Des Plaines aldermen this week voted 5-3 to repeal a requirement that certain city employees, specifically department heads, live in town, a seemingly benign issue that drew passionate arguments from both sides.
The residency requirement was adopted after a nonbinding, advisory referendum in 2001.
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Mayor Matt Bogusz said Monday the issue of residency of city employees, though well intentioned, has caused problems in recent years.
"The proponents of residency back when it first surfaced wanted to make sure that employees were connected to their community, that they were around when emergencies occurred," he said.
"(The change is) because most of the people in the market that live relatively close to us right now won't consider us for department head level jobs," Bogusz added. "Because when you compare us to our competition, and we are in competition for talent just like any business ... I believe that we are the only ones that require all of our department heads to live in town."
Neighboring Park Ridge used to require its city manager to live in town, but that came with a "hefty interest-free loan for their city manager to buy a house in town," Bogusz said.
Most recently Des Plaines hired William Kushner, formerly police chief of Lakemoor and a 35-year law enforcement veteran from Chicago, as its police chief after a nationwide search. Kushner was given 12 months since his hiring in August to relocate into town.
Des Plaines is seeking to fill yet another department head vacancy with the recent resignation of Alex Dambach, the city's community and economic development director.
Sixth Ward Alderman Mark Walsten said though he supported the residency requirement in the past, it's time for a change.
"Just recently I had the opportunity to be acting mayor during our last flood, which was the worst flood in the history of Des Plaines," Walsten said. "The vast majority of people who work here don't live in Des Plaines (but) were here when they were supposed to (be), when we needed them. They performed with flying colors, if you ask me."
Walsten said it's unreasonable to expect people to uproot their families to work in Des Plaines.
"I just think it's outdated and I think it's a failed policy," he said. "You are cutting out such a huge amount of the talent pool, that I don't think it's realistic anymore."
But Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad said there wasn't enough information available for aldermen to make a decision yet.
"All you want to do is slam dunk this," Sayad said. "I think it's baloney. We are talking about seven people (department heads)."
Sayad noted that the fire chief and city manager already live in town, and the new police chief knew of the requirement when he took the job.
"We want people that want to work and live in this town here," he said. "We have not had problems all this time of people moving in here. I would love to have these guys who are department heads see what is going on. That's what they are getting paid for."
Sayad said voters overwhelmingly supported having the residency requirement in the 2001 referendum.
"If you think this should be done, let's put it back to the people and let the people speak," he added.
Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman tried to send the issue back to committee for further evaluation and public input, but his motion failed after Bogusz voted to break a tie.
"I'm not going to vote to throw out something that was passed by a referendum, even if it was advisory in this case," Brookman said.
The ordinance to repeal the residency requirement will be back for approval on second reading at the June 17 city council meeting.