appeal, Officer McQuillan said, "We respect the process that we work with. … We're very confident that the end result is going to be [a choice of] residency for police officers."

But City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who advocated getting the police residency question to a referendum vote last fall -- it was overwhelmingly approved -- continued on Wednesday to criticize the idea of officers living elsewhere.

He said the distance and disrespect between the public and the police is at an "all-time high."

Police officers don't want to live in the city because they don't want their children to go to city public schools, he added.

"It's shameful, it's disgraceful and it is extremely unfortunate," he said.

Mr. Burgess took aim at the arbitration process itself, saying it handcuffs the city government and shields officers from greater accountability.

"Maybe this is the time to have this conversation in public," Mr. Burgess said."The real battle is the FOP contract."

Last week, Judge Colville heard argument on the residency issue from attorneys representing the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1.

FOP attorney Eric Stoltenberg argued that a change in state law in 2012, changing language from "shall" to "may" opened up the possibility of removing the restriction that officers live within the city limits, which has been in place since 1902.

FOP representatives, after the change, wanted the issue to be bargained in their contract, and in March, a 2-1 arbitration panel ruled that officers could live within 25 air miles of Downtown. Some city neighborhoods favored by officers include Stanton Heights, Brookline and Lincoln Place.

Assistant city solicitor Wendy Kobee presented a number of arguments to Judge Colville, including that requiring officers to live within the city falls under "managerial prerogative" and therefore cannot be bargained, as well as that the referendum vote amended the city‘‍s Home Rule Charter, and cannot be undone by arbitration.

Judge Colville dismissed those arguments, as well as another argument that allowing police officers to move outside city limits, while forbidding others to do the same, is unfair.

“Contract provisions for all city employees ... are not required to be equal,” he wrote. “The labor statutes of the commonwealth plainly anticipate that groups of employees will be treated differently based on their specific purpose, size, character and in particular strategic decisions each makes in how they bargain and/or arbitrate.”

Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published July 11, 2014 12:00 AM

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