Saturday, July 4, 2009
Metro may force new employees to live in Nashville
By Michael Cass • THE TENNESSEAN • July 4, 2009 A proposal to require new Metro employees to live in Davidson County is drawing fire, with critics saying it would shrink the city's recruiting pool, create confusion and take away simple freedoms. "I just don't think it's right that Metro employees should be bound to the land like Russian serfs," Councilman Randy Foster said at a recent meeting. Councilman Eric Crafton is sponsoring the proposal, which would affect workers hired after the bill's passage. Those who live in other counties now would have 90 days after their start date to move here. Current employees would not be forced to relocate. Crafton said working for the city is a privilege, especially when one in 10 adults is unemployed. "In my opinion, it's best that residents who live here and have strong ties here be given the jobs if they become available," he said in an interview Wednesday. "We have the talent pool and educated base to fill all these jobs." Metro required all employees to live in the county until 1994, when the council repealed the rule and required state residency only. Almost 3,300 of roughly 11,000 employees now live outside Davidson County, not counting teachers and other school district workers, according to an analysis prepared by the council's attorney. The attorney, Jon Cooper, said there's nothing illegal about such a requirement as long as it applies to all new employees equally. But several council members said the change would be counterproductive, and Memphis has struggled with a similar 4-year-old policy, according to a recent story in The Commercial Appeal. Councilman Rip Ryman, who has spent more than 20 years in and around Metro government, said the earlier rule was difficult to enforce. The Civil Service Commission typically granted waivers to employees who needed to live near sick relatives in other counties, and some people listed rental property they owned as their residence while actually living elsewhere. "It encouraged people to flat-out lie about where they lived," Councilman Jim Hodge said. Crafton said he was considering adding an amendment to his bill that would allow ownership of property in the county to fulfill the residency requirement. Family illnesses also could earn exemptions, he said. Pros, cons weighedHodge, a Realtor, also raised questions about the financial impact the policy would have on new hires who would be forced to move into the county. "The market to sell (a house) right now is tough," he said. "Some of these people, if they were forced to sell, they probably wouldn't be able to get their money out of the market. Suddenly you've got an employee you're putting in a financial vise." But Crafton said no one is forced to take a job with Metro, and requiring residency doesn't impose any more of a financial hardship than requiring a college degree. "It doesn't hurt anybody because they don't have to come here," he said. Crafton said the policy would strengthen the Davidson County housing market and put more pressure on Metro to improve its school system. More employees living here should mean more students in the system, yielding more education funding from the state, he said. But Councilman Greg Adkins said the opposite needs to happen. Once a strong advocate for forcing employees to live here and reaping the tax revenue they would generate, Adkins now believes it's up to government leaders to make Nashville and Davidson County more attractive places to live. Adkins said he would fight Crafton's proposal "tooth and nail." "Let's make it a more walkable and bikeable place," he said. "Let's make it a more green place. Those are the kinds of things we need to be looking at. "I had it backwards," he said of his earlier stance. "You have to approach it from a philosophical level. The problem is deeper than just mandating that people live here." But one of the city's employee unions believes otherwise. Doug Collier, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 205, said the union supports Crafton's idea. A majority of its "low-wage" workers live in Davidson County. "If I'm drawing my paycheck here, it's only plausible for me to be able to pay my taxes here," Collier said. Hodge, however, said the city has no right to expect to get any of its money back after paying it to employees. Crafton, who agreed to defer the bill indefinitely after council members raised numerous questions three weeks ago, said he might bring back a revised version in the next month.
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