COLUMBUS - The Ohio Supreme Court yesterday again took up home rule, considering whether Toledo and other cities have the constitutional right to mandate that government employees live within their borders.
The cities are challenging a 2006 state law forbidding them from making residency a condition of employment. The law, however, gave city residents the option via the ballot box of enacting a requirement that employees live within the county or an adjacent county.
"[A residency requirement] is essential to a city's ability to respond. Minutes matter ," Deborah Forfia, an attorney for Akron, told the high court.
"The line the state has drawn simply cannot address the different factors in geography, roads, (and) the needs of every city," she said. "That has to be done at the local level. In Akron, the five-county area, that doesn't work. They can be 62 miles away "
Some 125 cities and 13 villages have some form of requirement in their charters, ordinances, or collective bargaining contracts that government employees live in the city that pays their salaries.
The court yesterday heard arguments from the cities of Lima and Akron that the law unconstitutionally infringes on their home-rule authority. The court also has appeals pending involving the cities of Toledo, Cleveland, Dayton, and Warren whose outcome will be decided by the Lima and Akron rulings.
"This case is really a further reach from any case we have had," said Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.
In both the Lima and Akron cases, local trial courts sided with the state only to be overturned by appeals courts that found the state law to be unconstitutional.
Last year, the 6th District Court of Appeals also sided with Toledo. The city continues to have residency requirements, although they have been watered down in recent years through labor negotiations.
Ryan Lemmerbrock, attorney for the Akron police and firefighter unions, argued that nothing in the state law prohibits cities from awarding civil service bonus points to job applicants who reside in the city or offering monetary incentives to keep them close to work.
"Providing that right (to choose where to live) freed those employees from the devil's choice of either maintaining their source of income or addressing quality of life issues such as the inability to live with their spouses in the same household because of competing residency requirements, to care for a loved one that may require care outside that employee's city, [and] the ability to choose a school district where they would send their children," he said.
The Supreme Court has come down on different sides of home-rule disputes. The court has upheld state laws striking down local ordinances regulating predatory lending and, most recently, prohibiting the carrying of hidden handguns in public parks.
The same court, however, sided with cities in determining that local red-light camera ordinances don't conflict with general statewide traffic laws.
The cities have argued it is crucial that public employers, especially emergency response personnel, live close to where they work. They've also cited economic issues in keeping their workers as taxpaying residents with a stake in the cities' future.
State Solicitor General Benjamin Mizer argued that there is a statewide interest that transcends city limits.
"The cities of Akron and Lima have introduced evidence that they will be affected if they are forced to lift their residency bans," he said. "They will lose property values, residents, [and] school funding. If their evidence is correct, then they have demonstrated that there are extra-territorial effects.
"The lifting of their residency bans will cause surrounding territory to be affected by the movement of people and money," he said.
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