Wilmington mayor pushes for end to residency requirement

by Danica Brendon

In a move to address the inefficiency in filling critical positions, the city of Wilmington, Delaware, has decided to eliminate its residency requirement for city employees. Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki announced on Monday that the city’s former residency requirement was hindering the efficiency of the government as crucial roles remained unfilled.

The decision comes after the Mayor sought legal advice from the City Law Department on whether residency exists, as the City Council has not taken a firm stance on the issue. Purzycki expressed his gratitude to Council Member Al Mills and other supporters who are backing the Ordinance that will be voted on at Thursday’s meeting, which aims to eliminate any remaining references to residency and affirm council’s decision.

The move has not been without opposition, as some members of the City Council have expressed their desire to keep the residency requirement. However, no action has been taken on an ordinance to address the issue.

The city of Wilmington, like many other local governments, is facing challenges in filling key positions and also grappling with a shortage of affordable housing. Critical government positions, such as engineers, planners, attorneys, sanitation drivers and collectors, a water lab supervisor, 911 emergency dispatchers, and police officers, among others, have remained open due to the residency requirement. Mayor Purzycki expressed hope that eliminating the requirement would attract more applicants for these positions, ultimately improving the efficiency of the government.

John Rago, the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff, provided additional information on the issue. The City Administration and Council previously requested the Delaware General Assembly (GA) to amend the City Charter and grant the city authority to determine the residency requirement. In July 2022, the GA amended the Charter to allow the city to address the residency issue. In August 2022, an Ordinance was introduced to end the residency requirement for appointed and all employees. However, the Council has not taken any action on the issue for the past 14 months.

The consequences of the residency requirement have been evident, with 92 city jobs currently vacant, and many remaining unfilled due to applicants not accepting the residency requirement. This affects various departments, including Public Works, where positions like sanitation drivers and collectors, traffic engineers, equipment operators, and information systems staff cannot be filled. The Planning Department, as well as the Law Department, are also struggling to find qualified candidates who will accept the residency requirement.

Despite efforts to improve recruitment, including the approval of an Administration’s Compensation Study to enhance the salary structure, the residency requirement has been an obstacle in attracting candidates. High mortgage rates and job seekers having other options have also contributed to the challenge.

The inability to fill critical city jobs has created a crisis, prompting the Administration to seek legal advice and take action in the absence of residency rules. Department directors have been given the authority to fill positions without considering residency.

With the Ordinance on the agenda for the upcoming council meeting, Wilmington is taking steps to address this issue and eliminate the residency requirement for all employees. Out of the total authorized city positions, 987 are currently filled, while 92 remain vacant. It is hoped that this change will attract more qualified candidates and improve the overall efficiency of the government.

The city of Wilmington is determined to fill the vacant positions and meet the expectations of its residents. With the potential elimination of the residency requirement, the government aims to overcome recruitment challenges and ensure the provision of essential services.

You may also like