City Councillors voted down a plan on Monday night to require newly-hired police officers to live in Chelsea at least five years after starting the job – an issue decided by one vote in a 5-6 decision.
Supporters of the plan indicate that it is a very popular initiative among voters, and leading proponent Councillor Leo Robinson forced the vote on Monday night in order to see where everyone stood.
He said he was disappointed, but he said – given what he believes is widespread support in the community – that those who voted against it will have to explain their position to the voters.
“For me, it comes back to economics,” he said. “If we’re looking at building a larger middle class here and we’re allowing the best wage earners to take their money and spend it in other communities, we’re not getting any benefit…They wanted to table it, but I objected to that. I wanted people to stand up and vote on this and get everyone on record and not let it hand over our heads. I think this is the right thing to do for the City. I’m a life-long resident and I think these are the steps we should be looking at to improve our community. These guys who voted against it are going to have to tell the people why they did.”
Those voting for the new residency ordinance were Robinson, Giovanni Recupero, Calvin Brown, Paul Barton and Joe Perlatonda.
Those voting against the residency ordinance were Chris Cataldo, Paul Murphy, Matt Frank, Dan Cortell, Cliff Cunningham and Brian Hatleberg.
Council President Frank said he has a long record of opposing residency ordinances – a position in this case that is two-fold.
Frank said his father is employed by the City of Cambridge, and when he took the job there, that City had no residency ordinance. So, he was able to continue living in Chelsea.
“I wouldn’t be here, my parents wouldn’t be here and my siblings wouldn’t be here,” he said. “We would have had to sell our house and move to Cambridge just because…It would be a shame if we ripped other people out of their communities.”
Second, he said there were statistics provided on Monday that showed such an enforcement effort might not be necessary. Statistics showed that of the 11 police officers hired in the last five years, 10 of them are still living in Chelsea.
“If we would have instituted this ordinance five years ago, at the end of the day, we would have wasted all of this time and money and effort to keep one officer out of 11 from moving out of Chelsea,” he said. “It seems to me a waste of money. I don’t think it’s worthwhile.”
Other councillor supporting the ordinance said that there are instances of several police officers allegedly keeping a Chelsea address, but not necessarily living here. Having a mechanism to check the true residency under the ordinance would root out such things, they said.
Frank also pointed out many cities that have a residency ordinance end up having police and firefighters all living in the same neighborhood.
“I agree it would be great to have a police officer or firefighter living on every street, but in places like Boston, most of the police and firefighters live in West Roxbury,” he said. “You have entire streets there that are made up of police officers and firefighters. The same could end up happening in Chelsea.”
Councillor Joe Perlatonda said he favored residency for police, and felt those voting against it needed to explain themselves to the voters.
“I think the residency ordinance would have been a good thing,” he said. “I don’t know why they voted it down. That’s their thing. The residents of Chelsea wanted this, so let these guys who voted against this go out and explain their position to the voters.”
Councillor Dan Cortell said he had several concerns with the ordinance, but chief among them was how it would affect lateral transfers from other departments. A lateral transfer is a police officer from another community that is already trained and working and has been laid off or seeks to work elsewhere, and is then hired by another community.
“If you hire someone off of the Civil Service list, on day one they are a rookie and they need to be trained at the academy,” he said. “The other option is I can take someone who Everett can’t hire or who got laid off. That person doesn’t need to go to the academy and is already experienced and ready to hit the street on day one. That is my single biggest issue with this and what I see as a flaw in the policy…I’ll take every one of the transfers if they have good records and have had an unfortunate layoff.”
One key vote came from Councillor Clifford Cunningham, who was not available for comment by press time.
Cunningham apparently did not necessarily disagree with the ordinance, but said he couldn’t support it until the state’s 10-mile residency rule was first enforced by the City. State law calls for public safety employees to live within a 10-mile radius of the community where they are employed.
With that opposition, a key vote was lost, and the proposal failed.
City Manager Jay Ash said he thought it was a healthy discussion even though he didn’t favor the policy.
“I think the City Council has a responsibility to make public policy decisions and I have no problem with councillors raising issues like this, discussing them and researching them,” he said. “Not everything at City Hall is going to be unanimous. In this case, I think the Council made the right decision, but I have no problem with anyone raising the issue.”
Robinson said he was disappointed to see the measure go down.
He said he felt like he made several compromises and answered plenty of questions about possible problems with the ordinance. He said he rolled back the effective day from May 2014 to January 2015, and he also excluded the Chief’s position and 9-1-1 employees from the ordinance – not to mention the fact that anybody already in the department has been grandfathered and wouldn’t be affected.
“It is disappointing, but now we have everyone on record,” he said.