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West Allis considers life beyond residency rule

Panel OKs moves to aid in some hirings

July 10, 2012

West Allis - West Allis has started rethinking its residency requirement for high-level city staff as the need to hire a finance manager comes to a head.

The city has been without a finance manager for a year. It called twice for résumés and interviewed two candidates each time, but none filled the bill, said Paul Ziehler, city administrator.

And now, with budget development time around the corner, the issue has reached a critical point.

"We have a real serious problem, here," Alderman Thomas Lajsic, Common Council president, said at last week's Committee of the Whole meeting.

Last year, Ziehler was responsible for budget development, but that is putting too many eggs into one basket, and it isn't fair to Ziehler, Lajsic said.

Plus if anything happened to Ziehler, "We would be in very, very dire straights," Lajsic added.

Overcoming obstacles

The city has a line on an extremely qualified candidate who used to work for West Allis and is interested in doing so again.

Two things stand in the way, however. One is the residency requirement and the other is the man's current employer, who wants to keep him and has met the city's offers.

After wading through several options, the committee settled on two that could address both obstacles. The key component is waiving the residency requirement if a person has worked for the city for 15 years, which he has. The other would enable the city to offer incentives for difficult recruitments.

While the current policy only allows the city to pay for moving expenses, the new incentives would allow giving a "difficult recruitment" allowance, providing temporary living expenses, helping with extra costs from having to buy a new home, or offering other performance or involvement benefits.

Both measures will help him with the current finance manager recruitment, Ziehler said, adding that other similar situations are expected to come into play soon.

Need for action

So the council will want to decide soon if it wants to stick to this new policy and then decide whether it should apply just to the nine department heads or to the 20 division heads, Ziehler said.

The Committee of the Whole voted 9-1 to at least permit the city to proceed as suggested.

Still, there was strong support for keeping the residency requirement for department heads.

"I hesitate giving up residency for our department heads," said Alderwoman Rosalie Reinke. "I feel very strongly about that."

Alderman Michael May agreed and instead spoke strongly in favor of incentives. He suggested such incentives as bonuses and offering job hours flexibility.

May cast the only vote against waiving the residency requirement after 15 years of service. After the meeting, he said, "Though I don't believe waiving residency in this specific case was necessary, I respect the decision of my peers and look forward to recruiting the best and brightest minds to run our city's departments."

The proposal contained 90 percent of what he supported anyway, May added. But he too described the city as being at a crossroads on residency rules for top staffers.

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