City council sends residency policy back for further review

City council is still fine tuning a new residency policy for out-of-scope city employees, but at least one councillor would rather not see the policy enacted at all.

Council got their first look at the new policy during the July 27 meeting. It would force employees like department heads and directors to move to the City of Prince Albert within six months of being hired, or lose their jobs. The policy would not affect current employees.

Council voted by an 8-1 margin to send it back to administration because of concerns about the methods used to enforce the policy. Ward 2 Coun. Terra Lennox-Zepp was the lone dissenter. She said the city should focus on hiring the best person for the job, and not worry about where its employees choose to live.

“I think it is likely to backfire on the City,” she said following the meeting. “It just makes no sense. Don’t we want the best possible applicant? And then, when you look at the policy that was proposed, it’s completely invasive.”

Lennox-Zepp added that the policy is overwhelmingly unpopular with her constituents, who are worried this will hinder the City’s ability to attract and hire top candidates.

When asked if allowing senior staff to live outside the city sent a bad message, Lennox-Zepp said restricting applications based on place of residence also sends a bad message.

“If it’s the best applicant for the job, then I want that applicant, regardless of if they want to live in a rural municipality, or First Nation or somewhere else outside city boundaries,” she explained. “I want the best applicant doing the work for us and our city.”

“We are really enmeshed with our neighbouring communities, our rural municipalities, our First Nations,” she added. “We rely on people who also live outside of the boundary of the City of Prince Albert to use our services, to shop at our locations, and I think that is important to keep in mind.”

Mayor Greg Dionne rejected the idea that creating a residency policy would make it difficult to find good candidates. He said most applicants come from smaller cities, and are looking to take the next step in their careers. Moving to their new place of employment, he said, is part of the package.

“Our staff is grandfathered in with that (residency) policy, and I’ve had two of our managers come to me and say, ‘if it will help, we’ll move to the city,” he said in an interview. “That’s an employee that I want, not the one that … makes excuses.”

“It’s advertising,” he added. “(If) the city manager’s job is available, one of the criteria is during your employment you must live within city limits. If you don’t want to live within the city limits, don’t apply.”

The proposed policy included a number of methods for tracking whether out-of-scope employees were living in Prince Albert. It included things like information about what school their children attended, where their spouse worked, or what local clubs and sports teams the employee belonged to.

City council found those methods to aggressive, but Dionne said he’s confident they can come up with other ways to make sure employees comply.

“You’d better have a water bill,” he said. “You’d better have a tax bill. You’d better have a power bill.”

The policy would not affect out-of-scope members of the Prince Albert Police Service, since their hiring policies have to be approved by the Board of Police Commissioners.

Out-of-scope positions affected by the proposal include the city manager, city clerk, and city solicitor, the directors of finances, corporate services, public works, economic planning and development, and community services. It also affects the fire chief, deputy fire chief and battalion chief positions with the Prince Albert Fire Department.

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