Monday, February 18, 2008

Residency Requirements Hit Close To Home

New City Councilman Jim Strickland recently learned a key lesson about local government – many elected officials essentially see government as a jobs program.

On its face, Councilman Strickland’s proposal to allow emergency workers to be drawn from a 100-mile radius of Memphis made perfect sense. After all, we’re already lowering educational credentials in hopes of finding candidates for police jobs.

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine that taxpayers don't really prefer to lie in bed at night feeling safe, rather than to lie in bed at night with the secure feeling that only Shelby County residents are patrolling the streets. Unfortunately, despite the obvious logic of his proposal, Councilman Strickland could only coax one additional vote to support his change.

That’s too bad, because in painting itself into a corner, Memphis City Council are guilty of putting political interests ahead of public safety. However, while many observers saw it as a city versus suburbs issue or a white versus black issue, it was in truth more of an economic issue.

That’s why change is resisted so vehemently, not only in City Hall but in other places like Memphis City Schools. It is these government jobs that anchor the black middle class in Memphis. At a time when African-Americans could find little openings in the private sector, it was the public sector that provided the pathway to decent jobs, as shown by the fact that almost two out of three employees of county government are African-American.

As a result, any suggestions that can attack the stability of these jobs are always met with fierce resistance. As a result, any discussion about reducing residency requirements need to start with this in mind.


Anonymous said...

The position taken in this piece is not a true assessment of what the Councilmen who voted against Jim Strickland's recommendation.

Those voting against it first and foremost considered the will of the majority of the voters. The majority spoke witht the voting levers and seven elected officials should not have the authority to change that vote.

His recommendation was to allow certain job titles to live as far as two hours away from Memphis. If that had passed, people could live close to Nashville, live in Mississippi, Arkansas and no telling where else outside of Memphis and Shelby County.

What about engineers, accountants, and other professionals who work for the city but want to live somewhere else? They consider their jobs and where they live just as important as the exceptions that were sought.

Other cities have the same requirement of its city employees.

People relocate all of the time for jobs in the private sector and no questions are asked. It's the same for those who want to work for the City of Memphis - move here, invest here, help make it a better place OR work where you live.

Smart City Consulting said...

The referendum on this issue was a sad exercise in parochialism and playing to the lowest common denominator of we versus them. That said, engineers, accountaings and other professionals don't make sure we are safe and secure in our own homes and neighborhoods, and for that reason alone, we need to give as much flexibility as possible to their hiring.

Anonymous said...

Smart City

Why not perform a little survey of our "jackel type municipal neighbors" and see whether they are as provisional in their employment vision as you would propose Memphis and Shelby County be with our jobs and industry?

I think you'd be suprised to see how normal "WE" are?

BTW speaking of logic... logic would dictate that "first responsers" should be as close as possible to the need! Additionally, first responsers should be neighbors with the community they serve... the gulf between the cultures of metropolitan citizens and rural responders is already too wide, as evidenced by the racial venom we see on many of the local blogs!


Smart City Consulting said...

Black and know it:

The argument sounds more rhetorical than anything else. A first responder in DeSoto County is a lot closer to responding to a problem in South Memphis than a first responder coming from Cordova. In the end, safety and security should have as few barriers as possible to hiring the law enforcement officers we need in Memphis.


Anonymous said...

I think SCM has missed it on this point, especially as it concerns applying race to this issue. The counterpoint to your assertion about council members protecting jobs in the public sector for African Americans is that Jim Strickland's proposal is mainly to allow more Whites to get jobs working for Memphis without living here. I don't think the African American members are trying to protect jobs, I think they are trying to make a statement that if people (White people using your assumption) are willing to work in and police our community, they should be open to living and contributing to it. Think about how it might seem to some to be an extension of the days when money from African Americans was good enough to take, but not good enough to give equal service.

At the City Council meeting there were questions whether this extension of the area was a request from the police director or not. It would be beneficial to bring the police director in rather than City Council guessing at what can fix the problem. It would be even better to know whether residency is really the problem. This would also inform the recent decision of the police director to lower the education requirements.

SCM has seemed to be a firm proponent of operating government more effectively and not jumping to conclusions looking for a quick answer. Has anyone looked at the effectiveness of the police recruiting department? The Memphis City Schools brought in an outside agency to aid them in teacher recruitment and more than doubled the applications and acceptances. Should we believe that the police department has operated better than MCS used to? When was the last time you saw an ad or commercial to recruit officers?

Now, if the same City Council members who support this broadening would agree to support a privilege/payroll tax, then it seems that the City Council could come to some agreement. Proposing one solution without supporting the other is just Memphis continuing along the same road, promoting the same divisions. SCM could have done a much better job by considering the interaction between these two issues. As you said, the referendum for city residency may have played to the lowest common denominator, but so did the campaign against the payroll tax for the city.

