Home team: Vote yes to keep city police and firefighters here

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When Pittsburgh voters are asked next Tuesday whether police officers and firefighters should be required to live in the city, the question may suggest that a "yes" vote would force a change in the status quo. Not so. At least not yet.

Under Pittsburgh's Civil Service Commission regulations, all city employees currently are required to reside within the city's borders. However, the same language does not appear in the city's Home Rule Charter, and approval of voters is necessary to make that happen.

Why bother?

Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, who introduced the measure that led to the referendum, believes that having the residency requirement in the charter will give the city a stronger argument in defending it.

Until last year, the provision also had been a matter of state law, but an ill-advised change opened the door to a legal challenge. Where the law previously said city police officers "shall" reside in the city, it now says only that they "may." With that change in law for ammunition, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 1 challenged the city's rule, and the matter now is before an arbitrator.

It's not clear yet whether the referendum would trump an arbitration ruling if it goes against the city, but it wouldn't hurt.

Beyond the legal question is the question of civic responsibility. Employees should have a vested interest in the community where they work by paying taxes and contributing to the vitality and livability of the city.

Downtown, until recently a place that rolled up its sidewalks at the close of the business day, now is lively on most evenings of the week. It would be tragic if, just as the urban core of Pittsburgh is rejuvenated, its many stable residential neighborhoods -- sustained by the presence of many city employees -- were abandoned by the very people who have a large stake in the city's survival.

Voters should answer Yes on the referendum so police and fire personnel, like other city employees, are required to live in Pittsburgh.

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