Residency requirement stifles city, should be dropped, department heads say

Residency requirement stifles city, should be dropped, department heads say

CITY HALL – All through the city’s government, managers are telling the same story: Jobs are going unfilled, forcing employees to work too hard, endangering services and in some cases public safety.

“Every department is affected by this,” Parks Commissioner Kim Haegele said. “I don’t want to see playgrounds in disrepair.”

“We have 20 vacancies we cannot fill in the paramedics,” said Director of Personnel Richard Frank.

The police department is down by 120 to 140 officers, Director of Public Safety Jimmie Edwards said. “It costs us more in overtime than it would cost to hire another 200 officers.”

The three officials believe the solution is the elimination of the requirement that most city employees live in St. Louis to take a job here. With a larger pool of applicants, more would apply for city jobs.

The officials spoke Wednesday at a hearing before the Board of Aldermen’s Public Employees Committee on a bill to put the idea to a vote of the people. The bill, sponsored by 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard, calls for a change in the city charter that would lift that condition of employment for all but agency and department heads.

The charter now says that all full-time city workers and officers must live in the city within 120 days of when they are hired. Full-time civil service workers must live within the city within 120 days after the end of a working trial period.

Howard’s proposed amendment to the charter would change the wording to say that only city agency and department directors appointed by the mayor must live in the city within 120 days after they’re hired or appointed.

City police officers who were hired before St. Louis took over the management of the police department can move out after they’ve been in the department for seven years. Those hired after the city took over don’t have that option.

Firefighters were allowed to move out after seven years, as long as the St. Louis Public Schools were unaccredited. Now that the city schools are accredited again, they don’t have that option.

The bill doesn’t say when the election might be held. A 60 percent majority is needed for passage.

Speaking of the problem, Edwards said that at one time there was a waiting list of 200 to 300 people for the department.

“If we had the opportunity to recruit regionally, then the people we recruit would do a fantastic job,” he said. “Every department that operates under the umbrella of public safety is suffering.”

Police Chief John W. Hayden hasn’t found enough officers to make up for the loss. He said it was made harder by the increased suspicion of officers brought on nationally after a Ferguson police officer killed an unarmed man in 2014. “This is an a matter of officer safety as well as public safety,” he said.

Nationally, many cities don’t require employees to live within their boundaries, Frank said. Cities that don’t have a residency requirement include New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Austin, Columbus, Seattle and Denver.

“We’re doing everything we can to recruit more applicants. The problem is, we’re fishing in a smaller pool,” Frank said. “The heart of it, I think, is the residency.”

Thirteenth Ward Alderwoman Beth Murphy noted another problem when she told of a pizza delivery to her house. Her husband, a city police officer, had arrested the delivery person the night before. She accepted the pizza, and her husband hid inside.

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro said he had two children who are city police officers but who are allowed to live in the county under a grandfather clause. But they live in the city.

“I don’t think there’s going to be a grand exodus from the city,” Vaccaro said.