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Tosa Seems Ready to Scrap Residency Requirements

With a recommendation for steep reduction from city staff, and a powerful demand for doing away with it all together from Police Chief Barry Weber, city may go from stringent to wide-open on live-here rules.

Few, if any, employees of Wauwatosa will have to live here, if and when a new set of residency rules is adopted.

And if one department head – the police chief – has his way, it will be none of them.

In the wake of a raft of recent hirings of new department heads, the city appears to be on the verge of doing away with most, if not all, of its residency requirements.

Most of those hirings were beset somehow with problems related to where the applicants lived and whether they were willing to move soon, if at all, to Wauwatosa.

Starting about two years ago, department head-level jobs opened in fire, finance, public works and the new position of economic development chief. Several of those hirings were complicated by residency rules.

The chosen candidate for finance director abruptly because of rancorous Common Council debate over his desire to continue living outside Tosa.

Waivers or extensions of principal residency had to be granted to hire Bill Porter as director of public works and Rob Ugaste as fire chief.

But not only department heads are at issue. The city has a long list of those required to live in the city to be employed here – , supervisors of the several divisions of public works, the superintendent of parks and forestry.

Even the city librarian is required to live here.

Unless... not.

'Piecemeal' ways around rules take up time

Multitudes of waivers have been granted over the years, including some for employees who were grandfathered in after being advanced to supervisory roles.

Now, the city is rethinking residency requirements, and a new, much-streamlined set of requirements was presented Tuesday night that would reduce that demand to just five city employees – the heads of the police, fire and public works departments, the city attorney and the city administrator.

Beth Aldana, assistant city attorney and human resources director, made the case that existing residency requirements hamper searches for the best candidates for jobs with the city.

In some cases, she said, it hurts the city to demand residence, as when a potential strong candidate, perhaps clearly the best candidate, can't or isn't willing to meet the requirement, even though they might have every ability to respond to the city's needs.

We don't necessarily even know, Aldana said, whether we've lost the best – an unknown, top-notch person might not even bother to apply because of the residency rules.

With that, Aldana proposed that all but just those five high-level jobs be stricken from the rules. City Adminstrator Jim Archambo backed her, saying, "Get rid of the waivers piece, so that when we do go about hiring someone, it's black and white."

Archambo reminded the committee of "one instance, in which if the candidate hadn't been given a waiver – we'd have had no pool."

Police chief calls foul on all residency rules

All that was a bit better, but not nearly good enough, for Police Chief Barry Weber, who rose to rail against all residency requirements.

"I'm here to protest this ordinance," he began. "There is nobody behind me who can move into this position. The people in my mind who could step into this position – captains, lieutenants, sergeants – are not residents.

"The only reason for this ordinance is that it makes politicians feel good, because some constituents think city employees ought to live in Wauwatosa."

"Are we going to treat everybody fairly?" Weber said. "Or are we going to do it piecemeal?" – referring to the number of waivers, extensions and grandfatherings the Common Council has granted for particular employees.

Most members of the Employee Relations Committee tended to agree with Weber, and so did Aldana, saying that she would not oppose a no-residency rule at every level.

The point was made, repeatedly, that it is more the mid-level mangers and supervisors, and the rank and file, who have to respond immediately to emergencies requiring rapid response – not the department heads themselves.

Most on committee lean toward tossing rules

Ald. Cheryl Berdan said that the criteria for hiring ought to be, at all levels, "are they able to serve the city well? We'll see if they can do the job – fine – if they can't...?"

"If we have three equal candidates," the one who is a resident or willing to take up residency might seal the deal, Berdan said.

"But if we have a residency requirement, we might be in the position to have to hire the less-qualified candidate."

Ald. Kathleen Causier declared herself a bit stuck in the middle, personally, but in regards to efficiency of city government, she leaned toward Weber's notion.

"All or none," Causier said. "The idea of employee loyalty based on where you live – I don't think it's true."

Only Ald. Tim Hanson, himself a public employee of Milwaukee County, opposed the idea of even reducing residency requirements, much less doing away with them all together.

"I see no reason to change," Hanson said. Referring to strong and successful hires at each of the department-level jobs that had been discussed, he said, "If this market is that strong – well, tell me different."

Garrence Kennedy September 05, 2012 at 12:48 PM
Scrapping the residency rule would be a huge mistake! Working in the city that you live in Tends to make you feel more dedicated! If the police chief doesn't have to live in the city he works for well he's not going to feel dedicated to his position!
Dirk Gutzmiller September 05, 2012 at 03:52 PM
It is so simple...what concern and loyalty is generated in somebody that is driving in from Oconomowoc or Mukwanago to make big decisions in Wauwatosa. Wauwatosa could go to the dogs and their lovely home and community would probably be even better for it. I have moved across several states to take jobs. If they want the job, move. If not, stay where they are. I have not seen where making exceptions to the residency rule brings in better decision making...quite the contrary. You can't tell me we have such high level jobs in Wauwatosa government that we need to recruit people that do not live here and refuse to move here.
dianne fox September 05, 2012 at 08:11 PM
I agree with Garrence & Dirk. Need some "skin in the game". Really? there are so few qualified applicants who reside in Tosa?... in this economy? I want ppl whose own lives are affected by the decisions they make on the job.

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