NEW ORLEANS — A City Council committee Monday took the next step in making legal a proposed update to the so-called “domicile ordinance” that once again requires city employees to live in Orleans Parish, an idea that does not sit well with local police unions.
The Governmental Affairs Committee voted to send the proposed ordinance to the full council for consideration during its regular meeting Thursday. Council President Stacy Head, who sits on the Government Affairs Committee, said she hopes the matter will be voted on then.
The law requiring city employees to live in New Orleans is not new. It is a decades-old rule that was waived following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The waiver expired Dec. 31.
Under a proposed ordinance Head authored, new employees would have 180 days to move into the city if they do not already live here.
The legislation requires that any new hire must be domiciled in Orleans Parish, with domicile meaning where the person is registered to vote and “sleeps, takes his meals, has established his household, and surrounds himself with his family and the comforts of home.”
But representatives of the city’s two police unions said that forcing city employees, including law enforcement officers, to live in the city is hurting recruiting and retention efforts.
The city says that having employees live in the city helps them to be a part of the community.
Raymond Burkhart III, an attorney with the local Fraternal Order of Police, told the committee that an officer is dedicated to his or her job regardless of where he or she might live.
Burkhart said the Police Department is losing about two officers every week and that its staffing will be below 1,200 by July 1 at that rate. Forcing police to live in the city has hindered recruiting new officers or luring in experienced ones who can replace those who leave, he said.
“Where they lay their head at night is irrelevant,” Burkhart said. “They will serve; they will protect. ... We need to get officers wherever we can.”
Eric Hessler, an attorney for the Police Association of New Orleans, said that it was his understanding that the city was having trouble filling up two police recruit classes that will go to the academy this year.
Councilwoman Kristin Palmer said it might be worth looking into offering incentives, such as a signing bonus, to attract applicants.
Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said she was “torn” about the issue.
“We used to have very good police forces under this domicile (law),” she said. “We’re going to come to the best, I hope, compromise or solution.”
Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a letter to the council that he would like to have an employment contract drafted that would force an individual to repay the cost of his or her training if he or she does not move into the city once offered employment.
The cost of training each police recruit is between $45,000 and $50,000, according to Landrieu, while a firefighter recruit is trained at a cost of about $40,000.
Beyond the question of finding and keeping first responders, Head also had questions about how the reinstated law will affect employees who do not live in the city and have their out-of-parish domicile grandfathered in.
Employees, both appointed and hired by the Civil Service Commission, who started work before Jan. 1 are not required to move to the city and can, in fact, move again and not be required to come into Orleans Parish based on the ordinance’s wording.
Those who were hired before Jan. 1 and live outside of Orleans Parish will not be ineligible for promotions or transfers under the proposed ordinance.
Landrieu, however, has asked the council to consider amending the resolution to require an employee to move into the city if he or she wants to be promoted or earn a pay raise.
If that person decides to stay domiciled outside of Orleans Parish, he or she would forfeit those opportunities under Landrieu’s proposal.
The ordinance also allows for the city’s chief administrative officer to make some exceptions to the rule “for good cause” on a case-by-case basis.
Landrieu wrote that he would like to limit any waivers to part-time employees, something that Head bristled at.
Head used the example of an employee who has an ill parent who needs family care and might be more comfortable living at his or her home outside of New Orleans.
“Are we really going to fire them if they have to move to another parish?” Head asked.
Eric Granderson, an adviser to Landrieu, said the letter was merely suggestions and that there is room for discussion.
“We’ll be happy to work with the council on those guidelines,” he said.