Aldermen reject bill to put city residency requirement on ballot

CITY HALL – A bill calling for an election on whether the city should lift its residency requirement for hiring appears to be dead, at least in its current form.

The Board of Aldermen voted 16-11 on Friday against the measure for a November 2020 vote on changing the city charter to drop the residency requirement. The bill could be back with provisions allowing hiring outside but only after the city has tried to find qualified workers within its boundaries.

Officials including Mayor Lyda Krewson have said allowing the hiring outside the city could reduce the large number of vacancies in positions, including police officers, within city government.

Late Friday afternoon, the mayor issued a statement criticizing the aldermen’s rejection of the bill.

We are down 120 police officers in the city. St. Louis County is 60 police officers short, and they don’t have a residency requirement,” the mayor said.  “We also need mechanics, Forestry Department workers and commercial drivers. Keeping the residency requirement in place and telling employees where they have to live is not competitive hiring.”

But opponents, led by a contingent from the north side, said that qualified workers were available inside St. Louis but that the city wasn’t doing enough to find them. They also said African-Americans would be hurt most by opening up hiring to those from other areas.

“Why don’t you see commercials on the TV saying the city of St. Louis is hiring?” Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley said.

“Why do we not have hiring events?” Bosley asked. “If we are really looking for qualified individuals in the city, we should hear about it all day long.”

Eighteenth Ward Alderman Jesse Todd said the bill would hurt African-Americans. “We can work, but the problem right now is we’re not being given jobs,” Todd said. “You don’t want to see black people with jobs.”

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joe Vacarro asked that final action on the bill be delayed, to provide for more time to discuss it.

And Alderwoman Annie Rice, who represents the Eighth Ward, said St. Louis wasn’t the only place that had problems. St. Louis County also has a shortage of police.

The bill’s sponsor, 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard, said the board had been working on the measure since last year. She said she was willing to have bills introduced to have the city try to hire within St. Louis before it hired outside. But that shouldn’t be part of any charter change proposal, she said.

“We need put this to the voters,” she said.

Howard speculated that opponents of her bill were trying to negotiate for another bill, which calls for a charter change election that would keep the number of wards and aldermen at 28 instead of reducing them to 14 starting on Dec. 31, 2021.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, who voted against the bill, said he might vote for another one so long as it called for advertising for and trying to fill positions with qualified applicants. He said he often heard from city residents who wanted to apply. Later he would hear their applications didn’t go anywhere, he said.

Twentieth Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer tried without success to amend Howard’s bill to allow hiring outside of the city after a 60-day search for someone within the city had failed. Her amendment would have required an annual report to the Board of Aldermen on recruiting practices and having an open discussion about them afterwards.

Spencer said she was considering introducing a bill with those requirements herself.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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