« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - Live here, not there

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  Most radio stations have an unwritten residency requirement. Management would be reluctant to hire a host or newsperson who isn’t committed to living in the city they’re covering. When there’s breaking news, or just a weekend event, having staff that’s able to attend and ‘soak up’ the market is important.

When I worked on Long Island and in Westchester County, both expensive places to live, much of the radio station staff lived far away where rents and mortgages were cheaper. For a time, I was commuting from Connecticut to White Plains – an hour drive. It did make a difference. The old radio adage that ‘live and local’ is best is true.

Wither there will be residency requirements for municipal workers is being debated as part of this year’s budget. Several communities have these rules… including Milwaukee.

A compromise may be in the works. A ‘closeness rule’, perhaps 5-10 miles around a city, might survive for emergency responders. There’s a compelling reason for EMTs, police, and firefighters to live nearby. It improves response time if there was a large emergency where extra staffing was needed. But that argument doesn’t hold true for city staff and teachers. The state will probably exempt them from residency requirements.

You can imagine how a residency ordinance takes hold. Milwaukee’s city council, which has to live within their city districts in order to qualify as candidates, say ‘if we have to live here, you do too.’  But Milwaukee’s schools have actually been harmed by these types of rules. How many good teachers have decided not to take an MPS job because they preferred to live in the suburbs, but couldn’t?

The unspoken argument is that municipal jobs usually pay well, and put a family squarely in the middle class. These are the kinds of people that cities want to keep. Trapping them by law isn’t right. Making the city a place where they’d want to live voluntarily is the right answer.

Chris Conley