City Council passes bill requiring top City Hall officials to live in Baltimore

The Baltimore City Council passed legislation on Monday requiring all top officials in Baltimore’s government to live in the city.

The bill, sponsored by Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, requires all at-will supervisors who report directly to either the mayor or to an agency head to live in Baltimore. The legislation affects about 150 positions.

“If you want the job, you’ve got to move here,” Sneed said Monday. “So many people moved here for the mayor’s administration. We want everybody to live here.”

It was unclear whether Mayor Catherine E. Pugh would sign the bill into law. She previously expressed concerns about the bill’s constitutionality, and said Monday she didn’t see the point of the legislation.

“I require all department heads to live in the city, so I’m not sure what her bill does,” Pugh said.

Baltimore’s City Charter already requires the heads of each of Baltimore’s 55 departments and agencies to live in the city. Sneed’s bill would expand that requirement to other members of the mayor’s cabinet — such as the chief of staff or deputy mayors — and other agency-level supervisors.

The bill applies only to new hires, not to those who already work in city government. It provides a six-month window for a new hire to move into Baltimore.

The legislation was opposed by Pugh’s chief of human resources, who said it could make it difficult to hire qualified people to top city jobs.

“In the quest to find the best and the brightest candidates to fill executive and hard to fill positions, having a residency restriction would prove to be limiting,” wrote Mary H. Talley, the chief’s director of human resources, in a letter to the council.

Talley argued that top positions in city government require a bachelor’s degree, and more than 72 percent of city residents do not meet the minimum qualifications to even be considered.

“Surrounding jurisdictions including Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore counties, which serves as our primary feeder group for candidates, do not impose residency requirements,” Talley wrote.

Sneed has said she got the idea while knocking on doors during her successful campaign for the council in 2016. The purpose, she said, is to help keep residents and tax dollars in Baltimore.

“Baltimore City has tons of qualified people. It’s only right that if we have people who are serving in these positions on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore that they should feel the pain,” said City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, noting that top members of his staff live in Baltimore. “If they’re saying they can’t find talent in Baltimore, I found talent in Baltimore.”

Maryland law limits the employees of a municipal government who can be required to live in the jurisdiction where they work.

Maryland law states that a “county or municipality may not require an employee to reside within the State, county, or municipality or within a specified distance of the State, county, or municipality as a condition of employment” and “may not discriminate based on an individual’s place of residence … when making employment, promotion, demotion, layoff, and discharge decisions.”

The law does allow, however, jurisdictions to require elected officials, chief administrative officers and the head of agencies or departments to live where they work.

In 2016, legislation sponsored by state Del. Cory McCray — and signed into law by Gov. Larry Hogan — allowed local jurisdictions to extend the residency requirement to at-will supervisory employees.

The number of full-time city employees has shrunk from more than 15,000 to just over 13,000 over the past decade — as former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sought to rein in costs. About half of Baltimore municipal employees live outside the city.

In other business, the City Council imposed a series of new regulations on area businesses Monday, including a ban on using polystyrene foam containers for carryout food and drink.

“It was a very proud moment today,” said Councilman John Bullock, who sponsored the ban on foam products. “We look at us being leaders, not being followers.”

The council also cast final votes in favor of regulations that limit advertising sugary drinks with children’s meals at restaurants and ban the building of crude oil terminals in the city.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who sponsored the ban on building crude oil terminals, called the legislation “preventative public safety.”

“We can’t control crude oil by rail, but this is a way to say, ‘Go someplace else,’ ” Clarke said.

Councilman Brandon Scott, who sponsored the children’s meal legislation, said his bill was designed to improve the health of children.

“We know so many young people in our city drink too many sugary drinks,” he said.

Additionally, the council voted to support millions in tax breaks that officials say will spur redevelopment of the Northwood Plaza shopping center.

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