Residency Shouldn't be a Requirement
by Adam Lang
August 30, 2009
With the recent stories involving thousands of city employees not paying fees such as property taxes and water bills over a period approaching 20 years, it brings up the question if residency requirements are really necessary for city employment.
One of the main goals for any organization when it comes to hiring practices is to get the best people available for what you are willing to pay. Currently Philadelphia doesn’t do that since it will automatically disqualify someone, no matter how qualified they are, just because they will live across the city border.
The defense frequently put forward is that people living in the City have a vested interest in the welfare of where they live and inherently are better employees.
When we have staffers in offices of Council members that haven’t paid property taxes in 25 years (Martin Cabry), council aides that frequently report fraudulent hours of when they work (Latrice Bryant) and department managers that overspend million dollar yearly budgets in the first four months (Ron Cuie) – with their supervisors allowing it (Councilwoman Blackwell, Councilman Goode and Mayor Nutter, respectively) - does that seem like they care about Philadelphia more than other people would?
Would it be a bad thing if someone replaced them that actually paid their taxes, showed up to work and did a competent job even though their zip code may not be in city limits? (Yes, we sadly strive for competence, not necessarily excellence.)
If geography inherently makes someone a better servant of the people they live next to, then why does PA and NJ keep getting so many public and civil servants going to jail for stealing from the people they live next to?
Another defense put forward is that if they live in Philadelphia, money they are paid has a better chance of going back into the local economy. Councilwoman Anna Verna herself stated how little concern there is for that when she voted for the sales tax increase and then proceeded to openly encourage Philadelphia residents to go shop in the suburbs and Delaware.
The ultimate end result of residency requirements is that you either hold people hostage or pick an employee based on zip code and not resume.
Philadelphia needs to make sure:
* We have the best people if we want the best services.
* We strive to have people wanting to live in the City and not being forced to.
* We have employees that pay their taxes not just because it is the legal thing to do, but also because it is the right thing to do.
A core reform to delivering better services in Philadelphia is to hire people based on ability and not geography.