Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson is on a mission to see all city employees live where they work.
In 1989, the Connecticut state legislature passed a law prohibiting cities from requiring their public employees to live within their borders. If Goldson is successful, New Haven will have a referendum in November over whether such a requirement should be allowed. While a victory would be merely symbolic if the state ban is not repealed, Goldson hopes to inspire other cities in the state to hold referendums of their own to create pressure on state legislators to lift the ban on residency requirements for city employees.
“What I’d like to see is a reverse in the decline of the middle class in New Haven, which I think correlates, at least indirectly, to the state’s decision 20 years ago to forbid residency requirements,” Goldson said. “Maybe if Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury residents vote on this, it could actually start to move forward.”
At two press conferences over the past two weeks, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. indicated that the city plans to push the state legislature to repeal the ban on residency requirements. DeStefano said the issue was one of equity and municipalities having the ability to govern themselves.
But the opposition will be tough.
Sharon Palmer, president of the Connecticut Federation of Educational and Professional Employees, a statewide teachers’ union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said her organization would oppose the city’s efforts to lift the ban on residency requirements.
“There’s nothing wrong with trying to get a candidate from within city boundaries, but it’s a bad idea to have it be limiting,” Palmer said. “You want to cast the net as wide as you can, and not limit the pool you choose from.”
Palmer said while she understands that New Haven’s economy would benefit from its workers living within the city, she believes the best way to achieve that is through incentives, not requirements.
“Carrots, not sticks,” she said.
Goldson said he is not necessarily advocating for a strict requirement that all city employees live in New Haven, but at least for the ability of the city to negotiate with its unions about residency. He is open to more flexible measures, he said.
“We need to take baby steps,” Goldson said. “It took us 20 years to get to where we are now, and it will take us just as long to make it be normal to have city employees living in the city where they work.”
But Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the local branch of the American Federation of State, Country and Municipal Employees, a national public employees union, said the city’s efforts are nothing more than a distraction from finding ways to improve the city’s economy. The mayor, he added, is simply playing a “blame game” by pointing the finger at city employees for its budget woes.
In an interview last week, Ward 29 Alderman and President of the Board of Aldermen Carl Goldfield said he supports the idea of getting more city employees to move to New Haven, but he remains pessimistic about the chances that state legislators will allow the city impose such a requirement.
Goldson, on the other hand, is more hopeful.
“Anything is possible, especially with time,” he said. “Twenty years ago many people thought Connecticut would never have an income tax.”
Former Gov. Lowell Weicker ’53 signed the state’s first income tax into law in 1991.
In total, about 63 percent of city employees live in cities other than New Haven.