Mayor Mitchell Proposes Repeal of Residency Requirement

Cites Tight Labor Market and Inability to Fill Key Positions

NEW BEDFORD – Mayor Jon Mitchell has submitted an ordinance to the City Council which would end the City’s residency requirement for management/technical positions in city government.

Mayor Mitchell announced the proposed repeal of the residency requirement in his Inaugural Address last week, and in a Thursday filing to the City Council, wrote that the policy has “proven a major obstacle to the ability of the Administration to successfully attract and hire qualified candidates.”

Under the current residency requirements passed by the City Council in 2020, non-union management employees are subject to a 10% reduction in annual salary for those living outside of the City unless they have been a City employee for at least ten years. A review of municipal residency requirements across the country revealed no other city with a similar practice. In addition, it is mandatory that several high-level department heads be City residents with no option to choose a reduced salary and the ability to live outside the City. These include the City Planner, Director of Human Resources/Director of Personnel, Director of Public Health, Director of Purchasing/Purchasing Agent, First Assistant City Solicitor, and the Parking Supervisor.

“New Bedford residents deserve the best candidates city government can hire,” Mitchell wrote. “High quality professionals, especially those who already have significant experience in their field, are often already established in homes elsewhere when they apply to work for the City.  Because they are unable to uproot their families and move to New Bedford or accept a pay cut, they frequently cannot afford to accept employment with the City.”

Mayor Mitchell cited several examples of how the residency requirement has hurt the City’s ability to fill key positions. The Chief Financial Officer, City Auditor, Assistant to the Board of Assessors, and City Treasurer positions were vacant for multiple years as non-resident candidates withdrew or declined to apply because of the residency requirement. The Associate City Solicitor position was vacant for two years because non-resident candidates were unwilling to accept the 10% pay reduction, and the residency requirement continues to hinder the City’s recruiting efforts to replace the departing Personnel Director.

“On numerous occasions, Councillors have publicly and privately shared their frustrations with vacancy problems in these and other major departments, and the residency requirement should be recognized as a major contributing source,” Mayor Mitchell wrote Thursday. “I know that several Councillors share my own general preference for the hiring of New Bedford residents …  But the desire to hire residents cannot come at the cost of protracted department head vacancies, disruptions to municipal services, and ultimately a less qualified management team. And, in the case of top management and highly technical positions, it is simply not realistic to think that a sufficient talent pool exists within the City’s borders. For precisely these reasons, most other cities have abolished their own residency requirements, and it has become time for New Bedford to do so as well.

The Mayor added, “after the three-year period since 2020 when the current residency requirement was put into place, it has become evident that the residency requirement has put the City at a major competitive disadvantage to other localities, state government, and private employers – all competing in the same extremely tight labor market. … Most other cities have abolished their own residency requirements, and it has become time for New Bedford to do so as well.”