A residency requirement for the city of Cincinnati first surfaced in the current political campaign with unintended humor.
Courtis Fuller, Charter Committee candidate for mayor, moved to College Hill after announcing he would run. But he wondered why the move was necessary; after all, he'd lived within a few blocks of the city limits.
Representative democracy requires elected officials live in the jurisdiction of the particular office they seek. Just as we wouldn't want a Kentucky resident representing Cincinnati in Congress, we would not want a suburbanite leading the city.
For similar reasons, many government agencies have residency requirements for employees. Hamilton County Juvenile Court, for example, is advertising for a clinical psychologist. One of the requirements is the person hired must live in the county.
Having police, sanitation workers and clerks live in the city that employs them builds accountability: Employees enjoy, or suffer, the consequences of their own work.
But perhaps residency rules can be better appreciated as affirmative action for city residents. Just as cities give advantages on civil-service tests to veterans, they can give hiring preference to city residents.
In 1997 the Sentinel Police Association, representing black officers, called for a residency requirement as a way to improve police-community relations. In 1999, City Councilman Jim Tarbell advocated giving preference to city residents in city hiring.
Making residency a condition of eligibility for all city jobs would provide a new incentive for living in Cincinnati — an important measure in a city that lost 9 percent of its population in the past decade.
Opponents contend a residency requirements limit the pool of talent, excluding anyone who lives outside the city. But that argument contains within itself the kernel of its own contradiction — city employment often pays better, provides more job security and offers better benefits than work in the private sector.
Shouldn't the city reserve such a valuable asset for its own residents? ©