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Council to review ordinance
May repeal residency requirement
Monday, August 12, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
High-ranking Martinsville officials soon may be able to live wherever they want.
Martinsville City Council on Tuesday will consider repealing an ordinance that requires department heads to live in the city.
The city has several department head vacancies. Mayor Kim Adkins and other council members said Friday that the ordinance could restrict the city in hiring local tal
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ent to fill those jobs.
The human resources director is the only department head position now being advertised. However, other vacancies recently have occurred, including police chief, following Mike Rogers’ retirement, and public works director, following Leon Towarnicki’s promotion to city manager.
If the ordinance stays on the books, Adkins said, some talented city and Henry County employees would not be able to apply for the vacant jobs.
Asked if the city has approached any county employees about coming to work for Martinsville, Adkins declined to comment.
“All employees outside the city manager and city attorney are hired by the city manager,” she said. “I respect that process.”
Towarnicki and City Attorney Eric Monday could not be reached for comment.
The ordinance states that the city manager, city attorney, assistant city manager and department heads must establish residence in Martinsville within 12 months after their employment begins, and they must live in the city as long as they are employed by the city.
But the city manager can make exceptions, according to the ordinance, “when unusual or extraordinary conditions exist that would constitute a hardship for an applicant.”
Towarnicki and several department heads live outside the city limits. They were granted exemptions basically because they live within a few miles of Martinsville and could quickly get to the city if emergencies requiring their involvement occurred after regular business hours, officials have said.
Adkins mentioned that some interim department heads — including Interim Police Chief Eddie Cassady — also live outside the city.
She recalled that when she ran for council, one of her platform issues was for the residency requirement to be repealed.
Although they have separate governments, “I think of Martinsville-Henry County as one unit” in terms of a locality, Adkins said.
“There’s a lot of local talent we’re not able to capture” if the ordinance remains on the books, she said.
Councilman Mark Stroud said he does not necessarily favor repealing the ordinance and he understands that many residents prefer for department heads to live in the city.
But “as our population has shrunk” in Martinsville, Stroud said, “it’s gotten harder” to recruit people with skills needed for city jobs.
He said he understands hiring was much easier when Martinsville had a larger industrial base and the city could recruit talented workers from companies.
Stroud added that department heads living in the county have “done a good job” for the city.
Councilman Danny Turner said he realizes that if a county resident is forced to live in the city to become a department head, the person would “have to sell a house in a depressed market, and that becomes a burden.”
But he favors keeping the ordinance because he thinks department heads “should be part of the fabric” of the city, he said.
Turner said, though, he thinks there will be enough votes on council to repeal it.
Plus, he said, “there have been so many exceptions made to the rule, it’s not much of a rule anymore.”
Vice Mayor Gene Teague he has mixed emotions on the issue. He said many people want “those (city workers) who are paid the most” to live in the city, but “we want to make sure we get the best people” for vacant positions.
Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge could not be reached for comment.
Repealing the ordinance will be considered on first reading when the council meets at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the municipal building on West Church Street uptown.
If repealing it on first reading is approved, final approval of the repeal during the next council meeting on Aug. 27 is all but certain, based on past council votes.