Residency Rule Rescinded

By Mike Kroll

A long-time rule of employment for City of Galesburg hires was that they reside within the city limits or face termination. New hires have typically been given a short period of time to establish city residence and then must continually maintain a Galesburg residence or they may be fired without further cause by the city manager. This rule has long been a source of contention between employees and the city council but that is all about to change. As the result of an arbitrator's ruling Galesburg employees may soon be permitted to live anywhere within a twenty mile radius of city hall.

Word of arbitrator Elliott Goldstein's ruling arrived at city hall Monday and the ruling itself was dated January 27th. This decision dates back to an arbitration hearing held in July 2004 regarding issues between the city and the union representing Galesburg police officers. Galesburg officials have long contended that public safety employees were on-call for emergencies even off duty and one of the reasons for the residency rule was to insure their ready availability for emergency recall where necessary. In addition to living within the city limits such employees have been expected to respond within a 30-minute period to an emergency recall notification.

The rationale for the residency requirement has always gone beyond just the need of emergency personnel to respond rapids when needed. Over the years various city council members have made their feelings known that city employees should also pay city taxes and fees. Whenever this issue has come up before the city council in the past they have always opted to continue the residency policy and instructed the city manager to enforce it. "During the nine years I have served as Galesburg city manager I believe I have had to fire two employees for failure to meet the residency requirement," said Gary Goddard. "The issue has come up more often but in most instances the affected employee has chosen to either comply and move back within the city limits or quit city employment."

During negotiations with the police union the issue was raised once again with the union requesting their members' right to live anywhere within Illinois and the city standing fast to the residency requirement. Goldstein's ruling appears to have taken both sides by surprise since he has fashioned what appears to be an arbitrary compromise by specifying the 20-mile radius from city hall. In a map prepared by GIS coordinator Jim Cueno and shown adjacent to this article it can clearly be seen that the circle encompasses parts of five counties including nearly all of Knox County and roughly two-thirds of Warren County.

According to Goddard once this issue is finalized with the police union the elimination of the residency requirement for most other city employees will soon follow. The largest majority of other city employees belong to AFSME and Goddard says their contract includes a "me too" clause. On the otherhand Goddard contends that the contract for city fire fighters has no such "me too" clause and any change in the residency requirement for fire fighters would therefore be a point of negotiation later this year rather than an automatic given. Non-repesented city employees will probably see their residency requirement lifted as well once police contract negotiations are completed to conform with those changes.

"And that doesn't necessarily mean we will end up going with the 20-mile radius either," added Goddard. "This is still a matter of negotiation and it may well develop that police union representatives agree to some other modification to the residency rule, perhaps extending it to include all of Knox County. One thing is clear, the city will not be budging on the 30-minute response rule."

Interestingly living in some of the areas within the circle would make it damn near impossible to meet the 30-minute response requirement (that remains in effect with the arbitrator's ruling). For example, getting from the Victoria area to Galesburg under normal conditions will take more than 30 minutes. The same would apply to London Mills or Williamsfield. However, the 30-minute rule should not be an issue for a city employee living in Monmouth or Woodhull or Oneida. And that 30-minute rule would seem to be pointless for non-emergency personnel such as secretaries or park division employees.

Fire fighters who have heard about the arbitrator's ruling are incensed that it will not be automatically extended to them as well as the police union. At least some believe that their contract also includes language equivalent to the AFSME "me too" clause. Galesburg fire fighters work in 24-hour shifts, 24-on, 48-off. According to the current contract between fire fighters and the city all fire fighters are to consider themselves as on-call for the initial 24 hours following a shift. Fire fighters regularly do get called back when there is a structure fire or other large blaze that demands extra manpower or ties up most of the shift on duty.

From a practical perspective the real impact of any change in the residency rule is not really on current employees but rather will impact future employees who will now have the option of not moving to Galesburg as a condition of employment. Such a change may well be in the city's benefit as valuable perspective city employees who currently live nearby but not within the city limits may now be able to apply for city employment without facing the inevitable cost and inconvenience of moving into Galesburg. Goddard himself admits it is unlikely that many current city employees will suddenly decide to move out of the city just because they now can.