City of Newburgh residents shared conflicting opinions on a proposed amendment to a local law that requires city department heads to live within the city limits.
The proposed amendment to the law addresses concerns regarding fairness of the rule as it pertains to existing city employees in the direct line of promotion to department-head positions and how the law might affect the recruitment of new employees.
“You want the very best person for all the city positions you can get,” said Drew Kartiganer, sharing his opinion at a public hearing held on Monday night.
The amendment would do two things, said city Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson. It would enlarge the exemption categories for an employee of the city who “could be considered in the line of promotion for a municipal-officer position.” It would also allow waivers to be considered on a “case-by-case basis” for potential appointees.
The residency law exempts a department head already in their positions as of the law adoption date of January, 2015. “Do we have any examples of what this city residency law has had a positive effect on?” asked Barbara Smith.
Several city residents expressed their strong support of the law. “I think the residency restriction should be enforced in the City of Newburgh,” said Corey Allen. “You’ve got to be willing to put some skin in the game.”
“If it’s so bad that you don’t want to live here, why do you want to work here?” asked Roxy Royal.
City Mayor Judy Kennedy said some department-head candidates already owned homes in the region. “If you’re coming from 200 miles away, of course you’re going to move here,” Kennedy said. “But, if you’re coming from two miles away, then it doesn’t make sense to sell your house at a loss… We have to look at the bigger picture.”
Currently, the head of police, the previous head of police and acting police chief, the acting fire chief, the comptroller and water superintendent do not reside in the city, nor did they when the law was passed two years ago. The city council voted to adopt a two-year waiver for city Comptroller Katie Mack last year.
“If I can live here, my department heads can live here,” said Councilwoman Cindy Holmes, who lobbied for the local law in 2015. “I’m not changing my mind.”
The residency requirement came into the spotlight this summer when Police Lieutenant-in-Charge Joe Cortez suddenly fell ill and needed replacing as head of the police department. Cortez, who grew up in the city but now lives elsewhere, was the third man to serve in the role of de-facto, city police chief in the last year. Lt. Aaron Weaver is the fourth. The city has not had a permanent police chief since 2015.
The city has gone without a permanent fire chief since early 2016. The council is expected to revisit the residency law in the fall.
By SHANTAL RILEY