Residency Requirements and the Sense of Community

Posted on Categories Milwaukee, Public

Ray Papke, my late father, was a maintenance man for Milwaukee Public Schools and proud of it. He had no quarrel with the requirement that City of Milwaukee employees live within the City. He was born in Milwaukee, worked for Milwaukee, and pleased to live in Milwaukee.

Were he alive today, Ray Papke would have opposed Governor Scott Walker’s proposed elimination of residency requirements for City employees, but I can’t imagine him voicing the common arguments against the proposal. To wit, (1) Property values in the city will fall, (2) The City’s racial and ethnic diversity will decline, and (3) People are more effective working for others if they know and live with them.

No, Ray Papke’s position was one based on a more fundamental sense of community, one that literally had a geographic foundation. He lived and worked for this town in this place. This view of social life is of course missing in the Governor’s vision of free-floating individuals who should be able to live wherever they want. It’s also missing in the arguments of the Governor’s opponents, arguments primarily couched with reference to socio-economic concerns and workers’ efficiency.

I fear that the vision of community held dear by Ray Papke was buried along with him and his generation of honest, patriotic, blue-collar Americans. We cannot relive the past, but these Americans were in touch with something that added depth and meaning to their lives.


3 thoughts on “Residency Requirements and the Sense of Community”

  1. Why is a sense of community stopped by artificial political boundaries? Milwaukee is a big city with an even bigger community. Up in Saukville, I still feel a part of the Milwaukee community, and I’m halfway to Sheboygan. Increased personal mobility has significantly expanded the range of communities we can have a strong connection to.

    There are certainly cultural divides within the county, but they hardly are based solely or even primarily on political boundaries. People who live in Brown Deer likely have a stronger sense of community with people across the “border” in the northwestern parts of the City of Milwaukee than the people living in northwestern Milwaukee have with those in the culturally and geographically distant south side of Milwaukee.

  2. There are still people who were “born in Milwaukee, work[] for Milwaukee, and [are] pleased to live in Milwaukee.” But I have serious doubts that forcing workers who would prefer to live outside the city limits to move within them engenders any love of community. Milwaukee taxpayers deserve services delivered by the best employees their salary dollars can attract. Limiting the pool of available talent to people who are willing to move does those taxpayers a disservice.

  3. People are free to live wherever they want. If they want to work for the city, however, they should have to live there. If they don’t want to live in Milwaukee they can look for work elsewhere.

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