Residency for City Employees: The Time Has Come or Not?

In the pre-receivership era, there was a local politician who quite often got up at public meetings when job seekers from out of town were trying to gain a position with the city.

“Chelsea jobs should be for Chelsea people,” that old time politician used to tell them before he suggested they get out of Dodge and try somewhere else.

It was quite a strong line, catchy and resonant and many voters liked the sound of it.

The only problem was that the old time Chelsea politician meant that Chelsea jobs should be for his family members, many of whom were employed by the city, and certainly not for the family members of people living outside the city.

Now the cry is being heard anew.

Last week, the city council discussed the issue.

The majority of the council felt that the city should look into a residency requirement and that Chelsea jobs should go to Chelsea people.

To expedite this effort, the city council voted to send the measure asking for the study of this issue to the Charter Commission as it would take a Charter change to institute such a policy.

“I believe there are enough qualified men and women in this city to fill the vacancies that come up in city government from top to bottom,” said Council President Leo Robinson.

“Chelsea jobs for Chelsea people? Is that what this is about?” the reporter asked him.

“I know its an old line, and one often abused in the past, but this is now and that was then,” he said.

“There’s an awful large number of thoroughly qualified individuals to take city jobs here. Why not require those job seekers to live here? Wouldn’t it make for a better city if our public employees worked here, owned homes here and resided close to the heartbeat of the city in the most real way?” he asked.

Robinson made a good point with most of his colleagues except for three – one of whom is Councillor Brian Hatleberg who happens to be the head of the Charter Commission, which, by the way, is meeting next Tuesday, presumably to discuss this very issue.

Voting with Hatleberg against taking up the residency issue were Councillors Matt Frank and Chris Cataldo.

Robinson and his colleagues believe in the mantra that Chelsea has high unemployment and that requiring jobs to be filled by residents will reduce that high unemployment rate.

In addition, Robinson and his colleagues who voted for the measure understand that municipal jobs are good paying jobs and that it would be nice to keep that income circulating in Chelsea with attendant home purchases and discretionary spending in local stores and shops.

Employees who are residents may have a more vested interest in what happens in the city and they would take that interest onto into city hall and onto the streets of the city.

Hatleberg, Frank and Cataldo are much more measured about their thoughts on the matter but agree that Chelsea does not need a residency requirement for its public employees.

They intuitively believe that taxpayers want the best people working for the city and that sometimes those people are found living outside of the city.

“I have to put myself in the shoes of those wishing to work for the city. My wife works in Boston as a teacher. If she was employed as a police officer or firefighter in Boston she would be required to live there and I would, also. Should I have to live there because she is required to live there to work there? No. I want to live in Chelsea. I’d like it if our employees live in the city but if they have families and are living their lives residency can become a complicated issue and it does,” said Hatleberg.

Hatleberg said that the Charter Commission would discuss the issue at Tuesday’s meeting along with several other issues.

“We will consider and discuss what is on the agenda. At the following meeting we will vote on the measures,” said Hatleberg.

Those against a residency requirement believe employees should be judged by their productivity at work, not the zip code where they live.

In Chelsea’s past, many of its hometown municipal employees have been indicted, removed from their jobs for incompetency or jailed.

City Manager Jay Ash put the issue in perspective (Ash is not a resident of Chelsea).

“It is good to have a mix of residents and non-residents working together to ensure the differing perspectives for problem solving,” he said.

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