By Bertram de Souza
Now that the Republican dominated Ohio Supreme Court has told public employees they are free to live wherever they want, cities in Ohio that have residency laws — the ruling was aimed at the state’s urban areas — are bracing for an exodus. But a close reading of the 5-2 opinion — the two were Chief Justice Thomas Moyer and Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger — reveals there is nothing to stop mayors and city councils from rewarding those public employees who choose to reside in the political subdivisions that pay their salaries.
In other words, if Youngstown or Warren wanted to dissuade employees from moving to the suburbs, they could come up with ways to thank the ones who stay.
Take parking, for example. Both cities have parking for employees. Mayor Jay Williams in Youngstown and Mayor Michael O’Brien in Warren could issue executive orders that say: The prime parking spaces in the city-owned lots will be reserved for those employees who have remained loyal to the city.
Indeed, they could go a step further and establish parking spaces far enough away from the work place so the “foreign workers” would break a sweat in the summer walking from their cars, or freeze their behinds off in the winter.
There’s more that can be done. Certain employees are assigned city-owned vehicles. The newest and best ones should be given to the “domestic workers.” The clunkers should go to the out-of-towners.
The obvious reason for this is to deliver a clear message to city employees: If you earn your living from the public payroll, you have an obligation and responsibility to the public to live in the community.
There’s a secondary reason for making the outsiders drive the crappy vehicles: They have to take them into the suburbs and pull up in their driveways — spewing black smoke while the neighbors snicker.
Indeed, the mayors could require the “foreign workers” to start their shifts really early in the morning and to be on call 24/7.
In upholding a state law that was passed in 2006 by the Republican controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. Bob Taft, the Supreme Court simply said residency laws are unconstitutional. The justices did not spell out work rules or how employees are to be treated.
Thus, cities have the right to offer incentives to their workers to reside where they work.
In Youngstown, out of a total of 850 employees, 250 are non-residents. In Warren, of the 423 employees, 104 live outside the city.
Why does this matter?
Consider what is occurring in Youngs-town:
The median household income for city workers is $63,000. To repeat: SIXTY-THREE THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR.
By comparison, the median household income for Youngstown residents as a whole is $28,700. To repeat: TWENTY-EIGHT THOUSAND SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS A YEAR.
So, if highly paid city workers — it would be interesting for the public to know how many of the 850 have post-graduate degrees, let alone bachelor’s degrees — decide to slap away the hand that feeds them (quite well, it turns out) what would happen to Youngstown?
It doesn’t take a demographer with a PhD to know that the exodus would cause city housing values to plummet.
In addition, having police officers and firefighters living in the suburbs would send a clear signal that Youngstown isn’t a city that’s safe.
The reality is that Youngstown and Warren are losing population in greater numbers than other communities in the Mahoning Valley. There aren’t high- income suburbanites rushing to move into the cities.
It is also true that a growing percentage of the residents are on fixed income — Social Security or welfare.
Thus, if public employees are willing to suck the lifeblood out of the urban areas and leave in large numbers, the economic implosion in the cities will be felt far and wide.
In retrospect, there could be a silver lining in the collapse of the cities: A whole bunch of public employees would lose their jobs.
And, it would make perfect sense for the mayors to find a way to get rid of the “foreign workers” first. After all, loyalty begets loyalty.