Local Government and Politics, News

Lynn City Council homes in on residency ordinance

LYNN — A new ordinance proposed by City Council President Darren Cyr would strip some contractual benefits from department heads who move out of the city in violation of the City Charter’s residency requirement.

The proposal follows a move by Department of Public Works Commissioner Andrew Hall. According to the Essex Registry of Deeds, Hall sold his house in Lynn for $567,500 and bought a home in Marblehead for $730,000 in January.

Hall confirmed he is no longer a resident of Lynn. He said he’s having some family issues, and plans on moving back to the city soon. He’s been DPW commissioner for five years and plans to stay on in that role.

“When I get my new address, I will give it to the people who care and move on,” Hall said.

He said he would hope not presently having residency would affect his job status, based on his past performance.

According to the city comptroller’s office, Hall’s salary is $135,421, which includes a 25 percent education incentive. He also gets a separate 10 percent longevity check, or $10,833 payment each year, based on his base pay of $108,337 and uses a city car.

If passed, the ordinance would take away benefits such as educational benefit pay, longevity and sick/personnel buyback from any department head who violates the residency requirement. The City Council has set the ordinance down for a public hearing, scheduled for March 12.

“Department heads in the city receive generous benefit packages along with their salary,” Cyr said. “However, in situations where a department head voluntarily chooses to move outside of the city of Lynn in violation of the City Charter, I personally do not believe that he/she should continue to receive all of the contractual benefits that are provided to department heads who chose to comply with the law and adhere to their sworn affidavits at the time they were hired.”

James Lamanna, the city’s attorney, is head of the Residency Compliance Commission, created by a Council ordinance. He said he’s currently investigating residency claims from city employees and has identified several dozen where there is a question of residency compliance so far.

According to the City Charter, every city employee, except for the chief financial officer and superintendent is required to live in the city, or move to Lynn within six months of being hired or their employment will be “deemed to be vacated or forfeited.” There are some exemptions, however. A 2010 court ruling allows police and firefighters to move out of the city after a decade, and teachers and school administrators are exempt, according to Lamanna.

It’s up to the mayor to enforce the City Charter’s provisions and for the Council to make the mayor aware if he’s not following certain parts of the document.

Mayor Thomas M. McGee said he had no comment on the proposed ordinance.

Cyr said the proposed ordinance is not in direct response to any one residency violation, but it’s been an ongoing issue over the years, which has finally come to a head.

All residency violators are provided an opportunity to move back to Lynn before disciplinary action is taken, but Cyr said violators should not receive contractual benefits while they live outside of the city.

“It’s absolutely not to force anybody out,” Cyr said. “We pay our department heads more than other communities. If you’re not proud enough to live in our city, then you can go and live somewhere else. I believe we can find plenty of competent people to do those positions.”

The ordinance may open up the debate about necessary changes to the city charter, which was drafted in 1978 and hasn’t been substantially updated since the 1980s. If there’s an opposition to the residency requirement or enforcing it, it’s up to the city to go to the voters to get them to change the charter.

“You have to fish or cut bait,” Cyr said. “Leadership starts at the top. If you’re not enforcing the rules with department heads, then why would anyone else want to follow the rules?”

Ward 1 Councilor Wayne Lozzi, chairman of the City Council Ordinance and Rules Committee, which will consider the proposed ordinance, said he would be in favor of any changes supported by voters, but right now it’s city law and should be enforced.

“(The residency requirement) is something that’s been watered down somewhat over the years, given how it was collectively bargained between the mayor and police and fire along with the courts,” Lozzi said. “There have been exceptions under home rule petitions. In my opinion, there should be a level playing field with all of the employees. It should be the same for each city employee.”

If the ordinance is approved by the Council, it would have to be signed off on by the mayor before it could go into effect.

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