Aldermen direct city officials to continue enforcing Milwaukee rules
Two days after Gov. Scott Walker ended residency requirements as part of the new state budget he signed into law Sunday, Milwaukee lawmakers dug in their heels, vowing to preserve the 75-year-old ordinance and fight the state in court.
The Milwaukee Common Council adopted two resolutions Tuesday designed to maintain the requirement that city employees live within city limits. In a 13-2 vote, council members directed all city officials to continue making residency a stipulation of public employment and asked the city attorney to fight the state’s provision in court.
That result came after an hour of deliberation with City Attorney Grant Langley in a closed council session. Ald. Michael Murphy described the two resolutions as “both an offensive and a defensive action.”
“Today we have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe,” Murphy said before the vote. “Those people who choose to apply for a job (with) the City of Milwaukee, who choose to be employed by the taxpayers of Milwaukee, we have decided that they must live in the city of Milwaukee.”
Ald. Joe Davis and Ald. Bob Donovan voted against the measures. Davis said he agrees with residency laws but disagrees with the council’s procedural tactics.
Donovan let his opposition to the resolutions be known Monday through a satirical statement.
“(I)f you don’t like laws, no problem, just ignore them. Better yet, order other people to do the same,” Donovan wrote. “I’m told that this effort is being engineered by the mayor’s office. No surprise there, but sad that that high office is being tarnished in such a way. Needless to say, if this insanity passes it passes absent of my support.”
Mayor Tom Barrett applauded the council’s actions, saying the resolutions represent an effort to “defend Wisconsin’s constitution and to defend our charter ordinance, which has a 75-year history.”
Barrett added that continued enforcement is legally sound because the local residency ordinance — added to the charter in 1938 — is protected under a 1924 amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution.
The amendment provided for local authority over city statutes and operations, subject only the state constitution and to legislative measures “of statewide concern” that uniformly “affect every city or every village.”
Barrett said Milwaukee is disproportionately affected by the state’s move. He said similar conflict among states and cities over residency laws have arisen in Colorado, where Denver prevailed, and in Missouri, Michigan and Ohio, where the states prevailed.
“We’re not disregarding state statute,” Barrett said. “We view it as defending the Wisconsin Constitution.”
Over vocal opposition from Barrett and council members, state lawmakers gutted the residency requirement in the 2013-’15 budget, strictly limiting the stipulation for police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel and striking it altogether for other public employees, such as teachers.
The council’s move Tuesday pits the city in a legal battle against the state. Dana Brueck, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin attorney general’s office, declined to comment on the council’s resolutions or on the looming legal controversy.
Mike Crivello and Dave Seager — presidents of the Milwaukee Police Association and Milwaukee Professional Firefighters Local 215, respectively — said the council is demanding that city employees break the law. Both organizations have long sought to end residency requirements, thus enabling police officers and firefighters to live outside city limits.
“I think this is despicable and a slap in the face to the State of Wisconsin,” Seager said.
Crivello said the council’s actions are anathema to the oath taken by police officers, who “are required to enforce the law passed by the state.”
Langley, who said he is in the initial stages of putting together the city’s complaint, said the case will come down to whether residency is a local or a statewide issue. If the court decides it is a local issue, Langley said, “the state cannot give the city this kind of directive.”