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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 2, 2010 7 years ago

CCNA chief: Make employees live here

by: Robin Roy City Editor

Should city employees be required to live within the city in which they work? It’s a question that municipalities around the country have grappled with for decades.

The city of Sarasota may begin debating it as well.

Kate Lowman, president of the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations, made the suggestion before the Charter Review Committee, which recommends changes to the city charter.

Lowman said there are many citizens who volunteer their time to help improve Sarasota, because they are invested in the community.

“The city employees work very hard,” she said. “But there’s an emotional bond and commitment when you live within a city.”

Lowman said she came up with the proposal after hearing last month’s City Commission debate over the police department’s take-home vehicle policy.

Since 2001, the police department has allowed its officers to take home their service vehicles. The reason is neighborhood safety. The theory is that having a police car parked in a driveway lets criminals know that a police officer is nearby.

Mayor Kelly Kirschner questioned whether the cost outweighed the benefits, because more than half of the police officers in the program don’t live within the city limits. The take-home policy allows officers to drive their vehicles home even if they live 45 miles from Sarasota. The city picks up the cost of fuel.

Lowman said she was proposing all of the city’s 602 employees, not just police, be required to live in Sarasota. But her suggestion would only apply to new hires.

City Manager Bob Bartolotta said he’s always encouraged employees to live within the city limits.

“If you pay fees, if you pay taxes, you’re more invested in the community,” he said. “Lots of cities have tried this approach, some have been challenged in court.”

When some Cleveland city employees sued over their city’s residency requirement, it went all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled last year that no Ohio city can enforce where its workers live.
Michigan and Minnesota outlaw the practice.

New York used to require all non-uniformed employees (generally excluding police officers and firefighters) to live in New York. But in 2008 it changed its policy to force residency only for the first two years of employment.

Hartford, Conn., requires only non-union department heads and city council aides to live in Hartford.
And Quincy, Ill., dropped its residency requirement last week because of complaints.

Bartolotta said he would have to conduct some legal research to see whether Sarasota could enforce such a policy.

“Conceptually I like the idea,” he said. “But whether you can mandate it will take more review.”

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