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Potsdam mayor suggests eliminating residency requirement

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POTSDAM - It may be time to abolish the village’s employee residency requirement, according to Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis.

There are four full-time employees required to live in the village: Administrator David H. Fenton, Clerk/Treasurer Lori S. Queor, Police Chief Kevin A. Bates and Planning and Development Director Frederick J. Hanss.

Mr. Fenton, Ms. Queor, and Mr. Bates had all previously received an exemption from the village board, enabling them to live outside Potsdam. The village board voted 4-1 this week, with Trustee Ruth Garner dissenting, to allow Mr. Hanss to move outside of the village too.

When first hired by the village several years ago, a stipulation in Mr. Hanss’ contract required him to find a village residence within his first two years of employment. In May of 2007, Mr. Hanss unsuccessfully petitioned to have that two-year window extended by another six months. In order to keep his job, he began leasing a house within the village.

Mr. Hanss declined comment late Wednesday afternoon, calling it a personnel matter. Mr. Yurgartis said Mr. Hanss wanted to move into a home his family owns in Hannawa Falls.

Circumstances have changed since the board forced Mr. Hanss to either choose to live in the village or lose his job, Mr. Yurgartis said.

“It doesn’t make sense for him to maintain two residences,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

Ms. Garner said she dissented as a matter of principle. Mr. Hanss’ promise to live in the village gave him an edge over other candidates during the hiring process several years ago, she said. He should continue to keep that promise, she said.

“On principle, I think people should keep their word,” she said. “We’ve all gotten too casual about promising things.”

Mr. Hanss’ exemption means all non-elected officials bound to the requirement are now exempt from it. It may make more sense to do without it, Mr. Yurgartis said.

“I think this is a rule we ought to look at as a board and decide whether we want to keep it on the books,” Mr. Yurgartis said. “We want to hire the best possible people, and residency should be a secondary consideration in my opinion.”

Mr. Bates, for example, had just finished constructing a house outside the village before taking his new job.

“He said very candidly, ‘I will not move from this house just to be able to take the chief’s job.’ That seems reasonable to me,” Mr. Yurgartis said. “It just doesn’t make sense to turn him down because of that residency requirement.”

There may be a reason why the residency requirement exists, but it’s probably “very old,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

“There may have been a time many years ago when it made sense,” Mr. Yurgartis said. “It’s just something that’s been lingering ... We’ve been just giving exemptions rather than sitting down and changing the law.”

Ms. Garner said she would “consider” abolishing the rule, but only if it’s done the right way. Back in the 1980s, Potsdam’s unionized employees had to live within eight miles of the village, Mr. Fenton said. That rule has since been abolished.

“They found that eight miles didn’t comply with the law,” he said.

Mr. Fenton, who lives in Norwood, said eliminating the rule made sense.

“If the corporate world worked that way, they would have trouble finding people,” he said. “You find it limits the potential pool of candidates for a job.”

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