Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is celebrating a ruling by the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, which overturned an arbitrator’s decision to allow Pittsburgh police officers to live outside the city.
“The mayor has long said that this issue of police residency is one that should (be) decided here in Pittsburgh and not by faceless legislators in Harrisburg,” mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said. “The court came down squarely on (Peduto’s) side in this matter, so he is very happy about it.”
For more than 100 years, city residency was expected for Pittsburgh police officers. But in 2012, the state legislature passed a law giving all municipalities in the commonwealth the ability to lift residency requirements.
Soon after that, the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 1, which represents Pittsburgh officers, tried to reopen its contract with Pittsburgh to clarify those expectations. An arbitrator ruled that the officers only had to live within 25 miles of the City-County Building, partially as a compromise between concerns over response times in the case of an emergency and to appease officers' desire to live in neighborhoods outside city limits.
Voters in Pittsburgh reacted to the new law and subsequent arbitration ruling by changing the city’s home rule charter to require residency for all city workers.
“Pittsburgh is one of the greatest place to live, so we think there are plenty of opportunities for people who want to be officers here,” McNulty said.
In 2014, the mayor’s office filed suit to overturn the arbitrator’s decision. The city lost in Common Pleas Court, but won Thursday on appeal.
Thursday’s ruling reads, in part: “What is embodied in the concept of home rule is that citizens of the local democracy – municipality or county – shall be free to determine local concerns. Of course, if there is an overriding statewide policy involved, the General Assembly can pass legislation that supersedes such home rule municipality’s powers…. There is no statewide law prohibiting the home rule charter from requiring its employees to reside within the employer’s borders.”
McNulty said it is a validation of a philosophy that dates back more than 100 years.
“Whether you are a policeman, a firefighter, a public works worker (or) working for the mayor’s office, if the taxpayers are paying your salary, you should live in the city,” he said.
Police union lawyer Bryan Campbell said the organization will seek a Supreme Court appeal. He said the option of living outside the city gives officers greater choice in schools and housing.
"You can understand the frustration of the membership with having a ruling overturned that was awarded in arbitration and then Common Pleas Court," FOP Lodge 1 President Howard D. McQuillan said in an email. "Ultimately we believe the case will be heard in the (state) Supreme Court and we feel strongly that we will prevail."
The union represents more than 340 pension-eligible employees, he said, many of whom "may very well make this a (determinating) factor of whether they retire or not. This will also effect the possible recruitment pool of potential qualified candidates to backfill the many retirements we may be facing over the next few years."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.