A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Certify: An Interview with Ed Murray, Mayor of Seattle, Wash.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, executive director of STAR Communities

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Recently, STAR Communities announced that Seattle was awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating for national leadership in sustainability. The city recorded the highest score to date, and is only the second in the nation to achieve the 5-STAR rating for its participation in the STAR Community Rating System (STAR), which evaluates the livability and sustainability of U.S. communities.

This blog post features Seattle Mayor Ed Murray reflecting on the Emerald City’s experiences with STAR — achievements that he is especially proud of and areas that the city has targeted for future investment as a result of the assessment’s findings.

How has the STAR Community Rating System enriched Seattle’s already impressive sustainability work?

The STAR Community Rating System daylighted programs delivering sustainability benefits across several different goal areas. Understanding where our investments are leveraging sustainability impact helps inform budgeting and prioritization and that is incredibly important when a city is planning investments for the future. It allows us to reliably direct resources in a manner that will continue to benefit Seattle residents and businesses well into the future.

How will STAR help you promote a healthy environment, a strong economy and well-being for all residents, now and for future generations?

The roadmap that STAR provides to a healthy, prosperous and safe community helps us create a shared vision — with the community — of what we want Seattle to be and the best ways to get there. STAR is a great tool for fostering community engagement around Seattle’s sustainability work.

What are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected in the STAR certification?

Seattle has a goal of becoming carbon neutral — it was reassuring to receive maximum credit for our climate adaptation and greenhouse gas mitigation work. It showed us that we are on the right path. We also received a high number of points for our leading edge energy efficiency programs and the Green Seattle Partnership – a unique public-private partnership working to restore and maintain Seattle’s forested parkland.

How has the STAR Community Rating System improved transparency in Seattle and helped you better message your sustainability work to constituents?

The very thorough processes of collecting, analyzing and reporting all of the data required for the assessment was big leap forward in terms of Seattle’s commitment to transparency. It’s hard to be transparent if you don’t have a clear means of communicating your work. STAR provides that clarity. I’m not interested in talking about generalities when it comes to Seattle’s sustainability work, and neither are our residents. We’re interested in specifics and that’s what we got with the STAR Community Rating System.

STAR Certification helped you identify some areas requiring additional work. How do you plan on addressing those gaps going forward?

The STAR equity measures showed we have some work to do in the area of Environmental Justice. To address that gap, we recently launched an Equity & Environment Initiative to explore who is and isn’t benefiting from Seattle’s environmental progress and how we can advance equity and provide opportunities for everyone to participate in Seattle’s environmental movement. STAR will be a great tool to help us track the outcomes and accomplishments of this initiative.

For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR is so much more than a recognition program. It is worth it to invest the time needed for a robust assessment. It’s a valuable tool that can help your city make great strides in sustainability outcomes.

Mayor-Ed-MurrayAbout the Mayor: Ed Murray has been Mayor of Seattle since January 2014. He served in the Washington State Senate from 2007-2013, and before that for 11 years in the Washington State House of Representatives.

 

H-Varnadore-BAbout the Author: As Executive Director of STAR Communities, Hilari is focused on advancing a national framework and rating system for sustainable communities. Previously, she served as Frederick County, Maryland’s first Sustainability Director in the Office of the County Manager and was a member of the Urban Sustainability Directors Network.

Climate Impacts on Water: Going to Extremes

Climate change is introducing new challenges and risks, and exasperating existing ones.

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Extreme weather events, extreme drought and extreme flooding are among the impacts that climate chance is and will have on water quality and availability in cities.

According to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor Report, 30 percent of the contiguous United States is experiencing “moderate” to “exceptional” drought, with 82 percent of California experiencing “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. At the same time, cities up and down the east coast recently experienced higher tides than normal, known as “king tides,” due the alignment of the Earth, moon and sun.

While king tides are predictable events that are unrelated to climate change, the Washington Post described last week’s high water levels as a “preview [of the] the increasing threat of sea level rise” and called sea level rise an “X-Factor” that could exasperate the impacts of tidal flooding.

Earlier this year, the National Climate Assessment found that very heavy precipitation events have increased nationally, droughts have intensified, and flooding has increased in many parts of the U.S. The upcoming NLC Congress of Cities will dive into these topics through a two-part workshop for communities facing “too much water” and those facing “too little water.”

Too Much Water

Sea Level Rise

Approximately one third of the U.S. population—more than 100 million people—live in coastal communities that are threatened by rising sea levels and higher storm surges.

Perhaps no group has been more vocal about drawing attention to the impacts of sea level rise on their community than local leaders in southeast Florida. In 2009, the counties of Broward, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach formed the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact to jointly reduce carbon emissions and adapt to climate change, particularly sea level rise.

