St. Louis firefighter residency law struck down by circuit judge

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 | 12:23 p.m. CDT; updated 9:39 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ST. LOUIS — A Missouri judge has struck down a state law allowing St. Louis firefighters to live outside the city limits because it infringed on the city's authority to set its own work policies.

St. Louis has long had residency requirements for most of its employees, but the Missouri General Assembly passed a bill last year giving firefighters the right to live outside the city as long as they were within an hour of their home fire station. St. Louis officials contended the law infringed on the city's charter.

In a ruling made last week that was delivered to city attorneys Tuesday, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem said the Missouri Constitution protects a city's authority to make residency decisions for its employees.

City staffers told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the judge's decision validates a city's right to rule itself.

"We believed all along that there's only one group of people who get to decide the terms of employment of St. Louis firefighters, and that's the voters of St. Louis. They're the only ones who can change the charter," said Jeff Rainford, the chief of staff for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

"Hopefully (the court ruling) will send a message to certain members of the General Assembly that they should butt out of matters that are none of their business," Rainford said.

Chris Molitor, president of the local firefighters union, called the ruling a "disappointment." He said firefighters only wanted "a freedom enjoyed by most Americans," and that he would have to talk to his members before making further decisions.

Molitor said he didn't expect many firefighters to be in trouble with the city. The city had sent letters to fire department staffers a year ago, informing them that it didn't believe the new state law was legal and that anyone who moved out would be subject to disciplinary action. Molitor said that he knew of only one firefighter who actually moved out of the city after the letter was sent.

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J H July 12, 2011 | 5:51 p.m.
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