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Wisconsin Supreme Court considers residency requirement in City of Milwaukee

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MADISON -- The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday, February 24th heard arguments about the City of Milwaukee's controversial requirement that its employees live within city limits.

The city has stopped enforcing the requirement while the case is pending, and Mayor Tom Barrett said that about 10 percent of the city's 7,000 employees have moved out of the city as a result. City officials have said they plan to resume enforcement if the state Supreme Court rules in their favor.

"What`s at play here is the viability of the Wisconsin constitution`s home rule amendment," Barrett said at a Wednesday news conference.

In 2013, the Republican-controlled state Legislature approved a bill that prohibited cities from having residency requirements other than telling their workers to live within 15 miles of their jobs. Milwaukee continued to enforce its 75-year-old rules, and the police union -- later joined by the fire union -- sued.

court1A Milwaukee County circuit court judge agreed with the unions, but an appeals court sided with the city.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court justices peppered attorneys from both sides with questions for about two hours.

Lawyers from the Milwaukee Police Association and Milwaukee Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 215 argued that the matter was of statewide importance.

"I think the majority of the justices were receptive to our position with regard to residency," said Jonathan Cermele, attorney for the Milwaukee Police Association.

Miriam Horwitz, Milwaukee's assistant city attorney, countered that the city should be allowed to enforce its own rules.

"If it is truly a local concern, as this residency issue is, then it should be left to the local government," Horwitz said.


Justices squabbled for much of the hearing. At one point, Justice Michael Gableman accused Justice Ann Walsh Bradley of laughing while he was asking a question about the case.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Bradley shot back, blaming the problem on the acoustics in the State Capitol courtroom.

The justices also argued over how much time they would get to question each attorney.

Mike Crivello, president of the Milwaukee Police Association, said it was "a relief" that the Supreme Court had taken the case after disagreements in the lower courts.

Mike Crivello

Mike Crivello

"It's certainly going to put us in a position where we can put this behind us and focus on the mission at hand -- which is the public safety of our city," Crivello said.

Lawyers said they expected the Supreme Court to make its decision public with two or three months.


  • unicorns and rainbows

    So Trolley Tom says the city can ignore the state on this issue BUT Trolley Tom begs the state for money for the Bucks. Another report from Theo Keith who has a problem asking the tough questions.

    • Truth Hertz

      Get use to it, we had to give money for the non productive brewers. But I suppose losers are willing to support losers, you know, without complaint. But the Bucks on the other hand win games regularly, the team turned around literally in a season after getting rid of a outdated owner. What accomplishments have our forced investment in the Brewers afforded us? One decent season in how many years of having a new stadium?

    • Dan

      What problem is that? Many people don’t live in the city they work. Didn’t these employees earn their money no different than you? Should the city be allowed to force a rule on you that governs where you spend the money YOU earned? Isn’t that kinda like telling Coke employees that if they see you drinking a Pepsi, you’ll be terminated because we don’t pay you Coke dollars to spend it on Pepsi? Not fair and never was.

      • Fred

        If you test positive for Coke where I work, you get one chance at rehab and then your employment is terminated….
        Be a Pepper!!!!!!!!!

  • Fred

    If the Mayor & Police Chief have to force their Officers to live in the city, that should raise some questions regarding why they choose to live beyond the City Limits and commute to work. Ask a majority of people who commute to the city for work and they’ll tell you they prefer to raise their families in the outskirts:
    -To get away from crime
    -So their kids can attend better schools

  • Josh

    It all comes down to money. The city doesn’t care about the quality of life for employees, they care about tax revenue.

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