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Why City Workers Should Live In The City

Tom Condon

July 17, 2011

In what will end up being a largely empty gesture, the Hartford city council has given itself more authority in requiring department heads and other city administrators to move to the city within six months of being hired.

The council passed an ordinance under which it can recommend to the mayor that he fire any employees who haven't moved to the city within six months of being hired. Council President rJo Winch told The Courant the new ordinance was needed because the current six-month rule was not being enforced. In February she proposed a requirement that newly hired department heads move to the city within 60 days, but most council members rightly saw that as unreasonable.

The new ordinance isn't going to make much of an impact. Most department heads either live in the city or, like Police Chief Daryl Roberts, have been grandfathered to live elsewhere. Also, the six-month rule only applied to nonunion, unclassified employees, who make up less than 10 percent of the city's 1,400-member non-education workforce. The vast majority are in a bargaining unit.

By state law, they cannot be required to live in the city.

I think this is wrong, I have always thought it was wrong, and I will continue to think it is wrong. If Ms. Winch wants to make a real impact, she will organize and energize the Hartford delegation in the General Assembly to unite with other big city legislators and change the law.

Lacking that, the city ought to offer incentives for workers to live within its boundaries, as Yale University does quite successfully for its employees.

Connecticut cities used to be able to require employees to be residents. The Bridgeport police challenged the policy in the 1980s and the state Supreme Court upheld it. So this should sound familiar the unions went to the Democratic-controlled legislature and got the compliant lawmakers to do their bidding, to outlaw residency as a condition of city employment for any union employee. Residency cannot even be a subject of bargaining.

The thinking behind this was that a mayor and elected officials and top appointed officials should live in the city, but what difference did it make for the workers?

The answer: Quite a bit. For six decades, public policy has encouraged middle-class people to leave cities. As a result, Hartford leads the state in unemployment, poverty and about every other negative metric. If the city could require its workers to be residents, there would be in influx of middle-class working families.

They would help stabilize neighborhoods, be role models, coach Little League, support churches, etc. Their presence would encourage other middle-class people to move to the city. If police officers lived in a neighborhood, their presence would lessen crime. The perception that the city is unsafe is a big hurdle to overcome.

Also, police officers who live, or used to live, in the city have more knowledge and empathy about it. I've seen a few officers over the years who never lived here develop a certain contempt for the city, which is wrong on every level.

City officials know they are getting the short end in this. Since the 1990s, the city has used a pre-employment residency rule for some jobs, meaning that a job candidate has to live in the city to apply. This may have helped a little, but it isn't the answer. Some applicants move to the city (or otherwise acquire a city address), apply, get the job and then move out. Officials found it lowered the number of qualified applicants in some areas, such as police, and dropped it, though it is still used for the fire department. Most of the more than 900 police officers and firefighters live in the suburbs.

What a difference they'd make in the city.

Some other states have joined Connecticut in banning residency requirements for municipal workers, but I believe that more reflects union strength rather than good public policy. The unions speak of "freedom of choice." The freedom of choice was in choosing to apply for the job. The job is not an inalienable right. If Hartford can require the fire chief to live in the city, why not the guy who drives the hook and ladder? If I were Ms. Winch, I'd fight this on a broader field.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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