Why some Butler County cities make top officials live there, despite a state law

Several Butler County jurisdictions have residency requirements for their top officials, even though the state legislature and Ohio Supreme Court outlawed such a practice more than a decade ago, a Journal-News review has found.

The city of Trenton has struggled to find a new city manager, in part because that person is required to live within the city limits, per the city’s charter. The cities of Fairfield, Middletown and Oxford also have residency requirements in their charters.

The state legislature passed a law outlawing the practice in 2006, and the Ohio Supreme Court upheld the new law in 2009 after several big cities challenged it.

The jurisdictions here are enacting the rule despite the prohibition by writing it into contracts with their managers. Fairfield City Manager Mark Wendling said the Ohio Supreme Court ruling has no impact on private employment agreements.

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“It is in the charter for the city manager, not for any other employees,” Wendling said. “The way they can enforce it for me is I have an employment agreement. I don’t think it (the high court ruling) can trump an employment agreement between the city and an individual. I think it does probably trump the charter.”

The topic became an issue statewide in the early 2000s because many big, urban cities were requiring fire, police and other staff to live where they work. Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott, who moved to Oxford because of a residency requirement when he took the job, said he believes the state law wasn’t necessarily focused on city managers.

“A lot of times it has to do with folks not wanting to be part of the school district,” Elliott said. “I think that was the case with your big urban cities, you had police and firefighters that didn’t want to live in those cities.”

The law says jurisdictions can require safety personnel to live close by. Oxford police and police supervisors, for example, must live within a 20-mile radius of police headquarters, according to union agreements.

Five years after the city of Dayton was forced to eliminate its residency requirement for its employees, more than one in three workers — 37 percent — lived outside of the city limits, according to data obtained by this news organization.

Trenton lost three top contenders for its city manager job because the city has the residency requirement. Most recently, Patrick Ross, the Reading city manager, turned the job down because of the rule.

“I like the city, I like the position and I like the people there. I had a little guilt factor and didn’t feel comfortable enough,” Ross said. “I didn’t want to uproot (his daughter) for my career. I like it (the new job) for my career professionally, but I felt like I was being selfish.”

Mayor Calvin Woodrey said notwithstanding the cuty’s problems infinding a new leader, the city council has no desire to drop the requirement for the city manager.

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“They invest in the city when they come in, they become one of the stakeholders so they have a personal investment in the city,” he said. “They want it to succeed then.”

The Butler County commissioners recently hired former West Chester Twp. administrator Judi Boyko as their top leader, and there was no caveat in her contract about living in the county. She has lived in the county for 16 years.

Chief Assistant Prosecutor Roger Gates said he is not aware of any residency requirements — other than for elected officials — in the county.

“I’m not aware that we have approved anything that would require an employee to live in the county,” Gates said.

Hamilton repealed the city’s residency requirement in the charter right around the time of the high court decision. City Manager Joshua Smith has the provision in his contract.

No Butler County townships have residency requirements, officials said.

“Most city managers are going to want to live in the community they manage anyway,” Elliott said of Oxford’s rule staying in the charter. “Be a part of the school district, be a part of the community. It’s hard to be the cheerleader for the city if you don’t live in the city, don’t want to be a part of the city.”

Trenton re-posted the position and resumes are due Friday. Woodrey said he has received five or six emailed resumes, two are among the 32 people who applied the first time.

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