Once again, the Common Council's Committee on Employee Relations will take up a debate Tuesday night that seems to go on and on: Which, if any, city employees ought to be required to live here?
The residency requirement for Wauwatosa department managers at certain levels is among the more stringent among municipalities in the metropolitan area, and over the years, relaxing the rules has been discussed a number of times with no action taken.
Earlier this year, the question appeared to have gathered steam toward a large reduction in the positions requiring residency. After initial discussions in July seemed to lean in favor of doing away with residency for all but a few department heads, of police, fire and public works, Assistant City Attorney Beth Aldana prepared such an ordinance amendment for council action.
But that stalled when the chiefs of fire and police, along with several committee members, proposed instead that it was time all residency requirements be done away with.
The issue has since become something of an all-or-nothing debate, and most recently, at its Nov. 27 meeting, the same committee deadlocked 2-2 with Ald. Jill Organ absent, then called for the matter to come back this month.
As currently written, not only department heads but a number of superintendents of divisions are required to establish residence within a year of hire.
Among those also required to live here are the director of finance; public works operations superintendent; fleet and electrical superintendent; water superintendent; engineering services manager; parks and forestry superintendent; development director; assessor; city clerk; health officer; and chief building inspector – even the library director.
With so many positions restricted, problems were bound to come up with hiring the best candidates when jobs have come open. Unrestricted subordinates who live outside the city would not qualify for promotion from within unless they picked up and moved, and of course outside candidates would have to be willing to move to accept the jobs.
As a result, the city has time and again acted to waive its residency requirement or give lengthy extensions, especially in the real estate market that has prevailed in the past five years.
Aldana and City Administrator Jim Archambo, faced with a number of difficult department-level hires in the past few years, came to see the residency requirement as a drag on the hiring process even when it was set aside, because waivers require individual, time-consuming Common Council action.
But the stickiest wicket in the debate lately has arisen not from jobs that are restricted as certain ones that aren't.
While five subordinate positions in Public Works are restricted, none below the level of chief is in the Fire and Police departments – and as it happens, none of the two assistant fire chiefs or the several deputy and assistant police chiefs who might qualify for promotion to the top jobs live in Wauwatosa.
That has led both Police Chief Barry Weber and Fire Chief Rob Ugaste to speak out against any residency requirements because of the bottlenect in hiring it would create for their replacements.
With no qualified candidates at the highest level inside their departments – unless they could be induced to move into Tosa – they could not hire from within and, being forced to hire from outside, would have to accept not necessarily the best candidate but the best who was willing to relocate.
In the last vote, which failed on a tie, Alds. Craig Wilson and Cheryl Berdan voted in favor of removing residency requirements across the board, while Alds. Tim Hanson and Kathleen Causier voted against.
Ald. Organ, who was present for debate but excused before the vote was taken, indicated that she supported keeping the residency requirements intact.
Hanson and Organ, along with some non-committee members including Ald. Brian Ewerdt, have argued that Wauwatosa has always been able to attract solid department and division leaders, and that a willingness to reside in the city demonstrates a high level of dedication to the job.
Wilson, Berdan and others, conversely, have pointed out that you can never know the level of candidacy the city might have attracted from those who never apply because they are unwilling or unable to relocate.