Regionalism in Reverse


What regionalism is: Different places working together for the good of the whole. Suburban leaders understanding that the long-term health of their jurisdictions is tied to the health of the city.

What regionalism is not: Elected officials fortifying, rather than minimizing, the invisible boundaries around them. Suburban counties unwilling to budget money to support city cultural attractions that they themselves use to sell their own economic development. City leaders seeing suburban flight as some evil, rather than as basic market economics in most cases, with better housing and schools being the draws.

A plan in the works at City Hall to stiffen residency requirements for city government employees falls in the not-regionalism category. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke plans to unveil an executive order tomorrow that would require city hires to move into the city within a short time of employment. Police, however, would be exempt, at least for the time being, because they are technically a state agency, the mayor's office says.

The executive order would tighten the current city code that requires firefighters to live in the city for at least their six-month probation. Under Mayor Schmoke's plan, to take effect July 1, firefighters couldn't move out of the city for as long as they are employed, nor could any other non-police municipal worker. Existing employees would not be subject to the restriction. City Council members expressed support for the proposal this week.

One could make a case that having public safety employees live nearer where they work has merit (although this plan can't even make that argument if police are exempt). It's harder to argue that forcing civil servants to reside where they work is anything beyond provincialism.

This isn't race-baiting. It's place-baiting. What will Baltimore win in return for a handful of new employees who must live in the city? More negative symbolism and animus from the suburbs. Baltimore County Councilwoman Berchie Lee Manley has already launched back a proposal to charge city residents $10 for county library cards -- another bad idea that would hurt the wrong people.

The timing for this is particularly poor. We just emerged from a General Assembly session in which the city and suburbs found grounds for civility and cooperation, and hoped that could be a springboard for more congeniality. Also, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council is still in a fragile infancy, trying to tackle complex regional problems such as solid waste. Lastly, the city, or any other government these days, is not a font for new employment.

City leaders justify the move by saying, "What's ours is ours." The problem is that the regionalism they claim they've been seeking in recent years denotes a wider circle around the word "ours."

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