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Residency dispute gets closer to lawsuit Reinstated worker in Falls informs city

A city employee who was ousted from her job in November for not following the city's residency law has been reinstated and has notified the city she might sue for wrongful termination.

Sandra Bowman, an office and technical assistant in the city's Community Development Department, filed a notice of claim against the city Feb. 2 in which she alleges she was the target of "selective enforcement" of city ordinances.

The notice states that Bowman will file a lawsuit against the city unless it rehires her with full pay and benefits and pays her retroactive pay and benefits.

The city requires all employees hired after 1984 to live in Niagara Falls. Firefighters are exempt from the requirement by state law.

City leaders more than two years ago starting allocating money to hire private investigators to determine whether any employees were in violation of the residency rule, after hearing complaints that some workers were living outside the city.

Bowman was the first employee to resign under the residency law in more than five years, said Assistant Corporation Counsel Christopher M. Mazur. She left the position after a hearing in which she "stipulated to the fact that she was not in compliance with the residency requirement," Mazur said.

Mazur denied that the city has selectively enforced the law.

"We have to start somewhere," he said. "Unfortunately, it starts with her. There was no selective enforcement. We'll do whatever we have to do to defend that claim if she decides to go forward with it."

Mazur said he was aware of only one other time in which an employee resigned because of the city's residency rule.

Bowman later returned to her job after providing a lease agreement and other documentation to show that she was meeting the provisions of the local law, Mazur said.

According to city records, Bowman's salary last year was $31,572.

Bowman's attorney, Nicholas A. Pelosino Jr., declined to comment on the notice since it involved pending litigation.

The city's residency law currently allows employees who are found to be violating the residency requirement to return to their jobs after re-establishing residency if the position is still vacant.

The City Council has proposed a measure to delete language in the local residency law that allows an employee who resigns for violating the law to apply for reinstatement after showing proof that he or she has moved back to Niagara Falls. The Council will vote on the proposal Monday.

Councilman Chris Robins said the proposed change to the law is intended to take away any discretion in refilling a position with someone who violated the residency requirement.

"If you laid off someone that needed zero training, you could hire for that job tomorrow," Robins said. "However, if you got rid of someone in a civil service position, to fill that position would take a year. Those people would have a lot longer to return."

e-mail: djgee@buffnews.com

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