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Springville Journal editorial: Location, location

SPRINGVILLE — Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo has proposed a new piece of legislation that would require all Erie County employees to be residents of the county.

I unreservedly support this idea and am actually surprised that it is not already a stipulation, for local employees.

In the “Erie County Employee Residency Requirement Act,” Lorigo said that he believed asking the county’s workers to live inside the area they serve would enhance the quality of their performance, because they would bring to the table a greater knowledge of the county and its “social, economic and municipal geography” than a non-resident would.

In addition, he pointed out that resident employees have a greater “personal stake in the condition and stability of the county” than non-residents do.

I could not agree more. To me, employees who live outside the areas they represent exhibit a lack of pride in and support for the municipalities they work for. I cannot understand why an individual would even want to represent an area he or she is unfamiliar with or where he or she does not spend the majority of his or her time.

We, as Americans would scoff, if a resident of Toronto or Mexico City attempted to run for president. New Yorkers would quickly turn down a Maine- or California-dweller who tried to put his or her name on the ballot to be our senator, congressman or governor, but why should that precedent not extend to the local level?

Lorigo was evidently aware of situations in which government officials have purchased housing inside their districts, but spent the majority of their time in a separate location, when he added a very specific “domicile” definition to his legislation. He said that an Erie County employee must not only own a home inside the county, that residence must be the place he or she “primarily eats, sleeps, is eligible to vote [in] and maintains usual household effects and where that individual returns to, whenever temporarily absent.”

This law would apply to anyone who is directly employed by and directly works for “any department, branch or division of Erie County, including department heads and discretionary/managerial, confidential employees of elected officials.”

Existing non-resident county employees will be grandfathered in, but, if this bill becomes law, all future employees must be Erie County residents. Employees of the Erie Community College and Erie County Medical Center Corporation would also be exempt from the law.

The proposed penalties for offenders are pretty steep. If the Erie County commissioner of personnel finds an employee in violation of the law, he or she has been instructed to inform the Legislature, in writing, about the violation and the date on which the individual’s employment will be terminated.

Individuals whom the county fires, as a result of this law, would not be eligible for re-hiring for five years, and, even then, may be considered, only after they have lived in Erie County for at least one full year.

Lorigo took into account seats that could be left unfilled, in the event that no existing residents of Erie County have the necessary skills and experience – or the desire – to be hired, for those positions. If no suitable individual is found for an opening, a legislative supermajority may suspend the law for a time and appoint a non-resident to the job. That individual, however, must establish residency, within 6 months of his or her hiring.

The Erie County comptroller has been instructed to update the Legislature about its employees’ compliancy with this law, on an annual basis.

Establishing this new requirement might filter out those who wish to seek employment for monetary reasons and who do not see their employment as a service and a personal responsibility. Lorigo said he believed that having vested employees would enhance the quality of the services that are offered to the residents of Erie County.

After all, would you not hurry to repair a road, if you yourself had to drive that route, every day? Would you not be driven to enhance the aesthetics of a waterfront you bring your children to, during the summer? Would you not be quick to bring services to a community in which you spend the majority of your time? The old adage, “Out of sight, out of mind,” could apply to those who spend only their work hours inside our county.

For more information about Lorigo’s act, call his office at 858-5922 or send your opinions to joseph.lorigo@erie.gov.
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