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Walsh under fire for push to waive residency requirement

Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s push for the authority to waive a requirement that top city officials live in the city has sparked a backlash that has even spread to his stronghold in Dorchester.

“I got tons of calls, and most of them were from Dorchester,” Councilor at Large Stephen J. Murphy said Wednesday in the City Council chamber, suggesting the body is unwilling to approve the measure without some changes. “I don’t see the appetite of everybody here, given the hostility out in the streets right now.”

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Constituents also made their displeasure known to Councilor Frank Baker, a childhood friend of the mayor who represents Dorchester. Baker had not spoken to Walsh about the issue and wanted to know the mayor’s reasoning.

“I understand that you need to get talent, but I’m pretty much a residency guy,” Baker said. “I believe people should live in the city.”

The residency requirement has made it difficult to fill some top positions, Walsh said, because some good candidates have been unwilling to uproot their families and move to the city. The administration filed a proposed ordinance that would give the mayor power to waive the requirement for 75 to 100 department heads, Cabinet chiefs, and the mayor’s staff.

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Walsh reiterated Wednesday that he wants the ability to grant waivers in “limited cases” and suggested there is room for compromise. He said he saw some of the pushback to his proposal on Facebook.

“People are upset about it, but when people allow me the opportunity to explain what we are trying to do here, I think they’ll understand,” Walsh said.

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The measure was formally introduced Wednesday in the City Council and referred to a committee for a hearing.

Councilor Matt O’Malley said he has always been critical of the residency requirement because it is one of the most unevenly applied policies in the city. More than half of the city workforce is exempt from the rule, although a majority still live in Boston.

Teachers, for example do not have any residency requirement, O’Malley said. But a school janitor earning half as much as a teacher is forced to live in the city for 10 years. O’Malley said Walsh’s proposal would exacerbate the unfairness of the existing policy.

“We’re going to have a conversation about residency; we should,” O’Malley said. “I obviously have some grave concerns about this proposed change.”

City Council President Bill Linehan said he wants a finite number of exemptions or a sunset clause that would give the mayor a limited window for granting waivers.

“I doubt the council, in my opinion, will be giving him a blanket waiver for whomever he chooses,” Linehan said.

Separately, the City Council voted, 13-0, Wednesday to approve a six-year contract for Boston firefighters that grants an 18.8 percent pay raise.

Andrew Ryan can be reached at acryan@globe.
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