ELIZABETHTOWN - Essex County's residency policy will officially be taken off the books.
The Board of Supervisors voted Monday morning to end its residency requirement for employment. The county's policy manual, which took effect in 2005, had stated that employees must move into Essex County within one year of appointment.
Gerald Morrow, the Democratic supervisor of the town of Chesterfield, on the Clinton County line, said his constituents would prefer to see their tax dollars go to the most qualified worker, regardless of where they live.
Some lawmakers who supported Monday's decision said they want language on the books that would give preference to county residents in the hiring process.
"I'm not saying you have to hire them," said Moriah town Supervisor Tom Scozzafava, "but at least it says they would be preferred."
But county Manager Dan Palmer said that would present problems for the county.
"Who enforces it, and who determines whether you correctly did that?" he asked. "If someone doesn't get the job, I guarantee you they will say, 'You didn't apply the preference correctly.'"
Lawmakers considered adopting a local law to beef up the residency requirement, but county Attorney Dan Manning told supervisors last week that residency policies are a "throwback to the old days of patronage.
"We are more of a global community now," Manning said. "We need the best people we can get, and so I was always personally against the residency policy."
Supervisor Ronald Moore, R-North Hudson, voted against Monday's resolution. He said he couldn't understand why the board went from putting more teeth into the existing policy to totally removing it.
"I think we owe it to our people of Essex County to give them the first opportunity when these jobs become vacant," Moore said. "At the town level, I always look within first. I think I'd be toasted if I didn't, (and) rightfully so."
Scozzafava agreed. He said without the residency requirement, current employees will be allowed to move out of the county.
Supervisor Dan Connell, D-Westport, said he didn't have a problem with rescinding the residency policy, but he did have issues with waiving residency for 14 out-of-county employees, a resolution that was passed before the board voted to kill its residency requirement.
"We laid off 15 people, I believe, and I think all of whom were county residents when we had this policy that you had to be a county resident to keep your employment," Connell said. "To now just say, 'Well, you're here; we're going to keep you, period.' I have a problem with that.
"I don't have a problem with the new policy of not requiring residency, but we had a policy that required residency at the time we laid all of these people off. That's where I have a problem."
Manning said the 14 people who had their residency requirement waived claimed they had already been given "de facto" waivers by department heads.
"My personal opinion is, to wipe the slate clean, allow these people, many of whom have worked here for years, to continue to work here and to continue to live where they do live, outside of the country, without prejudice," the county attorney said.
Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.