EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 4, 2014

Lawrence residency requirement stalls again

LAWRENCE — A proposal to require new city workers to live in Lawrence stalled a third time last night when City Council President Modesto Maldonado proposed changes to the bill that require another public hearing.

Maldonado described the changes only in general terms at the council meeting, saying they detailed how the city would define and enforce residency. He did not make copies of the proposed changes available to the press or public at last night’s public hearing on the bill, but they do not appear to change the bill’s essential ingredients, which would require all city workers except teachers who are hired beginning July 1 to live in the city within six months. State law exempts teachers from municipal residency requirements.

Maldonado also noted that his proposed changes were borrowed from a similar law already on the books in Boston. On Monday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh proposed softening that city’s residency requirement to allow mayors to waive the requirement for top city employees.

In Lawrence, the council last night voted to send the revised bill to City Attorney Charles Boddy for review and to schedule a public hearing, probably for June 17. The new hearing would continue one that began last month and resumed last night, when all but one of nine speakers said they opposed it.

“The old Willy employment agency may still be operating, but under a new name and new management,” resident Dick Russell told the council, referring to former Mayor William Lantigua and to the historic roots of residency requirements. The laws were first enacted more than a century ago to make it easier for elected officials to distribute patronage jobs in their neighborhoods.

The council blocked the proposed residency requirement in a 5-3 vote – one vote short of the six it needs to pass because it amends the City Charter – on May 6, when Councilor Sandy Almonte was absent. Maldonado rescheduled the vote for May 27, but cancelled it when he said two councilors called in sick. He would not name them.

Six votes also would be required to override any veto by Mayor Daniel Rivera, who has not said publicly where he stands on the issue. But Maldonado indicated last night that he is consulting with Rivera on the bill.

“It doesn’t mean that qualified individuals aren’t going to be hired, because the council and this administration believes that we’re going to get the best,” Maldonado said.

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