We’ve argued for years that, however good their intentions, local laws requiring employees to live in the municipality they draw their paycheck from are unfair and a recipe for trouble. That has certainly been the case in Schenectady, where Mayor Gary McCarthy struggled to find a new police chief because the only qualified candidates balked at the requirement, and now finds himself at odds with his assessor, who wants an exemption because the city didn’t enforce the law a year ago when it hired a slew of sewage treatment plant workers.
Tina Dimitriadis has a point. No matter what the mayor says, or may think, if you’re going to maintain an unpopular law like a residency law, you have to enforce it consistently. A big problem in Schenectady, as McCarthy well knows, is that his predecessor, Brian Stratton, never bothered enforcing the law — preferring, instead, to hire the most qualified applicants regardless of where they lived. (OK, but he should have sought to abolish the law rather than ignore it.) Not only did most of his hires not bother moving into the city to be in compliance, a number of long-tenured city workers decided to move out! They’re grandfathered now, and can’t be compelled to move back.
So how fair is it for McCarthy to make Dimitriadis move into the city when he didn’t make the sewage treatment plant workers, and when more than half the city’s work force lives elsewhere? He says he cut the wastewater workers slack because he had to re-staff the plant on short notice and needed skilled workers; does he think assessors are unskilled, dime-a-dozen employees?
Albany County, which has sporadically enforced a residency law on the books since 1995, has been cracking down somewhat in recent years, but there are still plenty of violators who lie about their place of residence. According to a report in Thursday’s Times Union, legislative leaders and County Executive Dan McCoy are contemplating an amnesty period of up to a year to give workers a reasonable chance of selling their houses before moving.
But moving isn’t physically easy or cheap in any case. And uprooting can be emotionally tough on children, as well as adults. That’s why some applicants turn down job offers, leaving employers to settle for an also-ran.
Granted, there are some advantages to having workers with “skin in the game,” but they don’t outweigh the drawbacks of residency laws.