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Philly Fire-Rescue to Recruit Non-Residents

For the first time in nearly a half-century, non-city residents soon may be able to apply for city jobs.

The policy change could take effect as soon as next month, following City Council's approval. That approval is widely expected after the bill's unanimous nod yesterday by the Committee on Labor and Civil Service.

The bill would exempt all but 766 of the city's 23,767 civil-service workers from a rule that requires city employees to have lived in the city for a year before they can be hired.

Under the proposal, all new employees would have to move into Philadelphia within six months.

"This will widen the pool of applicants for employment opportunities, enable us to go after the best and brightest on college campuses here and around the country, and also to maybe steal some good talent from other cities," Councilman James F. Kenney said yesterday.

The four-term at-large councilman began pushing for a relaxation of the residency rule more than 10 years ago. He was stymied for the last eight years by opposition from Mayor John F. Street.

Street saw the change as unfair to those who had demonstrated a commitment to the city by living here. He did not reply to an e-mail yesterday.

Since 1953, potential city workers have been barred from taking the civil-service exam unless they have been Philadelphia residents for at least one year.

Strongly backed by Mayor Nutter, Kenney's bill yesterday overcame resistance shown by some Council members last month, thanks to new compromise legislation.

That legislation was in the form of a separate bill also approved yesterday by the Council committee.

Proposed by Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr., it would require that in the event of a tie on a civil service exam, the job in question would go to a Philadelphia resident over an out-of-town applicant.

That was enough to quell concerns of the city's blue-collar union and a major political force, AFSCME District Council 33, representing 13,000 city employees. The union's vice president, Bobby Davis, said Goode's bill led the group to drop its opposition to Kenney's legislation.

If approved by the full Council, Goode's proposal would appear on the November ballot; it must go to a citywide vote, since it would amend the City Charter.

Nutter's chief of staff, Clay Armbrister, said: "We're pleased with the two-prong compromise, since it will expand the pool of applicants, which is one of our goals."

Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers told Council Wednesday that he was skeptical of the benefits of waiving the one-year residency rule to fill paramedic positions. Ayers said that the last time the department did so, a high percentage of nonresidents left for other jobs after completing training.

Even so, the administration said it was seeing results from last month's waiver of the one-year rule for police recruits.

Since the waiver took effect, 10,000 applications have been downloaded from the Police Department's Web site. Of that, the department received 1,800 applications - including 40 percent from outside Philadelphia.

"It's very encouraging," said Police Sgt. Ray Evers. "We're going to get Philadelphia qualified recruits."

Contact staff writer Marcia Gelbart at 215-854-2338 or mgelbart@phillynews.com.

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