A Missoula City Council committee moved ahead Wednesday on a proposal to require new top city officials to live in the city limits – but with pushback from the police chief.

Police Chief Mark Muir said the proposal has some “pitfalls” he wanted to point out, and he also gave council members a glimpse of how many police officers live outside the city. He said 60 percent of his command staff and 75 percent of middle management live in the county; four out of the last five chiefs have lived in the county, including Muir.

“I chose to improve my quality of life in a way by moving right outside the city limits,” Muir said.

But he and his officers are no less responsive to city residents, and in fact, Muir said his commute is shorter than that of Councilman Adam Hertz, who lives off Mullan Road. Muir argued his responsibility stems from his sense of duty and not the taxes he pays or doesn’t pay.

Muir’s comments were in response to a proposal by Councilwoman Cynthia Wolken to require department heads to reside within the city of Missoula. The committee voted to set a public hearing for Feb. 25 on the draft ordinance; the full council must confirm the public hearing.

As written, the ordinance sets a requirement “that city department heads reside continuously within the city limits.” Reasons include promoting a greater personal responsibility by department heads for the welfare of city residents, having them pay city taxes to contribute to their own salaries and encouraging them to spend money inside the city limits.

“The city council declares that this continuous residency requirement for department heads is desirable and necessary in order to ensure department head understanding and sensitivity to city community issues as well as to be financial contributors to their salaries and benefits as department heads,” the draft measure reads.

In its current draft, the proposal would apply to new top hires, and it would exempt current department heads and some second-tier assistants in line for promotions. Wolken said she would like to have an ordinance in place before the city hires its Development Services director, likely sometime in March, and she considers the proposal a starting point.

“I think there are compelling reasons why we want senior staff in certain departments like streets and Public Works and Development Services to live in the city, but I was just comfortable starting here,” Wolken said.

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Municipalities may require all employees to live in the city limits, but in Missoula, the mandate would be difficult for lower-paid staff because of the cost of housing inside the city, according to City Attorney Jim Nugent.

But even rookie police officers earn $49,092, according to the city communications director. The salary range for officers runs from the rookie’s starting point to $68,148; sergeants earn from $65,832 to $80,088; lieutenants make from $81,732 to $82,860; and captains pull in $84,643.

The level of support for the residency requirement varied among committee members, although all but Councilman Jon Wilkins voted in favor of the public hearing. Wilkins opposed the measure namely because he fears it will hurt the city’s ability to hire the best internal candidates for open jobs if some employees who are second in command live in the county.

“Maybe then, we’re not getting the best people for the job,” Wilkins said. “I guess that’s kind of what bothers me.”

But Councilors Jason Wiener and Alex Taft were in favor of the idea, and Taft said he’s seen the requirement in other places.

In Boston, for instance, he witnessed a “Reside or Resign” campaign, and every leader but the head of public works moved into the city. Taft said someone tapped for promotion has an opportunity to move into the city, and “it’s not like it’s another country or something.”

“I think it gives our citizens assurance that the leaders have skin in the game, as they say,” Taft said.

Wiener also backed the proposal, and he used the Development Services director as an example. That individual should live within the city limits – and under the regulations he or she is creating and administering.

“If you work for the city and the people in the city, (then) you should be among them,” Wiener said.

Wolken said she took future hires into consideration when she included in the draft exemptions for the assistant police and fire chiefs, and she said the next generations of top officials will have time to decide if they want those promotions and plan accordingly.

So far, the positions being considered for the requirement are the following, although jobs could be added or removed: chief administrative officer, city attorney, city clerk, city finance director, police chief, fire chief, Development Services director, Missoula Redevelopment Agency director, Parking Commission director, Parks and Recreation director, Public Works director and city engineer.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

Reach Keila Szpaller at @keilaszpaller, at keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or at (406) 523-5262.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.