37 percent of workers left city after residency rule falls

City leaders still disagree with state court ruling.Dayton unions say it’s a matter of personal freedom.

Digging deeper

The Dayton Daily News has followed the city’s residency rule and an Ohio Supreme Court ruling that overturned it, now taking an in-depth look today at how many workers had left Dayton in the five years since the requirement ended.

Five years after the city of Dayton was forced to eliminate its residency requirement for its employees, more than one in three workers live outside of the city limits, according to data obtained by this newspaper.

Dayton officials in 2009 predicted a mass exodus out of the city when the Ohio Supreme Court upheld a state law prohibiting municipalities from mandating employees live in specific areas. Dayton employees for years were required to live in the city.

Dayton City Manager Tim Riordan said the predictions have proven correct, which he said is unfortunate because people care deeply about where they live and have a stake in strengthening their community.

“If the people all lived in the city, they’re investing themselves, their money and their time and effort in the city’s neighborhoods,” he said.

Union members said employees who live elsewhere are no less dedicated to their jobs, they just prefer residing in the suburbs, rural areas, cities where they have roots or communities with excellent school districts.

“It’s about freedom to choose,” said Cole Niswonger, spokesman for the Dayton Firefighters Local 136.

The city of Dayton employs about 1,956 people, of which, 718 live outside of city boundaries (37 percent), according to city data.

Most of these workers reside in nearby suburbs, including Kettering, Beavercreek, Centerville, Huber Heights and Tipp City. A small number live in Cincinnati, Columbus and Monroe.

The city of Dayton had a residency requirement for years, but eventually it became the source of a legal dispute.

The city campaigned for a charter amendment to make the residency requirement law. In 1987, Dayton voters overwhelmingly approved the measure.

The city strictly enforced the rules, investigating and firing dozens of employees for violations.

Ohio lawmakers in 2006 passed legislation prohibiting cities from enacting and enforcing residency requirements.

After legal challenges and appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the law in June 2009. About 130 cities and villages in the state had some type of requirement then.

About 10 months after the decision, 9 percent of Dayton workers had already moved outside of the municipality’s boundaries. Dayton officials said they believed a mass outmigration was imminent, but only time would tell.

The data show employees have fled the city in large numbers, especially considering the recent, troubled state of the housing market, which made it difficult for people to sell their homes and move, Riordan said.

The share of employees who reside outside of the city will only continue to grow, said Riordan, who was integral in placing the charter amendment on the ballot in 1987.

Riordan said he does not begrudge employees who live elsewhere.

But he contends workers who call Dayton home have a special connection to the city’s well-being and quality of life. He said these workers will go the “extra mile” to make the city a better place.

“We have plenty of good employees who live outside the city, but I’d love to see them inside the city and have that same passion,” he said.

The residency requirements were a problem that prevented talented people from applying for and obtaining jobs with the city if they or their families preferred to live in rural areas, suburbs or other communities in which they had connections, Niswonger said.

Employees care about the state of city, no matter where they live, because they spend a great deal of time there and have relationships with citizens, he said.

Most city employees still live in Dayton, and the number of workers who do not falls far short of the predictions made five years ago, Niswonger said.

“I remember when this whole thing was going on, it sounded like everyone was going to do their best to get out of the city as fast as they could,” he said. “And that’s not what it has come down to.”

Randy Beane, past president of the Dayton Fraternal Order of Police, said he guessed five years ago that about one-third of police officers and other employees would move out of Dayton in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.

Beane said some officers wanted to relocate for schools, because when they lived in Dayton, they were paying to send their children to private schools.

Beane said officers do not have to live in the city to be devoted to it.

“I think, overall, people are happy having the option of living where they want,” he said.

Residency rules helped urban development because employees who were forced to live in the city increased demand for housing and boosted demand for goods and services, said Melvyn Durchslag, emeritus law professor at Case Western Reserve School of Law.

But that raises the question of fairness, because the development is being financed in part by a captive group of working-class people, he said.

“Why shouldn’t cops and firefighters have the same access to good schools that law professors and journalists have?” he said.

In 2009, Nan Whaley helped conduct a survey of 375 city employees for her graduate college class. Whaley, now Dayton’s mayor, was a city commissioner at the time.

The survey found that about 42 percent of employees would move if the residency requirement was lifted.

Whaley said there has not been a mass exodus out of the city, but more people would have moved if not for the housing crisis.

“Is it as bad as they said five years ago, when they said the sky was falling? Probably not,” she said.

But Whaley said she wishes the residency restrictions still existed, because city employees earn middle-class wages and they improve the areas in which they live.

“I still don’t agree with the law, but we follow the law,” she said. “We just have this fundamental belief that you do more where you live.”