When voters in Pittsburgh head to the polls Tuesday they will be asked if they want to change the city’s home rule charter to require all city employees to live within the 58 square miles that make up the municipality.
The question was placed on the ballot by City Council in July following brief debate among council members and a long public hearing.
Councilman Ricky Burgess represents several mostly-African American neighborhoods and pushed for the referendum.
“It’s important that they live in the city and be part of the city and have a commitment to the city which they control,” said Burgess who also thinks it is important for the members of the community to get to know the officers not just as police but also as people.
“I believe the best way to improve public safety is to improve public confidence and when you have these chance encounters at the target and at Giant Eagle at the bakery you increase public confidence and therefore you increase public safety,” Burgess said.
The Pennsylvania legislature amended state law last year to eliminate the residency requirement for police and firefighters in Pittsburgh.
International Association of Fire fighters Local 1 Political Director Darrin Kelley said his union is not opposed to changing the home rule charter.
“We are proud residents of the city of Pittsburgh, we want to stay proud residents of the city of Pittsburgh,” Kelley said. “We believe we are not just firefighters but we are also part of the community.”
The union that represents Pittsburgh police officers has not supported the amendment.
The residency question is now part of a fight between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police. It has been sent to an arbitration panel, which is expected to rule soon.
Burgess says no matter what comes out of arbitration he expects an appeal to Allegheny County Court, and he says it will be important for the voters to have taken a stand on this matter.
Several police officers have spoken out against the proposed amendment but Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 President Michael Benner did not return numerous calls and emails.
The Alliance for Police Accountability President Brandi Fisher has not been as quiet.
“Tax dollars pay their salary,” noted Fisher. “You’re good enough for our money but [we’re] not good enough to be around our children or be in our communities or have your children go to school with our children?”
The text of the amendment reads: Shall Article 7 of the City of Pittsburgh Home Rule Charter be amended by adding the following section?
Section 711. Residency Requirements for All City Employees. All City employees and officials, including Police and Fire Bureau personnel, shall be domiciled in the City at the time of their initial appointment and shall continuously maintain their domicile within the City throughout their terms of employment with the City. This section shall take effect immediately upon passage.