Councilors mixed on residency proposal

Revision offers 1 year to relocate

Boston city councilors voiced mixed support Tuesday for a newly revised residency proposal from Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who withdrew an earlier plan after fierce backlash from the public and his political allies.

The seven-member government operations committee took up the issue at a hearing one week after Walsh’s controversial reversal and is now considering an amended ordinance that would give high-ranking aides up to one year to find a home in Boston, instead of six months.

The full council could vote on the matter at Wednesday’s weekly meeting.


Walsh had proposed giving the mayor the power to waive the residency requirement for 75 to 100 department heads, cabinet chiefs, and the mayor’s staff.

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The mayor had sought to ease the moving process for aides Joseph Rull, the chief of operations who lives in Norwell, and interim Public Works commissioner Michael Dennehy, who lives in Milton.

Maribeth Cusick, the mayor’s chief of government services, said at Tuesday’s hearing that Walsh wants to give high-level cabinet and department heads adequate time to address personal obligations, relocation, and other pressing needs.

“Six months is a little bit of a short time, especially when you are moving your entire family here,’’ Cusick said.

Councilor Timothy McCarthy, who represents Hyde Park, said he plans on voting for the revised ordinance, saying the measure is intended in part to give former Boston residents who had moved from the neighborhoods a chance to move back to the city.


“I’ve only been here for six months, and my world has been turned upside down,’’ McCarthy said. “To throw in looking for a house and changing schools — that is a lot to ask.”

Council president Bill Linehan supports the amended ordinance, saying it is a better approach to attracting workers who want to live in the city. A longtime proponent of the residency requirement, the South Boston councilor said the rule has become “quite porous” over the decade.

“We need a consistent residency policy, one that is equal and across the board,’’ Linehan said.

Councilors Frank Baker of Dorchester and Mark Ciommo of Allston-Brighton said they support the mayor’s revised plan, calling it fair and reasonable. After Walsh issued his first proposal, Baker and the other councilors said their constituents were brimming with disappointment.

“People call me and say, ‘How come there is a set of rules for the higher-ups and another for the men and women emptying barrels on the street?’ ’’ Baker said.


But Councilor at Large Michelle Wu, who is hesitant in her support for the measure, argued that she believes that purpose of the residency rule is to ensure that staff and decision-makers hired by the city also live in Boston.

“I worry that this shifts the entire default away from [hiring] in Boston first,’’ Wu said. “I’m still undecided about the new version [of the ordinance]. There was a backlash to the first proposal. This is . . . a more reasonable alternative. But I want to make sure this is the best policy for Boston.”

Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley told her colleagues she is conflicted about the issue, noting her own status as someone who was not originally from Boston but who has chosen to make her home here.

“I am conflicted,’’ she said. “I want to see this enforced. But I don’t want to be rigid’’ about it.

Eileen Boyle, a member of the Residency Compliance Commission, urged the council to not change the residency rule, saying there are many qualified people in Boston clamoring to work for the city.

“There are plenty of talented Boston residents who want to work for the city,’’ Boyle said. “If the mayor wants to hire specific people, then six months is plenty of time for them to move in.”

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.