City employees free to leave, and they will over time
Do not believe the soothing words of public employee union officials who claim that last week’s ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court upholding a state law that gutted residency requirements for municipal employees will not result in an exodus of city employees to the suburbs.
It may not happen immediately because of the depressed real estate market, but it will happen. For a quick reality check, look at the eligibility list for Warren’s new police chief. The two captains and four lieutenants on that list were all hired before the city began enforcing a residency requirement. None lives in the city.
It’s economics: most public employees, especially those on the safety forces, earn more than most city residents. They earn suburban wages; they demand permission to live suburban lives.
Stretching the law
A coalition of General Assembly Democrats who are beholden to public employee unions and some Republicans with a libertarian stripe responded to that demand. They went out of their way to tell city residents that they could not require that the employees they are paying to protect and serve must also be their neighbors.
The common defense of this state intrusion into city governance was that the employees have a right to live wherever they want. The Supreme Court of the United States has clearly ruled that such is not the case. City residents have the right to say who they want to hire; perspective employees have a right to take the job with its residency requirements or to leave it.
State legislators took the broadest possible reading of an article of Ohio’s Constitution that was designed to protect workers against exploitation to overrule the clear intent of city residents to require their employees to live in the city. Five members of the Ohio Supreme Court aided and abetted the dismantling of an important part of home rule.
Cities now face three alternatives: mount a drive for a constitutional amendment (an expense proposition with limited chances for success), watch their employees, especially those at the top scale, become commuters with no more loyalty to the community than a paycheck buys, or marshal municipal voters to throw out those legislators who supported the assault on residency rules and elect representatives who will actually represent them.