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Is Tosa residency rule too tough?

Assessor's proposed move reignites debate

July 11, 2012

Every couple of years the issue of whether to require certain city employees to live in Wauwatosa comes up - and it's that time again.

But this time there is a new idea being floated: offering bonuses for staff to live in the city.

While there's no specific hiring decisions happening, the city assessor is interested in moving from his Cudahy home, but city ordinance requires if he moves it has to be to Tosa.

"The residency requirement presents challenges in recruiting and retaining top employees," Human Resources Director Beth Aldana said.

She and City Administrator James Archambo tested the waters with the Employee Relations Committee on Tuesday to see if it would support a revised ordinance that would allow more flexibility for management positions in which response times aren't critical.

The committee directed city administration to come back with some specific changes.

"I'd like to see a more overt proposal from staff - here's what the new structure can be," Alderman Craig Wilson said. "You can tell us how far you want to go."

A question of 'who'

There are many leadership positions that require residency, however waivers can be granted if response time would be similar or if dropping the restriction would attract the best candidate for the position. Those jobs are the public works operations, comptroller, treasurer, fleet/electric, water and parks and forestry superintendents; city engineer; city assessor; city clerk; chief building inspector; library director; and health department director.

The city could do away with waivers and just simply not put a residency requirement on those positions, Aldana said.

Archambo advocated for continuing to require people in the following positions live in Wauwatosa: city administrator, city attorney, public works director and police and fire chiefs.

He'd prefer city employee lived in Wauwatosa, but in practicality the best qualified candidate for the job may live outside the city's borders. But it shouldn't be the defining characteristic for the job, Archambo said.

"Merit should be the most important piece of the hiring process," he said. "In some cases, (a residency requirement) does get in the way."

Opinions all over board

The city frequently has revisited the residency requirements, with it last coming up in November, 2010.

Archambo said if changes aren't made, it will inevitably come up again.

Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan supported dropping the residency requirement, saying she didn't think it made an employee more competent or dedicated. However, in the case of two good candidates she'd expect to see residency have a little weight.

On the other end of the spectrum, Alderman Tim Hanson didn't want to see any residency requirements dropped.

Rather than a residency requirement, some communities offer a financial incentive to residing in the city they work. An option is to offer a small bonus for employees who live in Wauwatosa, City Attorney Alan Kesner said. Committee members found that scenario intriguing and asked administration to provide some possible numbers at a future date.

No need to hurry

With no recruitment occurring there isn't pressure to make an immediate decision, Aldana said.

As for the request by City Assessor Steve Miner, Aldana would like to see the residency requirement dropped so he could continue to work for the city, she said.

There's a small pool of candidates with the right credentials and experience to handle that position, Archambo said.

Hanson wasn't being swayed.

"We've given a waiver for five years. He wants to game-change now," he said. "He's the guy assessing every one of our constituents yet he doesn't want to live here. I have a problem with that."

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