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By Henrietta J. Burroughs
East Palo Alto Today
Posted April 7, 2010

Photo of Henrietta J. Burroughs



It needs to be noted that we’ve reached a low point in East Palo Alto when the city’s Chief of Police Ron Davis has to defend himself at an East Palo Alto City Council meeting by stating that he is not a resident of the city, but he comes  to the city each day prepared to die, if need be, to defend the city and its residents.

It seems that no one is immune from the handful of East Palo Alto residents who continually confront others with the charge that they are not city residents and, they, therefore, lack the necessary legitimacy and knowledge to be effective in working in East Palo Alto.

Well, it is time these naysayers cease and desist with their charges. First of all, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights give U.S. citizens the right to live and work in America wherever they choose. City residency is not required unless one is seeking to serve as an elected city official or on a city’s boards or commissions.

So, given a few exceptions, being a city resident is not a requirement for working in any U.S. city. The lack of city residency does not make any nonresident who works in a city less qualified than the city’s residents when it comes to dealing with city issues. An exception is made when it comes to the ballot. Residents can vote in a city and nonresidents can’t.

Second, the idea of putting down or demeaning those who vounteer or work in East Palo Alto because they are nonresidents is not only wrong and crude, but it is also extremely shortsighted.

The idea that only East Palo Alto residents will always do what is in the best interest of their city is fallacious. Residency does not convey the superiority that some people in the city would have you believe.

Having someone in a position who is not qualified to do the job, simply because that person is a city resident is much worst than having a nonresident in a position who is qualified to do the job and is giving a top performance.

Those city residents who want to promote East Palo Altans first and foremost need to recognize that it is possible to have nonresidents working within the city who can make wise decisions that benefit the residents of the city.

It is also possible to have East Palo Alto residents working within the city who make lousy decisions that, accordingly, adversely affect the residents of the city.
It is also possible to have qualified residents working in East Palo Alto who can make good decisions for the city.

Obviously, residency, in and of itself, does not make one superior in terms of anything - even when it comes to having a commitment to the city. People should stop looking at residency status and focus on performance. Good decisions, excellent skills and abilities and the willingness and desire to do a job well are not functions of residency.

The question should always be who is the best qualified person for the job and who will perform the job to the highest level to which it needs to be performed.
These are some of the the considerations and the requisites needed to improve the quality of life in any city.

Third, the act of using residency as a way of gaining power and clout in the past to silence people is quickly becoming outmoded as a tool for keeping nonresidents subordinate when it comes to sharing useful ideas either around the table or in various public forums.

Finally, East Palo Alto needs every positive resource that it can get to deal with the challenges it faces and, like any city, it needs to attract the best pool of talent that it can get. To demand that all of the needed talent pool comes from East Palo Alto is impractical.

We should all be focusing on the challenges and how to deal with them effectively rather than getting side tracked by issues that leech valuable time and energy and needlessly pit people against each other.

The key question should not be, "Do you live in East Palo Alto?" The important, key questions should be: "What do you have to offer? What can you give and what can you do to provide the type of solutions needed to move East Palo Alto in the direction its residents would like for it to go?"

Wouldn't it make sense for EPA to be a welcoming city -- open to new ideas and different approaches -- as it keeps what is considered good about itself and improves what needs to be better?

Perhaps, as more residents feel more secure and more empowered themselves, then they can be more welcoming to others who live in the city as well as to those who live outside of the city, but work in it.

If the fear is that outsiders will come in and take over, then more residents need to step up to the plate and acquire the skills and the resources that are needed in the areas that they consider important.

The time for divisiveness has passed, if that time ever existed. There is no going back to some golden time in the city’s history. Life moves on and East Palo Alto most move on with life, if it is to survive and thrive as a healthy, productive, peaceful city that improves its standing among other cities.

We are all part of the EPA community, whether we live in the city or work in it, as nonresidents. East Palo Alto is a better community because of the positive work we are all doing in it together to confront the challenges it faces. The more we face those challenges together, the greater the city will be.

As one humanity, our future is linked and we must develop a bigger vision about ourselves and others -- a vision that is, of necessity, inclusive not exclusive.

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