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Slay supports citywide vote on residency rule for city workers

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 4, 2010 - St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says he's all for St. Louis voters deciding the fate of the residency rule for most city employees -- but he opposes an outright repeal proposed in Jefferson City.

On his blog today, Slay said it should be up to city voters to decide what rules City Hall employees must live by.

Some Republican leaders in the state House are cosponsoring a proposal that would exempt firefighters from the residency rule in any school district that has lost state certification or is under threat of losing it. The public school district in St. Louis fits in with the latter.

Slay and his staff cite several problems with the legislative proposal, including the fact that it applies only to firefighters -- and not other emergency personnel -- and that it violates St. Louis' home-rule charter. There's also the matter of whether the residency issue would be revisited if a school system is accredited.

"The history of the city’s residency rule is interesting. It was first imposed because we could, then retained because we had to," Slay wrote. "The current situation of requiring most employees (veteran police officers and some specialty employees are exempted) to live within the city limits is somewhere between the two. I personally agree that city employees should accept residency as a condition of employment, but I do not believe that it would be the end of world if that were not so."

Slay said he thought that living conditions in the city had improved so much over the last decade that he believes that most St. Louis city employees would choose to live in the city.

A bill before the St. Louis Board of Aldermen would ask city voters their opinion of the residency rule for all city employees. Changing the city charter, which now contains the residency rule, requires approval of the 60 percent of the voters who cast ballots.

"Reasonable people can debate the merits of a residency rule," the mayor wrote. "But, I strongly believe that City voters, not legislators from other parts of the state, should make the decision. So, I support giving our voters a chance to have their say, and strongly oppose legislation in Jefferson City that would repeal the rule without a vote of the people."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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