Cindy Lerner, Mayor of Pinecrest, Florida will speak about the impacts of sea level rise on southeastern Florida and how local officials in the area are taking action to protect infrastructure, property and lives and raise awareness among citizens and the state government.

Heavy Downpours and Increased Flooding

With climate change and higher temperatures, extreme weather storms are arriving with greater frequency and intensity. Cities like Dubuque, Iowa face chronic and severe flooding as a result and are adopting solutions to managing an increasing amount of stormwater runoff. The Dubuque Bee Branch Watershed, where over 50 percent of residents live and work, is one of the areas hardest hit by flash flooding.

Roy Buol, Mayor of Dubuque will highlight the city’s efforts reduce stormwater and flooding, including the Bee Branch Watershed Flood Mitigation Project, which will reduce and slow the volume of stormwater through the watershed, provide a safe place for overflows, protect the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and expand upon and connect national and regional trail systems. Green infrastructure techniques, such as Dubuque’s green alley program, are becoming increasingly popular for communities as a means of managing and capturing stormwater and can also have added community and economic benefits.

Too Little Water

Hotter and drier are the themes for regions such as the Southwest and Great Plains, fostering increased wildfires and water scarcity. Extreme droughts are likely, as warmer temperatures result in melting and decreased snowpacks and depletion of groundwater and aquifers. Add in western water laws, and there is a recipe for real conflict over water resources. You’ll hear from Willits, California City Manager Adrienne Moore and Wichita Falls City Manager Darren Leiker on their cities’ efforts to conserve and reuse water and to adapt for the long-term reality in which water is a scarce commodity.

Colorado is a state of extremes. Karen Weitkunat, Mayor of Fort Collins will share the impact that the devastating 2012 High Park Fire had on water quality and how it served as a precursor for the extreme flooding that occurred the following year. She’ll share lessons learned from the two events and how communities are building back stronger, safer and more resilient.

Preparing Our Communities

Whether they are facing too little or too much water, communities cannot rely on past data to predict future needs. Climate change is introducing new challenges and risks for water quality and availability, and exasperating existing ones. Join NLC in Austin to dive deeper into these topics. Learn from experts about the impacts of climate change and how you can prepare and adapt to build a resilient community.

Carolyn BerndtAbout the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.

How: (Cities) + (Science) = Resilient Communities

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners.

Testing-Water-BlogTesting water level levels with a measuring pole.

If pushed to their intellectual limits, most people will be able to name one great living scientist. At the top of any list is either Stephen Hawking (theoretical physicist and cosmologist) or Jane Goodall (anthropologist). Beyond these two, the next most famous scientist is either director of the Hayden Planetarium and host of Cosmos Neil deGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist) or Sheldon Cooper, the fictional physicist on the television sit-com The Big Bang Theory. For those of a certain age, Bill Nye the Science Guy rounds out the top five.

Stephen Hawking of course is the great mind behind A Brief History of Time and other cosmic works that broke all sorts of New York Times best seller records. Alas, it is also true that hundreds of thousands of folks may have purchased his books but only small fractions have actually read them. On the other hand, in any given week, the antics of Dr. Sheldon Cooper are watched by anywhere between 15 and 20 million viewers.

The point is not to disparage our general lack of knowledge about scientists and scientific breakthroughs. Rather it is to highlight how little credibility is paid to good science produced by working scientists who are solving problems of disease, starvation, environmental degradation and species collapse in universities, labs and garages all over America.

Scientists deal in facts, data, observations, experiments, testing and retesting, and vigorous analysis. In big ways and small, scientists are pushing the limits of human understanding and working to solve problems that face the Earth’s population each day. They are the friend and ally of anyone seeking to make life better in communities around the world, and in the present era they are armed with the most sophisticated tools ever invented for measurement and evaluation.

For city leaders preparing for floods, droughts, air and water contaminants, rising sea levels and other potential disasters, scientists are essential partners. They bring a methodical approach to local priorities and work to define research questions, collect and analyze data, and apply results to make local-level predictions.

Working through the American Geophysical Union (AGU), an international coalition of more than 61,000 scientists, a project called the Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) is advancing human and environmental resilience. The project brings scientists together with community leaders to provide participatory scientific methods and research to local challenges. In short, TEX helps a community imagine and launch innovative projects that leverage Earth and space science for the public good.

Examples of such collaboratives already exist. Five diverse Denver neighborhoods are in the midst of a TEX project to investigate environmental factors that influence health and wellbeing in their communities. Operating under the umbrella of Taking Neighborhood Health to Heart (TNH2H), the neighborhoods of Park Hill, Northeast Park Hill, East Montclair, Northwest Aurora and Stapleton are the target research zones. These areas are bounded by two major interstate highways, transected by three of the metro areas’ busiest thoroughfares, and are near shuttered military installations with defense industry-related dump and waste sites. The research is exploring issues of geohazards, water and soil quality and climate change.

