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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Ohio Judge Ends Residency Rule For City Workers: Frees 7,200 In Cincinnati To Move

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A state court judge has upheld an Ohio law that nullifies residency rules for city workers. The decision opens the door for nearly 7,200 Cincinnati employees to join the exodus leaving Hamilton County for the fast-growing suburbs that have sprung up in Butler, Warren and Clermont counties. The ruling is sure to be challenged, but it declares the city's requirement employees must live within the boundaries of Hamilton County is now illegal and cannot be enforced.

Retired Hamilton County appeals Judge Bob Gorman has filed an 11-page "memorandum of decision" in Case No. A-0604513. The ruling is not online. Gorman, who handled the case as a visiting judge, said he is waiting for the lawyers from Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann's office and the city solicitor's office to prepare a final entry that will formalize the decision. Cincinnati filed its legal challenge against the state ban on residency requirements for city workers last year. The dispute addressed whether the state can trump local laws in Home Rule cities.

The issue came to a head in the Ohio legislature two years ago. Republicans pushed through a bill unilaterally overturning local ordinances across the state that required city workers to live within the communities that paid their salaries. Some of the residency rules went back to the early 20th Century and were considered a traditional exercise of Home Rule powers.

But SB 82 repealed all those laws. Cleveland, Dayton, Lima and Cincinnati have all lost court challenges. Cleveland, for example, said its workers must live within the city limits. Cincinnati had such a rule, but loosened it in the 1990s to say employees must be Hamilton County residents. It was seen as helping hold population in the county -- Ohio's third largest -- which has been losing people to the suburbs.

While the home rule battle was under way in the legislature, the Ohio Municipal League counted 125 cities and 13 villages with residency laws. It said many had been adopted by voters at the polls in local referendums and accused lawmakers of meddling to undo those popular votes.

Former Gov Bob Taft signed the repeal into law in January 2006, and opponents said it violated the Home Rule provision of the Ohio Constitution. Judge Gorman, in his ruling against the City of Cincinnati, said the residency requirement repeal was a valid exercise of legislative power.

"The rule is well established that legislative actions have a strong presumption of constitutionality."

Marshal Pitchford is an Akron lawyer who wrote a legal analysis on the topic of municipal residency rules last year. It is worth a read for some history on the issue.


  1. Judge Gorman is a brilliant guy. My hunch is the ruling will be upheld by the Supreme Court.

  2. Hi Anon --

    At one time he had hoped to become a member of the Supreme Court. He would have done a great job. Judge Gorman is a true legal scholar. I've gotten to know him over the years and he is definitely a first class individual. Hamilton County was fortunate to have him as a public servant. However, I wonder if the legislature did the correct thing in negating home rule and city worker residency requirements. It will hurt places like Cincy and Cleveland and Toledo, which are struggling to maintain population.

  3. Mr Sloat, the ruling by Judge Gorman was the right thing to do. I am a Cleveland Police Officer and at the time our citizens voted in the residency rule, Cleveland WAS a great place to live and work and raise your children. Unfortunately, not so today. I love the job but loathe the school system, one that I went through and received a decent education. For my children, that educational opportunity is not there, so I must pay thousands of extra dollars to give them the same education that is free in the suburbs. Is that fair? I pay taxes, but I do what I do because I like to try and make the quality of life issues better for the regular tax paying citizen. My children are out of school now so I could move, but I'm not. I just want what everyone else wants, the freedom to choose. Times change and we must adapt with those changes.Our Union has been hard at work, fighting to get this passed for us, there is no hidden agenda, we just want to enjoy the same freedoms you and many thousands of others like you do.

  4. Thoughts from the wife of a firefighter - we had to sell our home at a $10k loss to move only 5 miles away so that my husband could keep his job. This is work that my husband felt called to do, and jobs are not easy to come by in Ohio, so we moved. But we are still feeling that (completely unnecessary) financial pain. And it will worsen when our daughter is school age, because like mickinohio, we will need to send her to private schools to avoid dangerous and failing inner city schools. Not easy on a public servant's salary.

    Firefighters and police officers sacrifice their personal safety every day for the citizens of the communities they protect and serve. WHY is it right to add the burden of restricting their freedom to live where they choose?

    Of course citizens vote in referendums to create/uphold residency laws - who wouldn't want one of these brave public servants living next door? But that still doesn't make it right to take away such an important personal and financial decision from a person simply because that person has made it their life's work to protect and serve others.

    If these municipalities want to keep city workers in the city, they should offer incentives such as down payment assistance or tax abatements. For example, Ford wants its employees to drive its vehicles - they don't make this a condition of employment. They offer a fantastic incentive package instead.

    I do believe the Supreme Court will uphold the law - as protecting the interest of public servants is indeed a statewide issue and one of common welfare. And it is the morally right thing to do.