This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 13, 2012 - The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that the General Assembly does have the power to intervene when it comes to residency requirements for St. Louis firefighters. That means that city firefighters – like city police – can reside outside St. Louis after seven years on the job.
The court’s action overrules lower-court decisions siding with the city, which argued that the city charter gave the city the power to impose the residency requirement that firefighters reside within the city limits.
A spokesman for firefighters union local 73 praised the court action but sought to be conciliatory. “This ruling will not impact the excellent services provided by the St. Louis Fire Department. The men and women of the St. Louis Fire Department remain dedicated to ensuring the safety and security of the citizens of our great city,” said the union in a statement posted on its website.
Jeff Rainford, chief of staff to St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, played down the decision, although he did call it “aggravating” that the Supreme Court has ruled that the General Assembly could legally get involved in the city’s internal affairs.
“From a policy point of view, it’s not a big deal. From a principle point of view, it is aggravating,” Rainford said, “The principle that the mayor was defending was that St. Louis was a ‘home rule’ city.”
“You win some, you lose some,” Rainford said, noting that the city recently won a court fight over its powers to change the firefighters’ pension system.
In this case, the court’s decision ends a two-year-old battle over the state residency law, which had been sought by city firefighters who wanted their children to attend public schools outside St. Louis, which has had an unaccredited school district. The district now is provisionally accredited, but the law allows firefighters to live outside the city in that case as well.
The law in question states that the city’s residency rule for firefighters could be re-imposed if the city’s public schools regain accreditation. Until then, they are under the same seven-year residency provision governing city police.
The sponsor of the firefighters’ residency bill was state Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, who Rainford noted lost his re-election bid on Nov. 6.
Rainford acknowledged that the law could invite future intervention by the General Assembly in St. Louis affairs. But because of Lembke’s defeat, “hopefully we won’t see any more of this nonsense anytime soon,” Rainford said.