Russell Proposes Residency Rule

In New Ordinance, Councillor Says City Employees Must Live in Cambridge

A proposal to require new city employees to live in Cambridge sparked energetic discussion by city councillors and council candidates at an ordinance committee hearing this week.

The residency requirement ordinance was drafted at the request of Councillor Sheila T. Russell. "When there are city jobs available, they should go to city people," she said. "I feel very strongly about that."

No one at the Tuesday night hearing disagreed in spirit with the idea that Cambridge residents should have the first crack at jobs available in the city government. But an hour-and-a-half discussion showed there were a wide range of views about the details.

Concerns centered on the proposal's constitutionality, the effect it would have on Cambridge housing and the possible repercussions for the city's ability to attract the best candidates for a given job. Questions were also raised about which city officials would be covered.

Russell called such questions and details "stalling tactics."

Mayor Kenneth E. Reeves '72 and Councillor Jonathan S. Myers, who posed many of the questions, denied they were stalling. Reeves said any residency requirement should be carefully considered, notwithstanding his assessment that "it's an issue with a lot of political sex appeal."

The new ordinance, drafted by the city law department at Russell's request, would require newly-hired city employees to move to the city within one year from the date they begin their job.

A previous ordinance, still on the books, requires people hired to have lived in Cambridge for two years, but the ordinance is not enforced because it is probably unconstitutional.

The new ordinance proposed would not apply to city employees who are unionized, and state law exempts police and fire fighters from residency requirements.

City Council candidate Jim McGrail said he favored a residency requirement, but said, "there has to be some beef put behind this ordinance." He called for trying to include a residency requirement in future contracts between the city and its employee unions.

McGrail also said the city should send a home rule petition to the state legislature asking to be allowed to require police and fire fighters to live in the city.

The details of the proposed ordinance worried one Cambridge resident.

"This could just put a greater crush on the housing stock than we now have, if people have to become a resident of the city within a year," Gerard Bergman said.

Councillor Edward N. Cyr said that because single family homes are rare and expensive in Cambridge, some city employees might find it difficult to live in the city with their families, given their salaries.

Bergman recommended shortening the time span for required residency to three months, making it harder for outsiders to take city jobs and move into the city, while giving a greater advantage to job-seekers who already live here. Neil Rohr, a resident and Cambridge Rainbow organizer, also had doubts about making people move to Cambridge after a year. "That's not hiring Cambridge people, that's hiring people and making them Cambridge residents," he said.

Some people thought that upper-level city employees, if not everyone on the Cambridge payroll, should be subject to a residency requirement. "They ought to have to live with the decisions that they make," Rohr said.

"Those who are making decisions about where the city is going should have investment in the city," Cyr said.

City council candidate Thomas P. Weed suggested that all new city employees making more than $50,000 a year be required to live in Cambridge. Reeves said that police officers and fire fighters should live in the city so that they are available quickly in an emergency. But he also said students in Cambridge schools should have the best teachers available, regardless of where they live.

The ordinance committee voted to refer the matter to the full city council. In addition, Myers requested a report on the current places of residence of city employees. "I think we want to have a sense of how realistic is this ordinance," Myers said.

"It's going to take a lot of difficult thought," Cyr said, pointing out that the requirement could affect everyone from trash collectors in the city's Department of Public Works to surgeons at Cambridge Hospital