Randy Gaber would have made a great Madison police chief. The acting chief pulled his name from the running to replace Noble Wray, apparently in part because he would have to move into Madison from his home just outside city limits.
Cities have long had residency rules for their municipal employees, but they have been steadily fading. When I took over as mayor in 2003, the residency requirement for Madison applied to only about 400 managers not represented by unions. The other 2,500 city employees could live anywhere.
I supported a change to allow most of those 400 employees to live where they wanted, but I retained the residency requirement for my own mayoral aides and for the very top city managers. That's what still applies to the chief's position.
Nobody can say for sure if Gaber would have ended up with the job in the end, but when a lack of residency may have cost us a top candidate, you have to ask yourself if it's worth it. In my view, it's not.
I get the reason for residency. For a lot of cities, it keeps good paying middle-class jobs and middle-class families in the city. But that's not much of an issue here.
Then there's the issue of loyalty. If you worked at GM, you probably wouldn't drive a Honda to work. If you worked for Coke, you probably wouldn’t drink a Pepsi at your desk. So, if you get paid by the taxpayers of Madison, maybe you shouldn't live in Fitchburg.
Those are good reasons for residency but not great ones. Where a person lives is a fundamentally personal choice. To require living in a particular place as a condition of a job always struck me as a little bit overreaching.
It’s a measure of the health of our city that we don't need this as a way to keep some remnant of the middle class within our borders.
Now that the residency rule applies to only about 1% of the city workforce, and since it may have cost us an excellent candidate for our chief of police, it's time to end it altogether.