Former Mayor Marc Morial, long a champion of the law requiring city employees to live within New Orleans’ city limits, published a broadside Monday blasting the City Council’s 6-1 vote last week to exempt police officers, firefighters and emergency medical technicians from the rule.
Those who pushed to rescind the rule, including New Orleans Police Superintendent Ronal Serpas, said the residency requirement was hurting recruitment at a time when the NOPD is hemorrhaging officers. But the law’s backers, including Morial, counter that making cops and others live in the city makes them more invested in the city’s future, and perhaps more sympathetic to the people they deal with on the job.
In his missive, sent out by the New Orleans Agenda email newsletter, Morial questioned the wisdom of letting a “lame duck” council that is about to lose three of its members decide such an important question. Getting rid of the rule won’t help recruiting efforts nearly as much as supporters think, he argued.
“The issue is and has always been competitive pay, working conditions and a consistent well-staffed recruiting effort,” Morial wrote. “To blame the domicile ordinance ducks and avoids more systemic conditions. When pay remains low, benefits uncertain, looming changes to civil service regulations, and there is no consistent aggressive recruiting — at job fairs, with retiring military, on college campuses and thru social media online jobs boards as well as other creative means. . . a manpower shortage is inevitable.”
A couple of the council members who voted to dump the rule, including Councilwomen Cynthia Hedge-Morrell and Stacy Head, said as much when they voted. Head, who will remain on the council, called the rule a “red herring,” while Hedge-Morrell, who is departing, predicted its effect on recruitment would be minimal.
The ordinance dates to the 1950s, but was widely ignored by the time Morial — now the president of the National Urban League — took office in 1994. Morial pushed the council to adopt a tougher rule the next year, and he sought to enforce it.
Morial writes that the law was “fairly and consistently enforced” on his watch, and that it “coincided with a safer city, substantial increases in home ownership and historic significant and sustained reductions in overall violent crime as well as murder.”
While Morial’s tenure did see a steep drop in the murder rate, it’s not clear how much of the decline owed to the residency rule. And despite Morial’s assertions, enforcement of the rule was difficult and time-consuming, typically falling to the understaffed, and now defunct, Office of Municipal Investigation. By the time Hurricane Katrina struck, the rule was widely ignored, with many of the NOPD’s top commanders living outside the city and claiming homestead exemptions there to boot.
After Katrina, the rule was suspended, and it quietly went back into effect last year.