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Councilors continue to lobby for new residency law

Date: 6/13/2012

June 13, 2012

By Katelyn Gendron

SPRINGFIELD — Proposed revisions to the Springfield's residency ordinance for city employees, along with the issuance of residency certificates, has caused three unions to file unfair labor practices against the municipality in recent months. Such developments have not impeded City Councilors Michael Fenton and Timothy Allen from continuing their push for an amended ordinance, however.

"We want a law that makes sense. The law doesn't make much sense and is being enforced inequitably. Some people have been given waivers and others have not ... All we have done at this point is ask for information and that's not an unreasonable request. We didn't start this because it's a budget issue; it's a fairness issue. I think we're looking at a huge number of layoffs this year and certainly residency should be a huge issue," Fenton told Reminder Publications, noting that during cutbacks, departments should choose to distribute the pink slip to the non-resident as opposed to the city resident.

Squabbles over the ordinance have been the result of the issuance of residency certificates to all city employees by William Mahoney, director of Labor Relations and Human Resources, at Fenton and Allen's request.

Mahoney released his summary of residency data on May 29, which stated that of the approximately 6,800 City and School Department employees, Human Resources received 1,192 forms and "of the 27 departments issued forms, 18 had 100 percent compliance rate. One department did not respond to our request for information. The remaining departments had a compliance rate between 85 percent and 96 percent.

"Of the group that returned forms, 712 reported that they reside in Springfield (59.7 percent). Of this group, 318 claim an exemption though they live in Springfield. Fifteen employees acknowledged that they do not live in the city and are not in compliance; 103 employees claim that they are exempt by city ordinance; five employees claim an exemption pursuant to state statute; [and] 285 employees claim an exemption due to their collective bargaining agreement," Mahoney's summary continued.

Three units of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees have filed the unfair labor practice against the city due to the issuance of residency certificates; approximately 182 employees are included in those units, he explained.

Mahoney noted that firefighters and policemen who live within a 10- or 15-mile radius are in compliance of the ordinance as well as those hired prior to St. Patrick's Day of 1995, as they are "grandfathered in."

Fenton said he is not interested in terminating any employee in violation of the residency ordinance, as the law is written now, rather he'd like to see those employees suspended.

"Because it has been enforced for some and enforced for others city employees, people feel disenfranchised and demoralized. We have a disfunctioning environment," he said. "We don't want to fire everybody who's in violation but we're looking to have some compromise so that some people who are in violation answer to that violation and those who complied are unaffected.

"I believe that it's important for employee morale and life in the city that good paying jobs go to people who live here and that's a debate that was had before me and other members of the council," Fenton continued.

In order for residency compliance to be monitored, not only must the law be rewritten but Mayor Domenic Sarno must also appoint members to the Residency Compliance Commission, he said, noting that he'll continue to push for the formation of the commission and an ordinance that is "enforced equitably."

Calls to Allen for comment were not returned.

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