PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Should city employees like police and firefighters be required to live in the city — or should the city be free to hire the most qualified employees no matter where they live?
“If you work here, you should live here,” Pittsburgh city councilman Ricky Burgess told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Tuesday.
Saying city workers are not always in touch with the community they serve, Burgess has led an effort to add a residency requirement to Pittsburgh’s home rule charter.
“I believe that by having police, fire, public safety officials live next door to residents, shop with them, worship with them, know them intimately, you’ll get a better reaction and overall you’ll get better public safety,” added Burgess.
Most expect the ballot question, which mirrors city law, to pass.
While voters may say that municipal employees should live in that municipality, this may be one issue that may unite Republican Josh Wander and Democrat Bill Peduto, both saying they’re not so sure of this referendum.
“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,” said Peduto last July.
“If you go into a hospital and you get treated by a doctor or a nurse, it doesn’t matter where they live,” noted Wander. “It doesn’t matter where you live. They’re going to treat you professionally because they’re professionals. The same thing goes with police officers and firefighters.”
A new state law gives police unions the right to bargain over this issue in their contracts, so this referendum may mean little.
Wander: “It’s unclear whether this is going to be binding in the end.”
Peduto: “The final decision will be made by a judge.”
Burgess: “At the end of the day, courts will decide.”
All of which leaves some voters wondering about residency versus qualifications.
“A lot of gray areas here. Maybe not such a yes or no answer,” noted Aviva Gross of Squirrel Hill.