Jackson's City Council is considering extending the residency requirements of fire and police employees to an area 30 miles beyond the city of Jackson. City ordinance currently demands that city employees live inside Hinds County, but a 30-mile extension would allow the city's personnel department to consider applications from deep within nearby counties like Madison and Rankin.
"We've got a whole boatload of people who want to be firefighters, but we can't get enough people who want to apply for the police department who pass the criminal background checks and the drug tests and credit checks and all that stuff," said Council President Ben Allen.
Some nearby cities such as Flowood, in Rankin County, have no residency requirement for city employment.
Allen said the council has to take a passive role and wait for Police Chief Shirlene Anderson to submit the ordinance change to the council, however. "It's in the police chief's chair to bring it to us, with her formal recommendations in her crime plan. I think she has the votes on the council to pass it, but it needs to be brought forward by the administration," Allen said, while defining the issue as a "personnel matter" that the executive has to first sort through before the council even considers it.
Anderson did not return calls for comment, but Chief Administration Officer Robert Walker said the ordinance change was not an immediate part of the chief's plan.
"The City Council has broached the idea of temporarily amending that ordinance but it's not really—well, it's in the crime plan package, but whether or not we're going to follow through on it is another question, because that package is being re-evaluated, and there's a chance it may not be a part of it," Walker said.
The administration of Mayor Frank Melton has taken a loose view of the city's current residency requirements, having brought on Madison resident Pat Fordice, who lives in Madison, as director of Human and Cultural Services early in Melton's term. The administration also has not attempted to enforce the ordinance for former employees such as former Assistant Fire Chief John Canterbury, a resident of Smith County. Melton, himself, owns property in both Texas and Mississippi, but still files homestead exemption on his Texas property, rather than in the city he has served as mayor for two years.
Melton went so far as to lie to the Jackson Municipal Democratic Executive Committee on March 9, 2005, telling the committee that he had indeed filed homestead in Jackson—though when the truth came to light weeks later, Melton's campaign attorney Sarah O'Reilly-Evans told the committee that the complaint had "passed its statute of limitations date."
Some members of the fire department would be happy to see the residency requirements loosened.
Firefighters' Local 87 Union President Brandon Falcon is currently a resident of Raymond, but he owns property in Rankin County. "Fortune 500 companies look for the best talent, not for residency. I do have the feeling that you tend to take better care of your own neighborhood, but I want the best people for the job regardless of whether it's a firefighter or a chief. Heck, my opinion is that Frank (Melton) lives in Texas," Falcon said. "If you want to get into details and pull tax documents, I'd have a problem proving I don't live in Louisiana. I got a fishing cabin in Louisiana. If you want to figure out what all I pay taxes on, it could keep us all busy for a while."
The council is considering the ordinance change specifically to address the police department, but Falcon said firefighters with personal grudges are already abusing the current ordinance.
"A month ago, I got a phone call threatening to send my residency to the press, and I caught my own secretary in the union out there taking pictures of me while I was landscaping my Rankin County house. I swear, it's like a soap opera around here sometimes," Falcon said.
Union Secretary Travis Frazier did not return calls for comment.
Former Chief Administration Officer Otha Burton denied that the current ordinance hurt the city's efforts to hire and retain emergency personnel during his tenure. "We had used methods that worked around the residency requirements," Burton said. "It was never a problem if we advertised and recruited properly. We also tried to recruit heavily from schools. This part of the state has a large supply of colleges and universities and provides a wealth of graduates to pull from, and we went directly to the schools to search for our applicants."
The last administration entered several memorandums of understanding with local universities like Jackson State University. The agreements helped ensure a steady flow of interns to work inside the city's various departments, with the possibility of full employment after graduation.
"We have had some quality individuals enter the city through that route," said former mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. "We got our assistant director of Planning for Housing through that means, and we got a grants director through JSU. I think another student became deputy chief administrative officer."
This story has been corrected from the print edition, which reported that Brandon Falcon owned property in Jackson but lived in Rankin County. In fact, Falcon lives in Raymond, in Hinds County, but owns property in Rankin County.
