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Belleville Moves Toward Ending Residency Requirement For City Employees

Belleville is moving toward eliminating a requirement that some government employees live within city limits. The city council relaxed that restriction for non-appointed employees last month and is set to do the same for mayoral appointees this month.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Belleville is moving toward eliminating a requirement that some government employees live within city limits. The city council relaxed that restriction for non-appointed employees last month and is set to do the same for mayor appointees this month.

BELLEVILLE — Mayor Patty Gregory is expanding her push to eliminate the requirement that government employees live within city limits.

Belleville had required some of its full-time employees to relocate to the city within 15 months of starting their job, but last month, the city council voted unanimously to relax residency requirements for nonunion and non-appointed employees.

Now, those city workers must only relocate to St. Clair County within 18 months of employment.

The old requirements were one of the first issues Gregory looked into after her election in April.

“I felt like we needed to have a policy across the board,” she said. “This is going to help with continuity in the city and with our employment procedures.”

Gregory said she wanted uniform rules for residency because of differences in the nine collective bargaining agreements Belleville has with different unions.

“It really ended up over the years being kind of a puzzlement where some were allowed [to live outside the city] and some weren’t,” she said.

The city still needs to amend the residency requirements for mayor-appointed positions, like the police or fire chief. Gregory said she expects the council will pass such a resolution at next Monday’s meeting.

The current residency requirements for those appointed positions stifle the mayor’s ability to make internal promotions, said Belleville Police Chief William Clay III.

“It’s the law of unintended consequences,” he said. “What you’re doing is limiting your pool for who you can appoint from within your own department.”

Belleville police officers aren’t required to live in the city because of their union contract, but the chief and assistant chief positions don’t enjoy that same status, creating a bottleneck for officers who don’t want to move, Clay said.

“These are the people you brought up, that have institutional history of the organization, they know the personalities,” he said. “And you have a feel for them because you work and see them.”

Similar dynamics apply to the Belleville Fire Department.

Belleville’s Human Resources department initially proposed relaxing the city’s residency requirement last month as a way to more easily attract applicants.

“We are so limited, not just on the talent pool, it goes with the housing,” said Human Resources Director Seth Miller in the council meeting. “Good quality individuals, they’re right on the money, and all the sudden they have to move.”

Other aldermen echoed this sentiment.

“In today’s housing market, we could wind up missing out on a truly qualified candidate that we’d really like to be representing and working for the city,” said Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle.

Some on the council were concerned that those living outside the city wouldn’t have as much of a vested interest in the community. Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton said he shared that sentiment for years but added that the city needs to try something new.

“We’ve done things the same way for too long,” he said. “If we’re going to compete with our neighboring communities we’ve got to have a pool of people to draw from that are qualified.”

Most of the communities that surround Belleville have narrower requirements for which employees must reside in their respective city limits, including Collinsville and Edwardsville, where the restrictions only apply to some department heads and unionized employees.

Fairview Heights has no requirement for employees to live in the city, including police officers. One exception is Granite City, which requires city employees to relocate within 90 days of their first day on the job.

Especially coming out of a pandemic, Miller said now is a good opportunity for Belleville to try something new.

“If it doesn’t work, change it back,” he said.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.