Guest of the Stable: David Dening
Hoboken should repeal residency restrictions for all municipal employees. The subject of residency requirements came up briefly at the last council meeting but the rules need to be thoroughly re-examined and rejected. The rules are bad for employees, bad for the town, and the arguments in their favor no longer justify them.
Without the ability to move around, municipal employees lose a freedom most Americans take for granted. Residency restrictions mean that an employee cannot take care of a sick in-law living out of town. A municipal employee can’t split the commute if their spouse gets a dream job in Trenton or get a larger place for their growing family, even if it is literally feet from Hoboken, in Jersey City Heights. Importantly residency restrictions remove a crucial safety valve against the abuse of power. An employee cannot move away from unofficial coercion if they run afoul of others in town government.
Residency restrictions cause losses to the town too. Hoboken is a small city and cannot provide all the expertise it needs to run itself well. Experts, hired outside the town, are required to move in within six months of their start date. Naturally hires require a salary premium, which the town pays, for this inconvenience. In the past year, I have heard council members object to the cost of hiring an out-of-towner for a position and debate hiring a local alternative who did not have the necessary certifications. So the town is often left a bad choice; pay more or hiring a less than qualified individual.
One argument made in favor of residency restrictions is that the jobs are ‘reserved for residents’. This statement does a disservice to the many qualified professionals in Hoboken’s government because it implies they owe their positions to their residency not their talents. In practice ‘reserved for residents’ has sometimes been used as cover to hire unqualified, but politically connected, individuals; unqualified both in character and credentials. A quick look at the recent series of employee scandals in Hoboken confirms the black eye a minority of unfit hires has given the town and the many upstanding and talented Hoboken employees. Well qualified Hoboken residents will never have trouble entering public service. Repealing the restriction will make getting hired harder only for those that should not be given the public trust in the first place.
There is a valid argument to be made that residency restrictions can keep money in town. This applies to towns where there is a significant difference between municipal salaries and average income. For instance Camden, where public worker salaries far exceed that city’s $22,000 average annual income. This disparity was probably a valid reason for Hoboken to institute restrictions in 1965, when the original ordinance passed, but is no longer true. So the residencyrequirement is not just costly and restrictive but also outmoded.
Residency restrictions don’t make sense for our workers or our town. For these reasons I urge the town council to reconsider and repeal items 6-21, 6-22, and 59A-13 from the municipal code.