PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Should city employees be residents of Pittsburgh, or should the city be free to hire the most qualified public employees no matter where they live?
City voters will get to decide that this fall.
“We want people who work for the city to be completely invested in the city of Pittsburgh. If you work here, you ought to live here,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess.
Although that’s already the law now in Pittsburgh, council will let voters add this to the city’s home rule charter.
While city council unanimously passed this bill making issue of residency a referendum question on the November ballot, there are many legal hurdles ahead.
Why? Because the state recently passed a new law that makes residency the subject of negotiation.
And that’s the rub. Under the new state law, city police have asked an arbitrator to allow police officers to live outside the city if they wish.
Given recent police issues in African American neighborhoods, that upsets Burgess, who authored this referendum.
“We do not want the police to be an occupying force in our community,” said Burgess.
But Councilman and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Peduto, who voted for the referendum, said the issue is more complex.
“Forcing people to have to live in the city doesn’t do justice for morale. It doesn’t make people have more of a commitment to improving the city. In some ways it just makes them bitter,” Peduto told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.
Peduto says — if voters defeat this — residency could be the biggest bargaining chip a mayor could use to make significant changes in police operations.
“You have to decide in this vote whether reforming the police bureau is important or where people sleep at night,” he said.
But given state law, no matter what voters decide, said Peduto, “The final decision will be made by a judge.”