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CITY MUST BE FAIR ON EMPLOYEE RESIDENCY

As a basic proposition, it would be good for the health of Buffalo if all the people who drew paychecks from City Hall lived within the city limits. As a corps of regularly employed people, they could lend stability to neighborhoods as homeowners, consumers and active citizens.

By state law, many municipal employees are required to live in the communities they serve, but Buffalo officials have only lately begun to enforce the residency provisions. Two Civil Service workers were fired in July for violating the law because they resided in Depew and North Collins. The word is that another 25 or so may face dismissal.

It's a welcome contrast from the past, when no one took the initiative to investigate residency violations, nail down the facts and take appropriate disciplinary action.

But, having started down this sensible path, the city must be thorough -- even in cases where higher-level employees with good political connections may be violators. Even-handed enforcement is the only way to go. After all, losing a job -- the penalty here -- isn't like a traffic ticket.

The union representing city white-collar workers -- the most vulnerable group in the new crackdown -- has raised the issue of selective enforcement, alleging that several well-connected officials are winking at the law as they head for their suburban homes after a day at the office. The union has filed an improper-practice charge -- which rightly pushes the issue out of the shadows onto center stage.

Mayor Masiello and his team must respond in a forthright manner, investigating the union's complaints with the same vigor that they display in pursuing the cases involving rank-and-file Civil Service employees.

No discussion of residency rules would be complete without noting that the state law exempts police officers in large departments, uniformed firefighters and sanitation workers. They can live outside the jurisdictions they serve.

The State Legislature has been stone deaf to any notion of bringing these three groups under the residency rules. Consequently, along with their crackdown, Buffalo officials should be pushing hard for the power to require new hires in all fields to be city residents and remain so.

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