Topeka leaders consider repealing residency requirement, but changes might expire in 2027

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Topeka Deputy Mayor and Councilman Spencer Duncan suggests the city do away with its requirement that employees live in Shawnee County.
Topeka Deputy Mayor and Councilman Spencer Duncan suggests the city do away with its requirement that employees live in Shawnee County.

Topeka Deputy Mayor Spencer Duncan's mother, Kathleen Duncan, questions his assertion that the city should do away with its residency rule requiring city employees to live in Shawnee County, he acknowledged at Tuesday evening's city council meeting.

Spencer Duncan wants to repeal that requirement, but input from his mother has left him willing to "look at every variable" as the city considers how to go about doing that, he said.

So when fellow Councilman Neil Dobler suggested making the requirement's proposed repeal temporary, Spencer Duncan said he'd be willing to arrange for the repeal to expire on Dec. 31, 2027, unless the mayor and council voted to extend it beyond then.

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'Mother knows best'

It wasn't immediately clear whether that revision would become part of the proposal involved. Mayor Mike Padilla asked Spencer Duncan not to make that part of the proposal until they discussed it further. Duncan agreed.

Still, Duncan told The Capital-Journal he expected Dobler's suggested revision would become part of the proposal's final version.

Council members seemed to focus not on whether the city should repeal the residency requirement but on what rules should be involved with any such repeal.

Still, Councilwoman Sylvia Ortiz made it clear she was against the proposed repeal, suggesting Duncan do as his mother says.

"Mother knows best," she said.

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Vote to keep city residency rule three years ago was 5-5

No action was taken Tuesday on the residency rule repeal proposal, which the mayor and council are expected to consider in the coming weeks.

The city since the early 1980s has required all its employees to be "bona fide residents of Shawnee County," though it allows for new employees to move into Shawnee County within six months of their hiring.

When they last considered scrapping the residency rule in May 2019, Topeka's mayor and city council deadlocked 5-5. Six votes were required for approval, meaning the rule remains in place.

The city council's policy and finance committee, of which Duncan is chairman, voted 2-0 last month to give the city staff permission to arrange for the city's governing body to consider doing away with the residency requirement.

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'Apparently us and Wyandotte County think we're smarter than everybody else'

Duncan told those present Tuesday that out of the 11 cities in Kansas with populations of 40,000 or more, only two — the city of Topeka and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan. — still maintain residency requirements.

Councilman Mike Lesser questioned the wisdom of Topeka's going one direction while almost everyone else is going another.

"Apparently us and Wyandotte County think we're smarter than everybody else in the whole state of Kansas," he said.

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Here's what Topeka's residency proposal would do

The proposed residency repeal ordinance would do away with the city's requirement that employees live within Shawnee County, instead requiring them only to live in Kansas.

The proposal would keep in place the requirement that department heads live in Shawnee County. The city manager would be required to live in the city of Topeka.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at threnchir@gannett.com or 785-213-5934.

This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Topeka mayor, city council discuss potential repeal of residency rule