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St. Louis’ Worker Residency Requirement Heads To November Ballot

St. Louis City Hall
Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis residents will vote in November on whether city employees can live where they want to.

St. Louis voters will decide whether to let most city employees live outside its boundaries.

The Board of Aldermen voted 22-4 Wednesday to put the current residency requirement on the November ballot. Mayor Lyda Krewson, who will sign the measure, backs eliminating the requirement.

“I just want to get this to the voters,” said Alderman Joe Vaccaro, D-23rd Ward, who sponsored the legislation. “Let them make the decision.”

Now, almost all city employees must live in the city. If voters approve the change, the requirement would only apply to elected officials and high-level mayoral appointees.

Though supporters have in the past focused on boosting hiring in the police department as a key reason for needing the change, Alderwoman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward, chose on Wednesday to emphasize the ability to make it easier for the city to hire entry-level workers as well.

“We’re out there trying to offer $35,000 for a beginning entry-level job and ask people to move. It’s folly,” she said.

But opponents said the city needs to focus instead on improving its hiring process.

“Every time this issue comes up for discussion, inevitably it will turn to how our personnel department is operating, how civil service operates,” said Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward. “We keep talking about residency as the root of these issues, but we’re not calling in the personnel director, or Civil Service Commission members, to have discussions around how the system is actually operating.”

Alderman Jesse Todd, D-18th Ward, said the city needed to make better use of its job training division, known as SLATE, more often.

“I think more than 90 percent of the jobs in the city of St. Louis can be done by people who live in St. Louis. And this would help reduce our crime rate,” he said.

The legislation passed under a haze of procedural questions, including whether it had been properly approved by a committee that reviews bills for formatting and grammatical errors. There were also questions about whether Board President Lewis Reed had properly called Wednesday’s meeting. Aldermen generally meet Fridays, and while special meetings are allowed, there was debate about whether the proper motion had been made to hold one.

Use-of-force legislation

Aldermen on Wednesday also sent Krewson legislation changing some of the use-of-force policies followed by the police department.

“This isn’t any sort of radical change,” said Alderman Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward “I think it’s necessary to have some common sense measures like this come into place in order to maintain and restore the respect between the community and the police department.”

The bill bans chokeholds and strangleholds; requires police to de-escalate a situation when possible; establishes a policy that requires police to intervene if a fellow officer is inappropriately using force; and requires officers to report if they have pointed their weapons at someone regardless of whether they pulled the trigger. Many of these, including a ban on chokeholds, are already department policy.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.