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How the City of Buffalo investigates potential residency violations

Mike Desmond

Around five times a year, the City of Buffalo's Human Resources staffers receive a tip that a city employee whose paperwork says that person lives in the city really doesn't. There is a private detective for that.

Residency has long been an issue, rising and falling with the times and the issues. It's a big issue right now because of the Police Department and last year's expiration of a union contract that required new officers to live in the city in order to take the exam and for the first seven years as a cop. With the expiration, that went away.

Residency is also an issue for firefighters, who have to live in the city for their entire careers. With that in a union contract since 2013, around 700 of 800 firefighters live in the city, paying taxes, being a good neighbor and spending their paychecks.

That might include Fire Commissioner William Renaldo, who says he lives in the city while a mysterious investigative report of uncertain origin, complete with pictures of late night arrival and early morning departure from the Tonawanda home, says he still lives in the Town of Tonawanda.

During a Common Council Legislation Committee meeting Tuesday, Personnel Specialist Nellie McLaughlin said Human Resources pushes the issue.

"Whenever we get those, we do pursue it vigorously. We do it to collect the documentation or whatever evidence he has that the person does not live in the city," McLaughlin said, "and when we send it up the chain of command, it's investigated beyond our office, probably by legal and other departments, but we do put it through every avenue that's available to us."

McLaughlin said that's where the PI comes in. She didn't identify the firm, but said there is one on retainer and the firm was put to work at least once in the last year to see where some unnamed city worker spends nights.

"We have terminated people in the past when we did have enough evidence that they really did not reside in the city, when they were supposed to reside in the city," she said. "We also have pursued other remedies available to us, so they would get a chance to provide their documentation that they do, in fact, live where they say they live."

Council President Darius Pridgen asked her to provide paperwork on what it costs to hire a PI to check residency. Pridgen favors having people on staff who do nothing but residency issues, instead of having the employee's department pick up the investigation.

"That commissioner is not trained to investigate residency," Pridgen said, "and so we are asking the people who do streets, sidewalks and everything else investigate this complaint against a person who is working for you who may be doing a good job. It just doesn't pass muster to me to have a department investigate their own."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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