General Assembly acts to abolish job-residency rule

April 05, 1995|By William F. Zorzi Jr. and JoAnna Daemmrich | William F. Zorzi Jr. and JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writers

Baltimore and other jurisdictions would be prohibited from requiring employees to live where they work under a measure enacted by the General Assembly yesterday.

The legislation, if signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, would void a residency requirement now in effect for some city employees, including firefighters.

However, it was not clear yesterday what the governor would do.

"He does plan to talk to county executives and the mayor to find out their views," said Dianna D. Rosborough, Mr. Glendening's press secretary.

"Before he reaches a decision, he wants to get some input."

The measure -- which flew through the Senate, 46-0 -- appeared to be aimed largely at a policy of Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who imposed a residency requirement for some jobs two years ago.

The mayor did not return phone calls seeking comment yesterday.

The bill was sponsored by Del. John S. Arnick, a Baltimore County Democrat.

It does allow local governments with merit systems to award "preference points" to prospective employees for residing in the jurisdiction in which they are applying for the job.

Also excepted from the legislation are department heads and other appointees who may be required by local law to reside in the jurisdiction where they work.

"The fear was that other jurisdictions would begin the same type of wall-building, rather than bridge-building, that the city has done," said Sen. George W. Della Jr., a Baltimore Democrat who sponsored a Senate version of the bill.

But associations representing local governments -- such as the Maryland Association of Counties and the Maryland Municipal League -- opposed the measure, concerned about the precedent such a law would set.

"I believe it's an infringement on local prerogative," said David S. Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. "Local county councils, commissions, mayors are all elected to make local decisions.

"There are good reasons to require employees to live where they work," Mr. Bliden said. "First, they have a bigger stake in the community in which they work, and for some jobs, it's critical to have specific local knowledge of the community.

"I know there are arguments the other way, but that should be decided on a local level, which is the best place for these competing interests to be balanced."

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, a Baltimore Democrat, disagreed.

"I think residency requirements backfire" because they keep good potential employees away, Ms. Hoffman said.

"I understand the desire to capture the revenue from those people who work but don't live there, but I don't think it's good policy," she said.

And because redistricting based on the 1990 Census left Baltimore sharing five legislative districts with Baltimore County -- including her 42nd District -- Ms. Hoffman said such requirements now especially don't seem to make sense.

Mr. Schmoke issued an edict in May 1993 requiring all new municipal workers to become residents of Baltimore within a year after the start of their employment.

The policy, which covered all employees hired after July 1, 1993, required that city workers had to remain residents of the city to keep their jobs.

But the executive order did not apply to employees already on the city payroll. A total of 8,121 members of the city's full-time work force of 24,427 -- or 33 percent -- were living beyond Baltimore's boundaries at the time of the edict.

The state attorney general later concluded the city police force was a state agency and exempt from the residency requirement. But school personnel, firefighters, custodians and other municipal workers hired after July 1993 had to comply.

Only 25 percent of the 8,500 members of the Baltimore Teachers Union live outside the city limits, said union spokeswoman Linda Prudente. But she was quick to add that the residency requirement has made recruiting school secretaries, aides and teachers more difficult.

"Obviously, it is much easier to hire people when you don't put a lot of restrictions on them," Ms. Prudente said. "Right now we have trouble competing with Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County and other areas because our salaries are so much lower. When you add another restriction like residency, you're making it more and more difficult to attract people to the school system."

The city's personnel director, Jesse E. Hoskins, said classroom teachers were exempted from the residency requirement, as were police officers.

But Ms. Prudente said she understood that teachers had not been exempted from the policy.

Firefighters had to comply with the policy, but the residency requirement had little effect because only about 50 people have been hired in the past two years, said William V. Taylor, president of Baltimore City Firefighters Union, Local 734.

"We believe you have to get the best person for the job, no matter where he lives," Mr. Taylor said. "Every American has the right to pursue his happiness. Anywhere he wants to live, that's his business. And the residency requirement was very discriminatory because some people, like police officers, were excluded and others weren't."

Officer Gary McLhinney, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said the union opposes requiring that police officers live within the city. "It limits the pool of qualified applicants and makes it harder to attract qualified people," he said. "We go through a tremendous amount of applicants in order to get qualified individuals to fill one class."

Mr. Hoskins said he did not know exactly how many municipal workers have been hired since July 1993, but he said the city generally hires about 1,000 people a year, mostly new teachers and police officers.

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