Residency: Jackson should expand hiring base

A proposal by the Jackson City Council’s Planning Committee to expand the city’s employment residency requirement beyond the presents boundaries of Hinds County is one that should be adopted by the full council when it’s put to a vote in July.

Currently, municipal employees must live in Hinds County to hold a job with the city. Under the proposed expansion, the residency boundary would be pushed 40 miles into the area surrounding the county. The proposed expansion would extend the city’s employment area north into Holmes County, east close to Scott County, west into Warren County and south to Lincoln County.

A past impediment has been the consent decree that the city entered into to solve longstanding hiring and promotion issues with city police and fire unions.

Residency should not be a requirement, as the 400-plus-member force remains woefully inadequate. The city’s exhaustive 1999 Maple-Linder police study recommended 680 officers, with the 450 officers authorized then deemed “woefully understaffed” with “very little flexibility to fight crime.”

It hasn’t gotten much better since then. Jackson needs police – experienced police, rookies, you name it: the best available. Arbitrary hiring rules like the residency requirement shouldn’t interfere.

Cities like Memphis and Dallas have already taken the lead in expanded residency requirements to facilitate a larger applicant pool for municipal jobs.

The goal of hiring Jackson or Hinds County residents – all other things being equal – is a noble one. Taxpayers believe in their taxes going to employ city workers with a vested interest in the city they serve.

The worst part of the current residency requirement is that it is selective enforced. The city has winked and nudged at the residency requirement over the years to the point that it has become unevenly enforced.

The proposed expansion is one that makes more sense and that can be evenly enforced. It also make sense to get the issue out of the way this summer before the upcoming 2009 municipal campaign season begins in earnest this fall and all issues are suspect of being unnecessarily politicized.

Expanding Jackson employment residency requirements is an idea whose time has come. Protectionism that makes citizens less safe makes no sense. The bottom line is hiring qualified, motivated city employees.

Clarion Ledger
6/24/8