The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel now supports state legislation ending residency requirements for public employees in Milwaukee - - but both the former Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel - - not known for much in the way of editorial board agreement from their respective, independent offices - - argued in separate editorials both for residency and against the state legislative interference.
In a March 15th editorial, the Journal' Sentinel editorial board began this way:
"Two bills in Madison would eliminate residency requirements for teachers and Milwaukee firefighters and police officers. The measures make sense, but they don't go far enough. The lifting of residency requirements should be fair and should bar all governments from telling any of their employees where they can live."But when the city had the two separate papers, The Milwaukee Journal said this in February, 1995, as the issue heated up, and even labeled it a "life-and-death issue for the city:"
"If State lawmakers were seeking maliciously to speed decay in Milwaukee, they could hardly find a more effective method than to strike down the local residency rule for public employees. That action would exacerbate poverty and joblessness in the city and deflate property values."Followed by the Sentinel a day latter, which said the matter was - - and remember, this was the very conservative, former Hearst paper shut down by a 1962 strike - - a subject for bargaining:
"Regardless of whether they believe in residency requirements, state legislators have no business taking it upon themselves to unilaterally change a policy that would have such a profound effect on the city of Milwaukee."Here are the full texts of their former editorials:
Residency vital to city survival
Milwaukee Journal 2/9/95
If State lawmakers were seeking maliciously to speed decay in Milwaukee, they could hardly find a more effective method than to strike down the local residency rule for public employees. That action would exacerbate poverty and joblessness in the city and deflate property values.
Public employees' unions have perennially tried to eliminate the residency rule – at the bargaining table, in arbitration and in the Legislature – to no avail so far, thank goodness. But that was before the GOP takeover of the state Capitol. Republicans generally keep more distance from organized labor than do Democrats – except on this issue, where the GOP and public employee unions seem dangerously close.
The Legislature needs to recognize that the residency rule – and this is no hyperbole – is a life-or-death issue for the city. Republican lawmakers should not want to accelerate Milwaukee's deterioration as their legacy.
For the sake of home rule, as city officials aptly argue, local governments ought to retain the right to decide whether they want to institute residency requirements. The state's butting in would amount to undue interference in local affairs.
Besides, for the sake of its survival, Milwaukee needs to be allowed to reserve city jobs for city residents. The twin evils of poverty and unemployment are hurting the city badly, straining municipal and school budgets and blighting neighborhoods.
The suburbs are not innocent bystanders in this. Generally, they have walled off the city through snob zoning and other ruses in order to contain the worst urban problems inside Milwaukee. Its tax base diminishing as the middle class flees to the suburbs, the city is left to disproportionately shoulder the region's needy while pulling itself up by its own bootstraps.
Reserving city jobs for city residents is one way Milwaukee can try doing that. In other words, lacking adequate state and federal financial aid, the city is using its own resources to combat its poverty and joblessness and shore up its tax base. The residency rule is a vital tool in that effort.
The unions argue that residency rules violate employee rights, but the courts, significantly, have not agreed. The judiciary appropriately has recognized the right of public employers to set residency as a condition of employment. Nobody forces any employee to take a city job.
Opponents of the city residency rule would, in effect, continue to wall in urban ills but install a gate through which urban assets – municipal jobs – could exit. That's patently unfair.
Keep out, state
Cities decide their local residency rules
Milwaukee Sentinel 2/10/95
Mayor John O. Norquist and Milwaukee aldermen have every right to be upset about a bill that would eliminate residency requirements for municipal and school employees.
Regardless of whether they believe in residency requirements, state legislators have no business taking it upon themselves to unilaterally change a policy that would have such a profound effect on the city of Milwaukee.
Political courtesy, if nothing else, requires that a change this monumental not be undertaken without input from elected local officials.
It is they, after all, who best represent all city residents, not just those with a vested interest in abolishing the residency requirement, namely officials of certain local municipal employee unions.
Fears by the mayor and aldermen, probably justifiable, that the bill will be put on a legislative fast track in the Republican-controlled Assembly make this move even more difficult to swallow.
The legislation would prohibit Wisconsin cities, counties and school districts from requiring that their employees live in the city, county or school district that employs them.
Sound arguments can be made on both sides of the question.
Milwaukee officials believe about 7,400 city and Milwaukee Public Schools employees would move out of the city within 10 years if the law were passed. That exodus would mean a decline in residential property values of as much as $550 million, according to a city study.
There also is the valid argument that city employees need to reside in the community in which they serve in order to fully appreciate the problems and needs of that community.
Those pushing for a change in the residency law contend that a city employee should have the freedom of choice to decide where he or she lives, which is not an unreasonable idea.
In fact, last November, the Milwaukee Sentinel argued against the residency requirement for school teachers. Confining the teacher pool to the city, we argued, reduces the odds of finding quality teachers at a time when top-shelf teachers are needed more than ever.
The real problem here is the how this is being done – behind the backs of city officials – and where – in Madison, not Milwaukee.
As Ald. Wayne P. Frank noted, these discussions should properly be taking place at the bargaining table between the parties with the most at stake – the city and its employee unions.