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Lynn Council hears plan to end residency

Mayor Jared Nicholson has asked the City Council to approve a home-rule petition that would eliminate the residency requirement. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNN — On the heels of an op-ed published in The Item last Thursday by Mayor Jared Nicholson and City Council President Jay Walsh calling for the elimination of the residency requirement in the City Charter, the City Council met Tuesday night to set down a public hearing to discuss the matter.

The public hearing will be at the City Council’s next meeting on Feb. 8. At this hearing, city councilors will discuss and potentially vote on a home-rule petition, which is one way the city can go about revising the City Charter. 

“As I outlined in my memo to the City Council dated Jan. 7, 2022, I asked the city’s Law Department to draft a home-rule petition to revise the city’s Charter to eliminate the city’s residency requirement for the reasons explained therein,” Nicholson wrote in a memo to Walsh.

The memo details the issues with the residency requirement — namely on how it makes it harder for the city to hire those with specialized skills, and the inequality in enforcement, which creates housing-market pressure on those who have lower-income jobs. Nicholson said in the memo he has had conversations with members of the previous administration and one-on-one meetings with city councilors on these issues.

Although the residency requirement would be eliminated, Nicholson said those who live in Lynn could receive preference when hiring. 

“When city workers are residents, it’s a win for everyone,” said Nicholson. “Employees bring their community perspective to work with them. Their salaries are spent in the city. Removing the residency requirement doesn’t mean that we don’t want those jobs to go to Lynn residents when we have the right candidates. Going forward, we could still give preference to Lynn residents in hiring.”

Nicholson wrote that he had asked the city’s Law Department for advice on the best way to change the charter. In a legal opinion sent to the mayor on Jan. 4, City Solicitor George Markopoulos explained there are two ways to change the charter.

The first would be through a home-rule petition that would call for a simple majority vote from the City Council and approval from the mayor. The second would be through a ballot referendum. Of the two, Nicholson said the home-rule petition is his preferred way to change the charter.

“The advantage of the home-rule petition is that we could act now while a ballot referendum could take years,” Nicholson said. 

Early in his first term, former Mayor Thomas M. McGee had asked the Law Department for an opinion on whether the residency requirement applied to the mayor’s appointments to city board and commissions. The department determined in that instance that it did not apply to those appointments. 

Based on a request from Nicholson, the Law Department drafted nine documents containing language to eliminate the residency requirement on Jan. 13, including a document that would eliminate this requirement for those working in the Lynn Water & Sewer Commission; this requirement had been established by statute and would have to go through a separate home-rule petition vote from the City Council, Nicholson told The Item after Tuesday’s meeting. 

The Lynn Water & Sewer Commission was created in 1982 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, according to its website. 

The residency requirement in the Lynn City Charter states that aside from the positions of the chief financial officer, superintendent of schools, or positions exempted by law, those who are appointed to a city office and those who are employed by the city on a permanent full-time basis must reside within the city limits. Those not in Lynn must move six months after being hired. 

Some unions in Lynn — those that include teachers, police officers and firefighters — were able to bargain through contract negotiations to be exempt from this requirement by statute. For example, the city and firefighters were able to create a contract for this exemption that has them live within 20 miles of the city due to public-safety precautions.

Nicholson told The Item that there is an appetite for removing the residency requirement, as more people are seeking to work in the city. Nicholson said he was optimistic that he has the votes from the council to eliminate the requirement. 

“We are offering a way forward with a preference to the city’s residents and those outside with hiring needs,” Nicholson said. “I understand there are questions about what this means and we can answer a lot of concerns.”

Walsh, who represents Ward 7, said the issues with the residency requirement have become evident — namely with smaller unions not being able to negotiate to be exempt. 

Walsh said he had been in talks with Nicholson about eliminating the residency requirement for more than three months. He said the two agree lifting the residency requirement will help Lynn hire more workers.

“By doing this, it levels the playing field and boosts the city’s morale,” Walsh said. “It will broaden the pool and I think you will see a positive change in the next one to two years.”

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