A number of Stamford officials think it’s a good idea for city employees to live where they work.
They cite several reasons:
- It boosts the city’s economy because employees are more likely to spend their earnings close to home.
- It aligns city employee interests with city interests.
- It helps create a diverse workforce, since the city’s population is markedly diverse.
- It increases the likelihood that employees will be at their jobs during an emergency or bad weather.
- It reduces rush-hour traffic congestion.
- It helps the environment by increasing opportunities to walk, bike or take a bus to work.
- With shorter commutes, employees are less stressed and more productive.
- It improves family life because time spent commuting can instead be spent at home.
But there’s a problem.
City officials can’t require that people who work in Stamford also live in Stamford. State law prohibits it.
In Connecticut it’s illegal to require union employees – which is most municipal workers – to live in the town that employs them.
So city Rep. Virgil de la Cruz has been working on a way to at least encourage it.
De la Cruz proposed amending a city ordinance so that Stamford residents who pass an entry-level civil-service exam will have five points added to their score, boosting their chances to get hired.
The Board of Representatives’ Personnel Committee approved the proposal Monday night, so it’s on its way to the full board meeting scheduled for June 5.
Chances for passage look good, given a unanimous committee vote and a statement of support during Monday’s meeting from Al Cava, the city’s human services director.
If approved next month, the amended ordinance will take effect immediately.
It states that, to get the bonus points, a job candidate would have to submit “irrefutable evidence,” such as a driver’s license, property deed, apartment lease or utility bills, proving residency for at least 12 months before the date of receipt of the application for the civil service exam. Job candidates also will be required to sign an affidavit swearing that they live in Stamford.
It’s the same as the ordinance that grants residency points to candidates taking entry-level police and firefighter exams, de la Cruz said during the committee’s April meeting. His idea is to extend it to Stamford residents who apply for jobs as custodians, secretaries, 911 dispatchers, account clerks and many other positions, he said.
“It does not impose a residency requirement,” de la Cruz said during the meeting. “If an applicant happens to be a resident, they get bonus points.”
De la Cruz said he “scoured state statutes to see if there was any impediment I was not aware of,” and found none.
He learned that towns in Connecticut cannot require firefighters, police officers, teachers and other union employees to live in the town that hires them. But towns can require it of non-union employees such as police and fire chiefs, school superintendents and others holding similar top positions.
The residency requirement is usually written into contracts, according to a report from the state Office of Legislative Research cited by de la Cruz.
The report states that the U.S. Supreme Court and the Connecticut Supreme Court have upheld restrictive residency requirements so “it is unlikely that they would find a mere hiring preference in favor of residents unconstitutional.”
De la Cruz, in his initial proposal, included city employees who take exams for promotions, but Cava told him that will not work. Criteria for promotional exams must be negotiated with individual unions, Cava said.
City Rep. Phil Berns, a Personnel Committee member, questioned that.
“It’s perhaps more important to offer this to people being considered for promotions,” Berns said. “It’s the same advantages, if not more, for higher-ups to be residents.”
Cava said the Municipal Employee Relations Act, through numerous decisions, has determined that use of residency points on promotional exams must be negotiated with unions.
“If an individual used (residency points) for an entry-level exam, they can’t use them again for a promotional exam. You can only use them once,” Cava said.
Besides, he said, “unions tend not to like it because they don’t want to disenfranchise all their members who live out of town” and apply for promotions.
Another committee member, city Rep. Don Mays, wanted to know how the bonus points work.
“If someone passes an exam and gets five points added, what does it get them?” Mays asked.
Cava said only the top scores qualify a candidate to be interviewed.
“There’s no guarantee they will get the job, but the five points can get them into the room for an interview,” Cava said.
City Rep. Denis Patterson said it’s good for employees such as those who work in the zoning and building departments to live in Stamford.
“It’s better if they know the city well,” Patterson said.
Amending the ordinance will benefit the city and cost nothing, de la Cruz said.
The human resources department “already has a system in place for doing this with police and fire,” Cava said. “This would just be extending it to other positions.”