The Milwaukee residency debate
Photo: Video by tmj4.com
MILWAUKEE - Police officers and fire fighters are no longer required to live in the city of Milwaukee.
Governor Scott Walker lifted the more-than-70-year-old requirement.
While the new law lifted the rule, the fight is far from over.
Whether it’s a call in the middle of the night for shots fired, or a rush to stop a fire burning out of control, there’s no question Milwaukee’s first responders always answer the call.
But there’s a huge debate when it comes to whether the men and woman who serve and protect should be required to live in the city they work.
“They wanted their cake and they wanted to eat it too,” said Common Council President, Willie Hines.
"I don't view it as an issue. I view it as an opportunity for my members to experience having choices,” explained Dave Seager, president of the Milwaukee Professional Fire Fighters Association.
The debate over residency dates back decades.
Oshi Adelabu made the choice back in late 1970’s to join the city’s fire department.
“They've been trying to break residency ever since I came on the job 30 years ago,” said Adelabu.
He retired from the city as a captain, but he still proudly lives in Milwaukee.
Adelabu believes living where you work benefits city workers and the community.
“You have a connection. You see them not just as job or every third day as firefighters worked instead have a relationship with community,” explained Adelabu.
This one issue has placed an obvious stain on the city’s relationship with union representatives.
Hines is one of many who argued this lift of residency is an attack on Milwaukee.
“We don't need big brother interfering creating harm on the city of Milwaukee,” said Hines.
“The city told us to take it to the state,” explained Seager.
So both the fire and police unions did just that.
“We have been pursuing this objective for many years both under leadership of Republican and Democrat control.”
But it wasn’t until now, when Republican Governor Scott Walker lifted the ban.
Walker had the support of both unions, leaving many to suggest the motive.
“It's hard to get away from it being political patronage for paying back the police and fire for having support the governor,” questioned Hines.
When asked what changed over the years to finally get residency lifted, Seager said, “The best way I can answer that is I've been persistent with my objective.”
Seager insisted the drive to change the rule is about the worker’s families.
He claimed they want better educational options for their children other than MPS.
Much of the fear of the change has centered on a mass exodus.
So the I-Team checked around with other cities.
Cities like Minneapolis, Detroit, Denver and Cleveland once had residency rules on the books.
All were lifted or loosened. In fact in 2009 the Ohio Supreme Court ruled cities in that state could not legally require workers to stay.
We asked the city of Cleveland did it see a mass exodus or big flight.
Cleveland city leaders told us no. It told the I-Team four years after the lift of residency, 28.5% of city workers live outside the city of Cleveland.
“Which indicates 72 percent still reside in the city,” said Seager.
But Hines examined those numbers differently. “Those are large numbers. One-fourth, potentially almost a third of your employees, that's significant,” said Hines.
The city of Minneapolis lifted its policy in 1999. That city’s population remained the steady. It even increased slight over past 13 years.
According to the U.S. Census, 382,618 people lived in Minneapolis in 2000. It’s estimated 387,753 people live in the city in 2013.
As for the City of Milwaukee, it plans to fight to have the lift signed by the governor overturned.
That’s the despite the fact history shows cities who have tried simply don’t win.
We asked Hines why fight at this point.
He replied, “You fight it because you fight and you don’t give up. You don’t just roll over.”
That fight for city could lead to the state’s high court.
For now the city has order supervisors to continue to enforce the residency rule.
As for the union, they got a small victory because they can only live 15 miles away, not anywhere like members wanted.