Anti-City, Anti-Family, Anti-Revival

May 28, 1994

A few years ago, we supported Mayor Kurt Schmoke's right, as a parent, to send his daughter to private school. Some residents saw that development as discomforting symbolism -- the mayor pulling his child from the public school system -- but we saw it as a personal and family decision.

Why, then, does the mayor feel he has the right to dictate to city employees where they must live or what school system their children must use, under his year-old order that all city employees hired since last July must live in the city?

The residency requirement for city employees is an anachronism in a society of two-income households. Many families decide where to live based on where two spouses work, not one. The mayor, council President Mary Pat Clarke and others insist if you work for the city, you should live there, but such simplistic thinking ignores the impact on families in which other members work elsewhere.

Besides being anti-family, the residency restriction is a Band-aid response. The middle class must be attracted back to the city, but with carrots, not sticks. In New Haven, Conn., for instance, Yale University is offering its employees a cash bonus for buying city homes. Some of the programs Baltimore is working on -- empowerment zones and revitalization around mega-employer

Johns Hopkins Hospital -- intend to rebuild neighborhoods.

Baltimore isn't alone in pushing required residency for its workers. In a recent survey of nearly 300 municipalities by a government trade group, one-third of cities and even small towns reported employing some residency requirement. But in Baltimore's case, the measure is counterproductive: It shrinks the pool of applicants for police and teachers even as suppressing crime and improving the schools are the foundation for rebuilding the city. Living in the city is often improperly portrayed as a moral issue; it's a market issue. Consumers weigh costs and benefits and then make a judgment.

City Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier recently convinced the mayor to suspend the residency requirement for police officers, saying it hampered his ability to recruit the best applicants. Less publicized has been the fact that school Superintendent Walter Amprey also received a one-year waiver from the mayor for school employees so as not to hamper hiring.

The exceptions being made for both those departments should be the rule. The message the residency requirement telegraphs from the city's political leaders -- workers must be forced to live in Baltimore -- is as negative as any anti-urban demagogy on the suburban campaign hustings.

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