I agree with both sides on this. CAO Burton and Johnson had the right idea to recruit locally at the schools and colleges for City talent. This should be done vigorously! If you have an ever ripe garden in the back yard, you don't cut the bush down at the roots. You pick the fruit and come back for more!
Yet, I think that if you truly have good leadership and a healthy working environment that in time many of those you recruited will either move back to Jackson or find themselves doing more in Jackson then they ever did out in the boonies! The end goal is a better city, so in time those that run for the county line at 5pm may linger a few hours more spending money.
It may need to be based on a pay scale and job importance. If you are Marcus Ward making $70,000 base a year, you can live large in NE Jackson, and still pay for a car tag! Especially if he has a partner to share expenses with.
But, a beat officer, fireman, or general entry level employee working their way up, ought to be allowed to find suitable and affordable living for their family even if it is outside the City. Or not be penalized because their spouse has a job in Richland much more important to that family's overall income. One day, if they move up, they may get a position that means moving if they want to continue to advance with the City. Just some of my ideas...
I have libertarian leanings. I just have a problem with a government telling me in which county or city I have to reside. I'm an employee and its none of their damn business.
The sad fact is that Jackson probably wouldn’t even need a residency requirement for hiring if it wasn’t losing population like water from a broken faucet. Interestingly, that ordinance was first enacted during the mayor-commission days (don’t know which administration) but never strictly enforced. It started out as a ‘Jackson resident only’ requirement which was soon expanded to include Hinds County residency. But again, it was treated more like “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, allowing a few city employees to live in Madison and Rankin County without scrutiny until the Johnson administration tookh a tougher stance on enforcing it. Even then, a lot of non-compliant employees were either grandfathered an exemption or given an opportunity to move to Jackson within a reasonable time frame.
That said, I think it's time to relax the residency requirement for at least a couple of years to see if more employees can be recruited from outside of Jackson and Hinds County. But like Pikersam suggested, department heads and division managers should be mandated to be Jackson or Hinds County residents, and that should be strictly enforced. I think that at least sends the message as long as you work for the City and wish to move up in the ranks, you should be willing to invest in the City's future and vitality by becoming a resident if you aren't already.
- Jeff Lucas
IF YOU TAKE A CHECK FROM HERE YOU NEED TO LIVE HERE NO EXCUSES-NO SHORTCUTS FOR ANYONE SHOULD BE GRANTED. JACKSON HAS A GREAT POOL OF PEOPLE FOR EMPLOYMENT WITH THE CITY. YOU DO CARE MORE IF YOU LIVE WHERE YOU WORK, WE ALL KNOW THAT THERE ARE SOME WHO BEAT THE SYSTEM AND IF YOU ASK THEM THEY WILL SAY THEY WANT BETTER CITY SERVICES BUT THESE ARE THE SAME PEOPLE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR SERVICES BEING RENDERED. WE NEED THESE PEOPLE HERE WHO SHOW CONCERN FOR THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS OUTSIDE OF JACKSON WE NEED THEM HERE TO HELP BUILD JACKSON.WE DON'T NEED THEM TO TAKE A CHECK FROM JACKSON AND BUILD THE COMMUNITIES AROUND US.
Please do not post again in all-caps. It is hard to read, and means that you're shouting.
This is in reply to Brandon Falcon making statements about the secretary taking pics of his home. The sec. has a second job as a appraiser did he think he might be in the neighborhood working. What can a picture prove anyway this sounds like Falcon might be a little paranoid here. Falcon has made it no secret that he was building a home to move into in Brandon, Ms close to the new school on Hwy 18. Yes it it true that Falcon i partner with another Fireman on two other houses in the same subdivision where he now resides. I have seen his construction loan papers, warranty deed and deed of trust. He was also living in Brandon in some apartments at Crossgates subdivision. What does Falcon mean by this statement?( Falcon said firefighters with personal grudges are already abusing the current ordinance.) Looks as if he is the one abusing the ordinance.