Those who work for the City of Dayton or follow city news know that the city has had a rule in its city charter since 1987 stating that anybody employed by the City of Dayton (including police and fire) must live in a primary residence within the city limits. This rule has been fought by many employees over the past several years, and it has gone through the court system all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, where a state ban on the practice has just today been ruled constitutional. In the mean time, it has been discussed elsewhere that the city employs private detectives to snoop on employees they suspect are not actually living within the city limits. And whether or not that is true, it can’t be argued that the city has paid quite a bit of money in legal fees to keep the fight going. But what exactly is the city trying to accomplish? Why does the city insist that this residency rule is worth so much to fight for? What is the city afraid of?
Fellow blogger David Esrati has blogged about Dayton’s residency rule as perhaps others have, so I’m hardly the first blogger to weigh in on this. But I believe the residency rule should be lifted and the fight to keep it should end. Aside from whatever this means from a legal implementation stand point (it was in fact voted on by Dayton’s citizens), the residency rule is much more trouble than its worth – and I believe our city would be better off without it.
I’ve heard all the reasons for keeping the residency rule – everything from the fear of a mass city exodus by city employees if it was lifted, to the notions that city employees will do their jobs more effectively if they have a personal stake in the city (ie a primary residence), and fire and police will be more knowledgeable and empathetic about city neighborhoods if they in fact live in them. But are these in fact rational arguments? I say no.
If the residency rule is ultimately overturned, I’m sure many employees will immediately look to move out of the city. Perhaps they wish to move to a better school district or have other reasons for wishing to move as maybe their personal circumstances have changed since when they first took the city job. But I doubt the exodus will be as massive as is feared – if employees really wanted to move out of the city then they would do so and simply take a job elsewhere. And good employees will typically give 100% if they are doing a job they enjoy and working for management they believe in; whether they actually live in the city or not is irrelevant.
Lifting the residency rule would also have tremendous benefits. Imagine increasing the size of the talent pool from which to choose city employees – does anybody not think this would be a benefit to our city? I’d rather hire a stellar candidate who lives in Oakwood or Kettering instead of having to settle on a mediocre employee whose best qualification is being a city resident. I’m not at all suggesting that all of our city staff are mediocre (I happen to know some very talented city staffers, and our fire and police are already top notch), but even if we only replaced city staff through attrition we’d still be better off if we had the whole region as a talent pool to choose from.
Finally, the residency rule is simply another negative reinforcement that sends a terrible message and makes Dayton seem like a desperate and stifling organization to work for. Instead of yet more fighting on the part of the city to keep the residency rule intact (next step – U.S. Supreme Court?), I expect more out of our city’s leadership. While we’d lose some employees as city residents, we’d also have a chance to gain new residents as employees from other parts of the region who might ultimately choose to move INTO the city as they become more involved through their employment in it. That may sound idealistic, but isn’t that the kind of thinking we need to move our city forward?
(Image credit: Blue Day Media)
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