Residency Rule Should Apply to Top Positions Only, Committee Decides
Only the police chief, fire chief and public works directors should, along with the city administrator and attorney, be required to live here, a council committee recommends.
After months of tilting over whether to keep all current residency requirements for appointed city employees or to do away with them all together, the Employee Relations Committee on Tuesday did neither but voted its way back to square one.
After another debate lasting nearly an hour and a half, committe members voted 3-2 to recommend doing away with the residency rule for all but three department heads – the police and fire chiefs and the director of public works.
(Residency is also required of the city administrator, who works under a separate contract, and the city attorney, who is covered by a separate ordinance.)
What's more, the committee stipulated that there should still be no option of granting residency waivers for those positions, a practice that has been allowed frequently for other department heads and subordinates who are subject to the rule.
That is, essentially, what Assistant City Attorney Beth Aldana, the city's staff expert on employee matters, had proposed as an ordinance change in late summer. Aldana was concerned that the residency rules were hurting recruitment to high-level city jobs and producing far too many cumbersome waivers of it.
But after introducing that recommendation Sept. 4, alderman both on and off the Employee Relations Committee, as well as Police Chief Barry Weber and Fire Chief Rob Ugaste, split over the proposal, with one faction including the chiefs wanting all residency requirements for city employees done away with.
The other faction for the most part favored keeping all residency requirements as they are – which includes every city department head down to the public health and library directors, as well as all superintendents in the Public Works Department.
Aldermen go back and forth on issue
On the committee, Ald. Tim Hanson has been the most adamant about keeping the current residency rules intact, and he continued to be unswayed by Aldana's arguments for wiping out all or most of them.
"This is like the school board referendum that just keeps coming back until people just give in," Hanson said. "This keeps coming up, and we should just put it to rest. It seems to me we have had no trouble finding excellent people to fill these positions who are willing to live here."
Conversely, Alds. Cheryl Berdan and Craig Wilson had been outspokenly in favor of doing away with the rule for all positions, pointing out repeatedly that it is counterintiutive to allow rank and file employees and supervisor-level managers, who would be first responders in any emergency, to live farther away, while requiring residency of department heads, who are not first responders.
Nevertheless, it was Berdan who finally moved what must have amounted by then to a compromise – returning to Aldana's original proposal that only the fire, police and public works heads be required to live in Wauwatosa.
Hanson voted against it and was joined by Ald. Jill Organ. Alds. Craig Wilson, Kathleen Causier and Berdan, though, voted in favor, and that is what will be forwarded to the Common Council for action next week.
Recommendation not yet carved in stone
It is possible, though, that the full council may amend that recommendation if enough aldermen want to force a vote on removing all residency requirements – or none.
The council is used to receiving stronger recommendations to act on from its committees. So far, Employee Relations has sent the full body a 2-2 tie on one form of the proposal and now a narrow 3-2 vote on a different form.
Weber and Ugaste, having spoken several times on the subject already, most forcefully at the Nov. 27 meeting of Employee Relations, did not attend Tuesday. But while there is no public debate at full meetings of the Common Council, department heads are allowed to testify, and one or both chiefs could be asked to.
Ugaste has said that he is grooming his two assistant chiefs so that either could assume his job when he retires, and the residency requirement for the chief's position could forestall that – neither of the assistants lives in Wauwatosa.
Ironically, Ugaste was successful in July 2011, shortly after he was hired as chief, in presuading the council to remove the assistant chief positions from the residency-required list, so that they could move up. But he has been unsuccessful in getting aldermen to remove the requirement from the very position he would want one of them to fill – his own.
Likewise, Weber has no subordinate currently at the highest levels who lives in Wauwatosa and could take over his job without running afoul of the residency law, or at best having to sell a home elsewhere and move into the city.
Since waivers are not allowed for their positions, there would be no other options than to require a qualified subordinate to move here or to pass them over and hire from the outside – again, accepting only candidates willing to relocate.