Friday, December 05, 2008

Living Where You Work

(News-Herald, December 4) Personally, I agree with residency requirements.
My first reason is the obvious one. If you are paid by the taxpayers of a particular city, township, or school district, the money that those taxpayers give you should go back into that community.
You should pay taxes there. More than that, you should do your shopping there, eat in restaurants there, buy your gas there, drop your change in the Salvation Army bucket there, pay your parking fines there.
I don’t care if it’s good economic times or bad—those of us who are paid with local tax dollars should be using those dollars to prime the local economic pumps as much as possible. Local taxpayers support us. We should support them.
But there are reasons beyond the economic for local employees to have local addresses.
I’m convinced that one of the ills of our culture is the distance that has grown between people who make decisions and the people who bear the brunt of those decisions. Giants of Wall Street can play stupid games with other people’s money without ever having to face those other people. CEO’s don’t have to explain their obscene pay packages to either their employees or the customers who foot the bill.
One of the advantages of small town life is that we see each other in a variety of settings. A public official can’t hide behind an office door and a press release; he’ll get a chance to explain himself in the grocery store, at the ball game, in the choir loft at church.
It provides unparalleled accountability for both sides of the coin. If you know you’re going to have to account for your choices to your friends and neighbors, it gives a whole other perspective on the decisions you have to make. Knowing that your mistakes will come back to haunt you—for years—is great motivation to try to make fewer mistakes.
And members of the public have no excuse for not making their voices heard. If you didn’t let a public employee know your reaction, whether it was good or bad, there is no excuse. If the public figures don’t know what you think, that’s nobody’s fault but your own.
Granted, this kind of localized dynamic is never perfect. Some public officials can be unremitting jerks, regardless of public reaction (the plus here is that, when you get in trouble, all you have to say is “It was Officer Jerkface” and everyone says, “Well, say no more”). And some members of the public have trouble telling the difference between “being heard” and “being obeyed.”
I have known teachers who didn’t want to live anywhere near their students. But I believe it’s a great attitude adjuster to teach students as if the might be your neighbor, or grow up to be your mechanic, plumber, lawyer, or colleague. All public employees should put more than their money back into the community that supports them; they should also contribute sweat and time and effort, and young people in particular should see their teachers doing so.
I recognize there are limits. People on the public payroll often have spouses, and those spousal units have residency requirements of their own. It’s also true that selling a previous house to move into a new neighborhood in our market can be an exercise in prolonged economic suicide.
So while I’d like to see a residency requirement for all tax-supported jobs in our area, I’m realistic about the practical obstacles.
And, of course, I’d never require anyone to live in Cranberry, that downtrodden land of totalitarian tyranny run rampant, where Big Brother suppresses people’s God-given right to fire howitzers at 3 am and erect carcass and car-frame sculptures on the front lawn.
Thank goodness so many outspoken citizens have taken every opportunity to get the word out, from ranting at public meetings to erecting signs. Cranberry is an awful, awful place.
It’s an artful piece of PR. Were I resident of Cranberry, I might be tempted to brag about the growing tax base, the booming business district, the new school and hospital facilities, and the fact that Cranberry, by population, is the modern center of the county. Not to mention lots of pretty countryside.
I would, in short, be thumbing my nose at Franklin and Oil City instead of at myself.
But that’s okay. Since Venangoland is one big community, I see no reason that people who are scared away from Cranberry can’t settle in Oil City or Franklin.

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