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Home sweet home not always a perfect fit for residency requirements

By Joanne Beck

It’s a topic that has come up before: maintain a residency requirement or not for a new hire?

City Council has discussed the topic over the years — usually when a qualified candidate has everything city officials are looking for, except for living in Batavia. The City Code has required that the city manager and assistant manager, plus other department head positions, maintain their residence in the city.

Former City Manager Jason Molino raised the issue when seeking an assistant manager and police and fire chief. He pointed to the fact that sometimes qualified candidates walk through the door but don’t meet that one requirement. It becomes a question of filling the vacancy with someone perceived as the right candidate or with someone less qualified but who lives in the city.

City Council members again had that scenario before them Monday. City Manager Rachael Tabelski had hired Erik Fix as her assistant and was seeking a waiver for the residency requirement.

It really didn’t make for much discussion; most everyone was fully on board with the idea. There isn’t a danger of setting a precedent, Council President Eugene Jankowski said, because a former council agreed how to handle the situation.

“Several years ago, when Jason Molino was still here, he talked about the difficulty of finding talented people to work here because of the residency requirements. So at the time, the discussion was, let's take it on a case by case basis, where certain lines will not be crossed,” Jankowski said to The Batavian after Monday’s meeting. “Like, as far as city manager, that person will have to live in the city.”

At other times, though, there are “certain circumstances that are beyond people's control,” and when they are good and talented people, council will try to make an exception if that's appropriate, he said.

“In this particular case tonight, that was one of those cases. We have a talented individual, very actively involved in our community, from the community, and he just happens to live a few miles outside the city,” Jankowski said. “I mean, he's definitely one of the residents, just visually not in the city. But he spends a lot of time here. So taking all that into consideration. from my perspective, I thought it was a wise move, to keep that talent here and bring it out into the city. And maybe hopefully, over time, when his kids get through school, he'll want to live in the city, he'll move back.”

Council approved the move unanimously 9-0. Councilman Bob Bialkowski was the only one to share the ideal he’d like to see happen.

“Personally, I like to see anybody getting a paycheck from the city living in the city,” he said.

Tabelski explained that it was only after an extensive search that she made an offer to Fix, who is the current president of Genesee County Chamber of Commerce.

She understands that the residency requirement is in the city Charter, but on the other hand, “we have a really qualified person who really wants to come in and do the job,” she said.

“And I recruited him after showing him my neighborhood revitalization thoughts. And that's what piqued his interest, because I had recruited Eric the first time around for assistant city manager, and he declined me graciously, but we've kept a relationship ever since. And then this time around, we had a lot more conversations and I recruited him again. And the sticking point was that his family is established in Le Roy, and the residency requirement goes with the position,” she said. So I think, not speaking for council, but I do think they felt comfortable after understanding that this is, you know, Eric said, ‘it's just where I lay my head. I'm in the city of Batavia every single day. And my parents are here. My family is here, other siblings are here.’”

One of Tabelski’s objectives for the assistant role is to focus on neighborhood development to build up each pocket of Batavia to become a strong, safe and sustainable area on its own. Fix gravitated toward her objectives, stating that he wants to do something that will make a difference and be a tangible change he could see, she said.

“Not that he wasn't doing that with the chamber, but he doesn't want to see the city's neighborhoods get in any more way or shape of decline,” she said. “So I'm excited, absolutely excited to work with him. He is a very thoughtful leader and he catches on to things very quickly, and I think he'll hit the ground running.”

If, at some, point Fix was to become the city manager, that waiver would not automatically go with him, she and Jankowski said. The manager position’s residency requirement to live in the city of Batavia will remain, they said.

“So this way, it gives us some control. When we're able to keep it as if it was a blanket no residency requirement, I think it would be more difficult to get somebody maybe to live here in the beginning of their career,” Jankowski said. “This way it gives them something to draw them in. And most of the ones that have moved here, there's been no complaints.”

Fix was hired at a salary of about $103,000.

File photos: Erik Fix, City Councilman Bob Bialkowski, and City Manager Rachael Tabelski. 

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