Smart City Consulting said...

anonymous 9 p.m.:

To our point about protecting the African-American middle class, Memphis City Schools did in fact use an outside organization to dramatically increase the number of applicants, the grade point average of those applicants, and the number with master's and doctor's degrees. However, that organization didn't have its contract renewed, suggesting again to us that the importance of city schools as an economic engine for the black middle class is a major factor in decisions. We're just pointing out that this reality is the reason that proposals that cut jobs or broaden the pool of applicants have to take this into consideration.

Anonymous said...

All city employees hired before January 1, 2005 can live anywhere due to the language in residency ordinance 5063 passed in 2004. About 200 firefighters and police officer now live outside Shelby county. Did you see a slow response to the Hickory hill? No. If a disaster like a earthquake every hits the midsouth you will be glad your fire fighter and police are spead out over a larger area. The impact will be lessened. A perfect example was New Orleans. All of their firefighters and police oficers were caught in the flood and were as helpless as all the other flood victims. If the officers had been able to live outside New Orleans their response would have been better. Jefferson parrish had 92 percent of their force working the day after the flood. New Orleans had less that 15 percent available. A free man working for Memphis living where I choose...

Anonymous said...

what is the point of stating that the black middle class is supported by government jobs? even if it were true, what is the point? if jim strickland only had one other council member with him on this issue then other white council members did not like the proposal, either. so do these white council members want to protect a black middle class?
there was a time when the white middle class was supported by the government. your argument is weak so you need to throw distraction in the mix.

let your argument stand on its own.

your argument: we need more officers and the residency requirement is the primary reason we cannot recruit officers.

most metro's are having difficulty recruiting and retaining officers whether they have a residency requirement or not.
getting rid of the residency requirement will not guarantee more qualified applicants or a larger applicant pool. no one has done an analysis on the current applicants and looked at a comprehensive recruiting approach. in short, we do not know the primary reason recruiting is down. we assume its the residency requirement because; who wants to live in memphis? you nor jim strickland have any data that the residency rule is hindering recruitment. can you show pre-2005 data where the pool of applicants flourished and the police department could not hire qualified people because of an officer surplus? the council lowered the education requirements. did this move increase qualified applicants?
furthermore, in the efficiency study done by deloitte our officer to citizen ratio was not sub-par. it was inline with other metro's. do we really need more officers? could it be our high crime is related to other causes, i.e. corresponding high unemployment rate? are we using our current force in the right way?

godwin promised with blue crush we would need less officers now he wants more officers. i do believe that the officer recruiting is a symptom of a larger issue. an issue that this blog used to blog about - young people leaving the region. young people are leaving the region not just the city. they are leaving from the mid-south period. most of the growth in other areas is a redistribution of the same people. you know this, yet you base your argument on the "black middle class" and how the government is trying to protect these jobs? very weak argument indeed.

Anonymous said...

First, is it not considered discrimination to allow police an paramedics to live anywhere in Shelby county or now possibly anywhere within 20 miles and not let other city employees? My point is, whatever rule they decide they need to be fair across the board.

Anonymous said...

In the African American community, the policing situation is a two edge sword! It really has to be viewed from that two dimensional standpoint as well. It’s a love, hate relationship. We are just as afraid of them as we are of criminals. There is no reprimand for mistreatment, law suits are never settled, complaints are swept under the rugs and you never hear how a police makes a mistake and shoot a White child. If I began to tell you the horror stories that I know first hand, you wouldn't believe me.

If the truth be told, most people leave Memphis, to go to surrounding areas because of the double property taxes (city & county). Don’t forget, half of the council members want to take away more possible property and sale taxes, by allowing non-residuals to take direct tax dollars to other communities. Also, Memphis sales taxes are higher than the two other boarder states. The yearly car inspection that cost about $112 each year is a big deterrent. And last, poor schools are very unattractive. They receive the support directly from the tax revenue of city of Memphis homeowners too. A Memphis homeowner is forced to bare the burden of dual governments. I wonder who those council members are looking out for. We only have two big tourist (revenue) attractions, which are Beal Street & Graceland.

Last, out of a pool of 685,000, the director and the human resource department, can't find 200 police...Hispanic, Black, White, Jew, Gentile, Oriental, Indian, high school graduates, college degree, bond or free persons to work as police? What is the real "big elephant" in the room? Are you and those council members not concerned about the overwhelming discrepancies in the hiring practices of the police department? It seems to me that the director is purposely holding out on those 200 jobs to build their own agenda...