Like the proverbial bad penny, the idea of a residency requirement for Lawrence city employees keeps turning up. The idea that the city charter should dictate where municipal employees must live was a bad one when a previous City Council eliminated the provision in 2002. It remains so today, as the current council is debating restoring a residency requirement to the charter.
The residency rule is one of several charter reforms advanced to the City Council by the Ordinance Committee. Some of the 16 proposals have more merit than others, such as the provision that forbids city councilors from holding any other city job or position, regardless of whether they are paid. The council voted 6-2 to approve that amendment.
But the worst of the measures is the proposal to require all city employees, including teachers, to live in Lawrence. While the details of the amendment might change, it would mirror a charter provision in place before 2002, which required all city employees to move to Lawrence within two years of the law’s enactment or face losing their jobs. The law had an exemption for newly hired teachers, who were required to move to the city within a year of earning tenure, which typically took three years. The law also exempted those who could demonstrate a move produced a “hardship”, however there were no example of what constituted a hardship.
Teachers union President Frank McLaughlin has said he believes the provision requiring teachers to move to the city would be unenforceable. Barbara Brown Evans, a retired teacher who taught special education in Haverhill public schools from 1980 to 1983, said the proposal would drive away good teachers.
“If I came in for an interview in Lawrence and found out I’d have to move to Lawrence, I’d rip up my application,” she said at a recent council meeting. “You’re not going to get good people if you’re going to tell them where to live.”