CHARLESTON- Although a Huntington ordinance threatens "immediate discharge" of any city employee who doesn't live in the city, Mayor David Felinton doesn't want the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals to take the threat literally.
Scott McClure, representing Felinton before the Court on Jan. 8, said the ordinance doesn't deprive employees of civil service protection.
Cabell Circuit Judge John Cummings rejected that argument last year. He struck down the ordinance, ruling that it violated the West Virginia Constitution and state civil service code.
He held that it would keep employees from contesting discharge through civil service or union procedures.
McClure told the Justices he sees no conflict between the ordinance and the Constitution or civil service code.
He said the Court previously upheld a residency requirement in Wheeling.
Under Wheeling's ordinance, however, outside residency is "cause for removal" rather than grounds for immediate discharge.
In a brief to the court last June, McClure wrote, "... no municipal ordinance can operate to deny municipal employees enumerated rights guaranteed by State Constitution and civil service statutes."
He wrote that courts have approved residency requirements for purposes of tax base stability, racial diversity and emergency response time.
Attorney Bert Ketchum of Huntington responded for firefighter Jason Eastham last June that the ordinance allows discharge without a hearing.
Ketchum wrote that in December 2006, Felinton declared that employees must prove city residency or face discharge.
Ketchum called Felinton's declaration "a knee jerk political reaction to a public sparring match with Huntington's City Council over the residency of a member of the Mayor's staff."
Because the Court has not decided whether to review the case, they heard only McClure's side of the argument. Their decision will follow.