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updated: 7/30/2014 11:50 AM

Elgin may ease residency requirements

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Editor's note: This story was updated to reflect that the last quote in the story should be attributed to Councilman John Prigge, not John Steffen.

Some upper-level Elgin officials would no longer be required to live within city limits if a new proposal is OK'd by the city council.

Council members voted 7-2 this week at the committee of the whole meeting in favor of abolishing the residency requirements for certain positions that have a technical focus: the city's corporation counsel, chief financial officer, human resources director, information technology services director and water director.

City Manager Sean Stegall said it is not necessary for the people who fill these positions to live within the community that they serve. Having the flexibility to search for job candidates outside city limits is imperative to recruiting and retaining the best hires, especially for the position of city attorney, he said.

"You would be making a grave mistake to keep the residency requirement for your next city attorney. You need someone who knows the laws of Illinois," Stegall said. "I'm imploring you to at least act for that position to help plan for the future of this organization."

The residency issue came to the forefront after Chief Financial Officer Colleen Lavery resigned in June because of the requirement to live in Elgin. Lavery lived outside city limits and was approaching the deadline of her five-year exemption to the rule.

Stegall said the current residency requirement for the CFO position would put the city at a competitive disadvantage in the search for Lavery's replacement.

"It's hard to find good people," Councilman Toby Shaw said. "You need every advantage you can get to get the best people. This is a compromise. I think we need to be flexible to go and find the best people we can to serve Elgin."

In the past few years, residency requirements have been discussed repeatedly, but now is the time to act, Mayor David Kaptain said.

"Finally, it got to the point where we felt we had to do it," he said. "It's about changing the job environment for people."

Among 20 surrounding communities, 13 do not have residency requirements, including South Elgin, Naperville and St. Charles, Stegall said.

Six towns required specific employees, like the city manager, to live in town. Only Waukegan requires all city employees to live in the community.

Councilwoman Tish Powell and Councilman Richard Dunne voted against the proposal. Powell said she believes it is important for the city staff to live in Elgin.

"We've got a whole lot to offer, and if people don't want to live here, then maybe they're not the right fit," she said.

Councilman John Prigge urged council members to be realistic, saying potential candidates might not want to uproot their families and make their kids change schools.

"It bothers me that we are going to try to force people to try to get involved in the community," Councilman John Steffen said.

City boundaries have changed over time, Kaptain pointed out.

"Cities touch each other, and you could literally cross the street and be in another community," he said. "Is it fair to make somebody give up his home to move 100 feet?"

The proposal also requires 17 top-level city officials to perform 40 hours of community service, which some council members found unnecessary.

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