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updated: 6/19/2013 5:06 PM

Des Plaines drops residency clause for department heads

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Des Plaines has dropped its 12-year-old residency requirement for department heads, ignoring calls for an advisory referendum on the issue.

The city council this week voted 5-3 for an ordinance repealing the requirement that the city's seven department heads must live in town.

The requirement was adopted after a nonbinding, advisory referendum in 2001.

Fifth Ward Alderman Jim Brookman, who voted against repeal, argued the city should again ask residents to vote for what they want. He said aldermen haven't been given enough information about the detriments and benefits of the rule to make an educated decision.

Brookman acknowledged that Fire Chief Alan Wax initially had difficulty selling his home during a housing market slump before moving into Des Plaines.

"There have been some problems with the residency requirement which are valid," he said.

Des Plaines also has had trouble finding qualified applicants for several key department head jobs because of the requirement, according to some city officials.

"I think that there's such a huge pool (of candidates) we are just eliminating just by this stupid rule," 6th Ward Alderman Mark Walsten said. "I think Des Plaines is about the only town left with this residency rule. We need to get over it."

Walsten said it's unreasonable to expect people to uproot their families to work in Des Plaines.

Fourth Ward Alderman Dick Sayad, who also voted against repeal, said three current department heads do not live in town. "What's wrong with our town? Why can't they move here?" he asked.

The most recently hired of those is police Chief William Kushner, who was given 12 months from his hiring last August to relocate. Des Plaines currently is seeking to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Alex Dambach, the city's community and economic development director who came here from New Jersey.

Sayad said voters overwhelmingly supported having the residency requirement in the 2001 referendum. He said he polled more than 100 residents in his ward, and of those who responded, the requirement was favored by a ratio of almost four to one.

"I feel that we should go back and put this on a referendum," he said. "Residents spoke to us and I would honor whatever they say. All the aldermen should listen to our people."

Resident Brian Burkross reminded the aldermen that there were two advisory referendums in the past in which the city council went against the wishes of the majority of residents, one of which involved the creation of the struggling Five Corners taxing district.

Burkross said he doesn't personally support the rule, but he volunteered to collect the signatures required to put the question on a ballot.

"I would like to hear more facts as a resident," said Burkross. "At least make the effort to go out there and see if residents haven't changed their opinion on the residency."

But Brookman's motions to send the issue back to committee for discussion and to put the question to voters failed.

Walsten said the city can't wait to hire a community and economic development director. "We've got to fill this position now," he said. "I'm not going to wait 18 months."

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