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Appeals Court Rules in Favor of City of Milwaukee’s Residency Requirement

Jeramey Jannene, flickr
Yankee Hill neighborhood in Milwaukee

For 75 years, Milwaukee required its employees to live within city limits. The state budget Gov. Scott Walker approved two years ago banned the mandate. An appeals court ruled Tuesday that the city’s rule trumps state law.

In 2013, Walker said he wanted to end the residency requirement because he felt “strongly that people should have the freedom to choose.” Walker referred to the Milwaukee mandate as a wall designed to keep in employees. He insisted it was not key to the city’s success.

“You make a great city by having good schools, by having safe environments and neighborhoods and ultimately by a better business climate,” Walker said.

The city fought back, deciding to enforce the residency requirement – despite the new state law. Police and fire unions sued. On Tuesday, the appeals court ruled in the city’s favor. The judges said the state should not have passed a law that affected just one city and not a statewide issue.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has steadfastly backed the residency rule.

“We will give you a job with good pay, good health care benefits, a good retirement plan, and in exchange we want you to be part of this community. And it’s not just because of a ‘feel good’ nature, but for law enforcement, for Department of Public Works, for first responders, if someone’s living 60 miles away it makes it difficult if you’ve got a snowstorm or you have a fire, for people to get back to work quickly,” Barrett says.

Barrett says the appeals court ruling impacts at least a couple hundred city employees who’ve moved out of Milwaukee.

“All along, we have been saying we are following this through the courts. So if you make a decision to leave the city, that might not be a permanent decision by you, because if the court rules in the way that favors the city you will have a choice to make -- whether you want to continue employment, or whether you want to reside where you’re residing,” Barrett says.

Barrett says the city has not yet decided when to begin enforcing the residency requirement. He says the choice may depend on the plaintiffs’ next move. They could ask the state Supreme Court to consider the matter.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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