Ohio Senate's Coronation of Burger King Public Servants

The Ohio Senate recently passed SB 82, stripping municipalities of the right to impose residency requirements on city employees. SB 82 opens the way for the coronation of "The Have It Your Way - Burger King Public Servants," who will rule from exurban castles that sprawl across the region.

Section 3 of SB 82 reads "The General Assembly finds, in enacting section 9.481 of the Revised Code in this act, that it is a matter of statewide concern to generally allow the employees of Ohio's political subdivisions to choose where to live, and that it is necessary to generally prohibit political subdivisions from requiring their employees, as a condition of employment, to reside in any specific area of the state in order to provide for the comfort, health, safety, and general welfare of those public employees."

Comfort, health, safety and general welfare are relative terms. The steady paycheck and benefit package are keys to the highway. Class is the critical factor.

"In cities struggling to maintain a middle-class for the sake of community stability, such as our major cities, we do see comprehensive residency requirements," writes John Mahoney, Deputy Director of the Ohio Municipal League in a letter to the Ohio legislature. He continues, "in addition, SB 82 would substitute the judgment of the General Assembly for the judgment of dozens of city councils across the state, which acted by ordinance, on the residency of city employees and the terms of employment for those employees."

Police and fire unions pushed this initiative against the local will of taxpayers and voters, who must foot the bill for the industrial strength compensation demands. From a common sense working man's perspective, public workers willing to accept the local paycheck should create community values in the neighborhoods they serve. In fleeing the will of the people for greener pastures, public workers advance class warfare, neighborhood depopulation and social chaos. The flight of these middle class "Have It Your Way Burger King Civil Servants" from the city makes way for drug dealers, muggers, pimps, bottom feeders, property flippers, loan sharks, hustlers and the unemployed.

In a typical Midwestern industrial city the public sector employees constitute the last vestige of a stable middle class. In the flight, they destroy wealth, erode tax base and advance the destruction of the very place they are paid to serve.

While Lakewood does not currently impose residency requirements, the city's bargaining power is threatened by this take-away of locally rooted democratic power. Consider the image of city workers driving SUVs to distant and more affluent suburbs where the taxes are inevitably lower. When these workers demand wage increases to pay for accelerating gasoline bills, while swelling another community's residential property tax base, they erode Lakewood's fiscal position. They push the city and the world toward an unsustainable situation. It is fiscally irresponsible and unsustainable to ignore the pressures that workers who wish to live in distant, homogenous, upscale communities are creating for this city. The people of Lakewood pay the bill for the services delivered under home rule and may at some point in the future wish to bargain on residency. State officials have no constructive purpose in stripping this option.

C.J. Prentiss believes "people have a constitutional right to live where they want." In response, Cleveland blogger Bill Calahan counters, "C.J. Prentiss supports constitutional protection for white flight."

The abolition of residency requirements operates along the same lines as the current subsidization of sprawl. In fact, HB 82 allows municipal governments to set residency requirements so long as they include the counties surrounding the place in question.

Perhaps there is a larger regionalization agenda behind this legislation which so dilutes municipal home rule power. As suburban growth in Cuyahoga County pushes beyond the boundary, such a policy will fuel a building boom. Imagine if just half of Cleveland's thousand plus resident workers went shopping elsewhere for new homes. If they purchased homes at $175k, there would be sales of $87,500,000, not to mention interest on mortgages.

In pursuit of growth at all costs, individual desire for the bloated exurban dream house is unleashed among urban public servants. An ethical commitment to do no harm to the community they serve is lost.

In the individualist argument used to sell the idea, municipal home rule is sacrificed on the altar of consumerist, self-calculating interest. Stripping democratic self-rule from the local level allows for new distributions of power.

As power is stripped from municipalities statewide, regionalist efforts to "grow" northeast Ohio become more closely tied to corporate globalist interests. By cutting loose the middle class of Cleveland's public sector from urban neighborhoods, regionalist objectives come more closely into view. In this global perspective, one may speculate that C.J. Prentiss hopes this instigation will advance a regional agenda that brings resources back from the periphery to the urban core. However, regionalist redistribution schemes are not likely to emerge with a Republican controlled state house.

Regional governments, urban scholar Jane Jacobs suggests, are often designed for and by corporations. Such schemes mask the unraveling of the progressive tax structure erected during the industrial era.

Looking ahead, one sees property taxes rising, yet failing to support adequately the public goods and services that make or break the quality of life in urban and inner ring communities. As economic pressures mount, residency requirements can easily become a front in the war for democratic self-rule and sustainable municipalities.

Like Cleveland, Lakewood needs all the tools of home rule to satisfy democratic and sustainability requirements. Unfortunately "Have It Your Way Burger King Civil Servants" have pushed politicians on both sides of the aisle to take away democratic home rule tools. In stripping the urban core of the middle class, they set the stage for debate over the redistribution flow in the regionalist agenda. Have it your way, indeed!
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Volume 1, Issue 5, Posted 11.11 AM / 23rd August 2005.