This Thursday, City Council will decide whether to erect an “Outsiders Not Welcome” sign on the door of the city’s hiring office. Philadelphians who value the diversity, vibrancy, and energy that newcomers bring to this city should urge Council to vote no.
Bill No. 200363 would prohibit the city from hiring anyone for a civil service job unless the applicant already has lived in the city for one year prior to hiring. City Council wisely scrapped this very rule back in 2008, at the urging of then-Councilmember Jim Kenney. There is no reason to turn back the clock.
This is not an argument against the city employee residency requirement. That requirement should be applied to all city employees and should be vigorously enforced. City employees serve Philadelphians; they should be invested in Philadelphia, should care about Philadelphia, should understand Philadelphia, and should look like Philadelphia. Requiring all city employees to live in Philadelphia is a critical tool to achieve all of these goals.
And the sponsors of this bill should be applauded for recognizing the importance of the residency requirement with respect to the police, in particular. Recent events have reminded us how important it is that the police, in particular, understand and respect the community they are charged with protecting. If Council can help the city work toward eliminating the residency exemption for police, that would be a great step forward in improving public safety and public confidence.
But none of that requires that all civil service employees must come from Philadelphia. That atty-tood — that you must be born and raised here to be a true Philadelphian — should not be reflected in city hiring practices. In recent years, this city has proudly hung up a “Welcome” sign, as we attract and enthusiastically welcome newcomers from all corners of the state, the nation, and the globe. As a result, our population is growing. Our economy is growing. And our city is becoming increasingly diverse. The prehire residency requirement would take us back in the opposite direction.
If someone wants to move here, live here, and work here, we should open the front door for her. And if someone has earned a spot at the top of a civil service job list, demonstrating an interest in serving this city and the potential to do an outstanding job, he is the kind of resident we should enthusiastically welcome.
Proponents of the current legislation say that there are plenty of qualified workers right here in Philadelphia, so we don’t need outsiders to come in and take prized city jobs away from “us.” The proponents are right that we have a fabulous, talented, competitive workforce right here at home. And that workforce can handle the competition.
Occasionally, however, an outsider will score higher on a civil service test. If she or he wants to move here, that’s a win-win for Philadelphia. City jobs don’t exist for the job holders; they exist to benefit the city as a whole. And the city as a whole deserves the best possible candidates.
Philadelphia is made better and stronger by the new ideas, new ways of thinking, new lifestyles, cultures, and backgrounds of people who grew up elsewhere but want to make Philadelphia their home. If, after a fair competition, they are selected for a civil service job, then they are the best kind of newcomers we can ask for — talented, economic contributors, interested in public service. The city should not artificially limit its applicant pool to deny itself the benefits of outside attitudes and influences.
The prehire residency requirement is a form of urban xenophobia. Let’s make sure that we don’t sound like the anti-immigrant crowd in Washington: “We don’t need outsiders.” “We have plenty of good people right here.” “They don’t understand our way of life.” Let’s instead live up to our name — the City of Brotherly Love — and open our arms wide to those who want to make Philadelphia their home.
Let's not turn back the clock. Bill No. 200363 should not become law.