Residency rule election approved in initial vote

Residency rule election approved in initial vote

CITY HALL – Legislation calling for an election on whether to drop the city’s residency requirement for employment appears headed for passage by the Board of Aldermen.

In the first of two votes, the board voted 15-12 on Wednesday to approve of the measure calling for a vote on the issue in the Nov. 3, 2020, election. Unless several aldermen change their minds, the measure is likely to pass in the second vote, on July 12. 

Proponents said the residency requirement was hurting the city’s ability to hire workers. Opponents said that there were ways to attract more workers and that employees from outside the city would spend their money elsewhere.

In debate at Wednesday’s meeting, 16th Ward Alderman Tom Oldenburg said he didn’t think there would be an exodus out of the city if the bill passed. He estimated that about a quarter of city residents lived in his ward and added that he didn’t think people would say, “Oh, now, we can leave the city.”

Oldenburg said that residency requirements were initiated around the turn of the 20th century as a way to exercise political power. Big cities such as Milwaukee and Detroit have gotten rid of the rules because they haven’t been able to find enough workers within their city lines, he said.

Fifteenth Ward Alderwoman Megan Green said that one reason why the city wasn’t getting more applicants was the lack of raises for employees. 

“We have to do better in recruiting and retaining people for jobs in the city,” 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad said.

 Twenty-Fourth Ward Alderman Bret Narayan said an alderman could back a public vote and then recommend they vote no at the polls.

“We have plenty of people who will qualify in the city of St. Louis,”  18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd said, speaking for keeping the residency requirement. 

The legislation introduced by 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard calls for an election to change the City Charter to lift that condition of employment for all but agency and department directors. A 60 percent majority would be required for passage.

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

Howard’s amendment changes 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 officials ranging from Mayor Lyda Krewson to Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards to Personnel Director have said numerous positions are staying vacant because they can’t get enough workers. 

In a separate matter at Wednesday’s meeting, the board gave initial approval to a bill establishing a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council made up of the city, the Sheriff, the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit Court, the Circuit Attorney, the Missouri State Public Defender and the Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections.

The 18-member council would push for reform and improve administration of criminal and juvenile justice through communications, planning, data collection and analysis.

The bill encountered opposition from aldermen who said it didn’t include the required statement of the financial effect of possibly hiring two staff people. The statement was provided later in the debate. There was also concern that the council’s membership made it biased toward the prosecution.