George Washington firmly believed that public employees ought
to live in the city they serve. "Every matter, & thing, that
relates to the City ought to be transacted therein and the persons
to whose care they are committed (should be) Residents," he wrote
Two hundred years later, residency requirements are common and
controversial. Many municipalities require rank-and-file workers to
live within city limits. If an emergency hits, the reasoning goes,
employees can be rounded up quickly.
Such laws can ease local unemployment. And taxpayer dollars
paid to public employees who were residents tended to go back into
Mayors say it's not as though the government popped some sort
of surprise on employees. Most workers accepted jobs under the
condition that they would be residents.
"People have a constitutional right to live anywhere they want.
They do not have a constitutional right to public employment," says
Paul R. Soglin, mayor of Madison, Wis.
During fiscal crises, mayors in cities with a shrinking
population and tax base often reactivate a dormant residency law or
create a new one in hopes of slowing middle-class flight to the
That was the intent when, in 1976, Chicago Mayor Richard J.
Daley dusted off an unenforced 1901 residency statute and gave city
employees three months to show proof they were moving into the city
or lose their jobs.
Some employees challenged his edict in court, but they all lost
In 1993, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke issued an executive
order calling for anyone who accepted a job with the city to move
there within 12 months.
Of the 33,025 full- and part-time city employees, as of March,
23,760 lived in the city. Because the police department is a state
agency, its officers are exempt.
This spring, Boston began firing dozens of city employees for
flouting a 1976 residency law that had not been enforced for years.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino made residency a big issue in his 1993
campaign. Once in office, he gave employees living in the suburbs a
year's grace period to move into Boston. Although teachers, police
and firefighters have been exempt, new hires for those jobs now
also must live in Boston.
In many cities, unions representing these employee groups tend
to be the most vocal opponents and work to get their members
exempted through contract negotiations.
"We don't think employees should be restricted on off-duty time
when they're not being compensated by their employer," argues
William Ward, vice president of the Milwaukee Police Association. …