Incoming Boston Acting Mayor Kim Janey seeking rare residency waiver for coronavirus czar

Acting-Mayor-in-waiting Kim Janey is seeking a residency waiver for her recently announced coronavirus czar — a move several members of the city residency compliance commission questioned.

“That’s ridiculous,” Residency Compliance Commission member Eileen Boyle told the Herald after the board’s Wednesday morning meeting. “There are plenty of people here who can do the job.”

Janey is looking for a rare exemption from the city’s residency requirement for Omar Boukili, who Janey wants to bring into her senior staff to oversee her administration’s efforts to battle the coronavirus.

Janey, currently the city council president, is due to become acting mayor when Mayor Martin Walsh leaves to become President Biden’s Labor secretary, which could come any week. Janey will serve as acting mayor — as the chief executive, but with limited powers — from whenever Walsh leaves through November, when an election will determine the next elected mayor of Boston.

Gustavo Quiroga, who’s leading Janey’s transition, said in a statement, “Omar Boukili will play a critical role in the City’s continued COVID-19 operations, working towards an equitable response and equitable recovery from the pandemic. He has unique and direct experience in managing government response to this emergency, and given the crisis we are still in, a residency waiver is appropriate.”

City Councilor Annissa Essaibi-George, who sits on the residency compliance board was quiet during the meeting, but said afterward that Janey’s request is “not something that should be taken lightly.

“Also, this individual will likely be at the higher pay scale and many of our employees who are required to live in the city are not,” Essaibi-George, who’s running for mayor herself, said.

In the meeting, Boyle said she’ll be voting against giving the waiver.

“She should work with the team that she has and pick a different point person if that’s, you know, from that team, that lives in the city,” Boyle said.

Boyle said that this issue isn’t about Boukili himself. Boukili is a veteran of various high-up city-management positions in Somerville and Revere, and most recently led Somerville’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Team.

Boston Chief Financial Officer Emme Handy brought the request to the board during the meeting, saying, “His experience is greatly valued by the council president and it will be, I think, a very helpful addition to the city of Boston as we continue to combat COVID-19.”

The waiver would last through the end of the year. The administration has not formally brought it yet, and the commission hasn’t voted on it.

Handy said, “Given the constraints of the acting mayor’s term as acting there that does create some uncertainty, and that is part of the reason why we’re seeking this waiver for this time.”

Janey hasn’t said whether she’ll run for a full term in the November election.

Frank Doyle, the commission chair, noted that the commission does not normally grant such waivers — he said they’ve only given “one or two” over the past several years. He said Boukili’s “quite unique” background and experience make him worth considering, but, “Why we don’t bring this employee on as a temporary employee or contract employee, rather than asking for a waiver of the residency requirement?”

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