By Tim Yovich
The residency requirement will ultimately be determined by the Ohio Supreme Court, the mayor says.
WARREN — The 11th District Court of Appeals has thrown another roadblock in front of the city’s residency law.
The appellate court ruled Monday that the residency requirement violates the Ohio Constitution, upholding a September decision by Judge Andrew Logan of Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
“It’s the way we expected it to go,” said Edward Russ, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 74, the union that represents city workers, except for police and firefighters.
Local 74 challenged the city ordinance along with the Warren Management Association. The two unions represent a majority of city workers. The association represents middle- to upper-level managers.
Mayor Michael J. O’Brien said Monday’s ruling doesn’t negatively impact the city’s position because a similar case is already on the docket of the Ohio Supreme Court.
“It will be up to the Ohio Supreme Court to decide,” O’Brien said, noting various courts have issued conflicting opinions about the issue.
The city approved an ordinance in May 1991 requiring city workers to live in the city and remain a resident during employment.
However, in May 2006, the Ohio General Assembly enacted a law prohibiting a residency requirement as a condition of employment.
Some 125 Ohio cities and 13 villages have some sort of residency requirement.
The Warren city employee unions filed a complaint in common pleas court challenging the ordinance. The city maintained that the state law is an infringement on city powers.
Judge Logan ruled in favor of the unions, and the city appealed.
In writing for the appellate court, Judge Mary Jane Trapp wrote that if Warren wants to challenge the Legislature, it must do so politically, not through the court.
Judge Trapp wrote that the court recognizes that many economically depressed cities sought to either maintain or regain a stable, economically productive work force through the enactment of residency requirements for its employees.
She noted that residency is of statewide concern to generally allow public employees to choose where to live, and that it’s necessary to generally prohibit political subdivisions from requiring their employees, as a condition of employment, to reside in any area of the state in order to provide the comfort, health, safety and general welfare of the employees.
The state law, Judge Trapp wrote, is a “valid exercise of the Legislature’s power” conferred on it by the state constitution and trumps Warren’s ordinance.
She pointed out that “a residency requirement places an onerous burden on public employees and their family’s life, as it severely limits their choice of housing, schools, medical services or places of worship, undoubtedly affecting their health, safety, morals or general welfare. We cannot say the Legislature’s affording the state’s public employees the ability to choose where to life is unreasonable or arbitrary.”