Home work: Elgin joins Naperville in relaxing city residency requirements

Elgin’s recent move to relax city residency requirements for certain upper management positions appears to be in line with what’s being seen across the suburbs, including Naperville and Aurora.

“I would say the tendency I have seen is to be more lenient with respect to which employees need to have residency requirements,” said Mike Peddle, an associate professor in the Division of Public Administration at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

On Aug. 27, by a 7-2 vote, the Elgin City Council approved a move that no longer requires residency in the city for the corporation counsel, the currently open chief financial officer position, human resources director, water director, and information technology services director. City Manager Sean Stegall also noted that the new, yet-to-be-filled communications director post would not have to be filled by someone who would live in Elgin.

Still required to live in Elgin are the city manager, fire chief, police chief, assistant city manager, community development director, public services director, parks and recreation director, police deputy chiefs, assistant fire chiefs and the city clerk.

Those holding any of the 17 positions will be required to do 40 hours of community service work annually, which could include volunteering for shifts at city-sponsored events.

For the roles no longer requiring Elgin residency, Peddle said, “There’s really no reason, in my view, to have them live in the city.”

They are jobs that typically don’t have to have people be physically present during an emergency and often people can do their work by electronic means, Peddle said. In some towns those roles are contract positions.

Peddle said that city managers, fire chiefs and police chiefs are those most often required to live within the boundaries of the municipalities that employ them, with such requirements varying for heads of public works departments. Another variant seems to be how close public safety employees of all rank must live to the towns where they work, Peddle said.

Requirements in Aurora, Naperville

In supporting materials for the change in Elgin, city staff found that Waukegan still requires all employees to live in town. In Arlington Heights, Bartlett, and Schaumburg only the manager has to live in the town. In Hoffman Estates, Oak Park, and Skokie, just the manager, police chief and fire chief must have residency there.

According to Elgin’s staff research, 13 suburbs surveyed have no residency requirements at all for hired positions. In addition to Aurora and Naperville, those cities are Algonquin, Batavia, Crystal Lake, Des Plaines, Evanston, Geneva, Joliet, St. Charles, South Elgin, Streamwood and West Dundee.

According to the city of Aurora website, Aurora “has no residency requirement, however, certain designated positions require that the employee live within a certain distance due to emergency/on-call situations.”

Currently, of 13 upper management directors in Aurora, only two do not live in Aurora: Planning and Zoning Director Stephanie Phifer, who lives in Chicago, and Public Works Director Ken Schroth, who lives in Shorewood.

The only position in the city of Naperville that has a residency requirement, according to the city code, is city manager. The consensus is that there has never been a residency requirement for any other position.

In Naperville, of eight key upper management positions, four do not live in the city: Director of Transportation, Engineering and Development Bill Novack, who lives in Aurora; Public Utilities Director Mark Curran, who lives in Bolingbrook, Finance Director Rachel Mayer, who lives in Joliet; and Communications Manager Linda LaCloche, who lives in Orland Park.

Reasons for notrequiring residency

Peddle noted that in some places, even for high-ranking employees with bigger salaries, living in the town that employs them might not be financially feasible: places like Kenilworth on the North Shore with its seven-figure housing stock being one example.

Peddle noted that because these days many homes include two-income families, where to live takes into account the distances to where both spouses work. That was the case in Elgin, where CFO Colleen Lavery resigned as she and her husband were moving closer to his job in River Forest. Lavery had been given a deadline to move to Elgin from the couple’s home in Geneva.

Elgin’s Stegall, mentioning these dual-income concerns, has said that doing away with all residency requirements would help the city continue to “have the highest quality services at the lowest possible costs” by widening the potential pool of applicants.

Remaining support for requirements

Still, some feel having city workers live in that town should be a prime consideration.

“I think there is an image thing. They want them to be part of the community,” Peddle said.

In Elgin, Council member Tish Powell has said that the six-figure salaries paid to upper management should “draw the very people we need to live here. We have a lot to offer in Elgin, and if they don’t want to live in Elgin, they might not be the right fit.”

Powell and Rich Dunne were the only Elgin City Council members to vote against changing the list of who is required to live in town.

Aurora Public Information Director Dan Ferrelli noted Mayor Tom Weisner has made it a priority to fill city positions with qualified individuals who reside in Aurora. And Weisner also encourages staff to be active in the community and be fully invested in improving the quality of life there.

“From a practical standpoint, we like to see employees who earn a paycheck that results from taxes paid by Aurora residents reinvesting those dollars back into the city,” Ferrelli said. “It is also advantageous to have employees live within our corporate limits in the event of emergencies.”

Sun-Times Media writers Susie Carlman and Stephanie Lulay contributed to this story

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