On the Pine Ridge Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Native American and non-Native scientists are working to identify aquifer water quality within the local watershed in order to understand the cause of an extremely high rate of cancer (600% higher than the U.S. average) in Pine Ridge residents. A team working for almost 4 years in close harmony with the Tribal Council and a local cancer survivor group collected samples and ran tests on different water filter models to determine which tool might serve the community best.

Cities with a capacity and willingness to make use of geoscience information in planning or operations are ideal candidates for a TEX project. Community leaders can reach out to AGU staff directly to engage with the Thriving Earth Exchange Program. The program director is Raj Pandya, rpandya@agu.org, 1-303-999-7112.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement.  Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Federal Agency Notice-And-Comment: Supreme Court to Decide When It’s Required

State and local governments often regulate in the same space as federal agencies and are often regulated by federal agencies.

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Regulations and rules.  What is the difference?  Under the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) regulations interpret statutes and federal agencies adopt them only after notice-and-comment.  Rules interpret regulations and are promulgated without-notice and-comment.  But what if an agency changes a rule;   should it first seek notice and comment?  The Supreme Court will decide this issue in Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association.

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) argues yes in its amicus brief, which agrees with the lower court that significant changes to an interpretation of a regulation amounts to effectively changing the regulation, which requires notice-and-comment.  Local governments frequently have been surprised by interpretive rules that have changed regulations.  NLC joined the SLLC’s brief.

In 2006 the Department of Labor (DOL) issued an opinion letter stating that mortgage loan officers who work more than 40 hours a week were exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In 2010 DOL withdrew the opinion letter in an “Administrator’s Interpretation” that reached the opposite conclusion.  Since 1997 the D.C. Circuit’s rule has been that if an interpretive rule is definitive and an agency makes a significant change to it, the agency must first conduct notice-and-comment rulemaking.

State and local governments often regulate in the same space as federal agencies and are often regulated by federal agencies.  The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that requiring notice-and-comment for significant changes to interpretations of regulations will maintain the balance between agency discretion and reliance interests the APA was designed to protect.  It also argues that allowing state and local governments to weigh in on problematic interpretations is far more efficient than state and local governments challenging them through litigation.  And allowing greater state and local participation in the process will avoid or at least limit the risk to federalism posed by ever-expanding agency authority.

The SLLC’s brief discusses a number of examples where federal agencies have changed positions in interpretive rules.  In 1993, DOL issued a series of opinion letters concluding that career firefighters who volunteered their services to private organizations had to be paid extra by whatever public entity employed them.  DOL then changed its mind in 2001.  And in a 2011 guidance letter the Environmental Protection Agency disallowed wastewater discharge “mixing zones,” while regulations previously allowed them.  This guidance letter was successfully challenged in the Eighth Circuit in Iowa League of Cities v. EPA.

SLLC’s brief which was joined by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International Municipal Lawyers AssociationGovernment Finance Officers Association, National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, and the International Public Management Association for Human Resources.

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About the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Moms Say Thanks to Mayors for Leadership on Connecting Children and Families to Health Insurance

Cities across the U.S. are making children’s health a local priority and taking an active role in enrolling kids and families in Medicaid and CHIP.

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Moms have gotten wind of NLC’s Cities Expanding Health Access for Children and Families initiative (CEHACF) and are telling mayors “thank you” for taking the lead on enrolling kids and families in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Our friends at Moms Rising, a grass-roots network of moms and individuals united by the goal of developing a more family-friendly America, have called upon their membership in Dallas and Pittsburgh to sign thank you letters to show Mayor Mike Rawlings (Dallas) and Mayor Bill Peduto (Pittsburgh) support for making children’s health a local priority.

Cities across the U.S. are taking an active role in enrolling kids and families in Medicaid and CHIP. As part of the CEHACF initiative, NLC selected eight cities in July 2014 to receive grants up to $260,000 per city to support outreach and enrollment campaigns aimed at reducing the uninsured rate of children and families in their communities. Campaigns developed through the CEHACF initiative implement strategic outreach strategies, including:

  • Dedicated city campaign websites with information on how to access enrollment assistance;
  • Referral systems for enrollment assistance through United Way’s 2-1-1 and municipal 3-1-1 phone systems;
  • School partnerships to systematically identify children eligible for but not enrolled in insurance;
  • Onsite enrollment assistance provided at Women, Infants, and Children centers; public housing complexes; heating assistance provider offices and libraries; and
  • Targeted messaging and marketing campaigns utilizing city busses and vehicles, robocalls, paid and earned media, radio, information phone-a-thons and social media.

Most importantly, each campaign is championed by strong local leadership from mayors and other local elected officials. What is your mayor doing to take the lead on Medicaid and CHIP enrollment? Tweet @KidHealth_DC and use the hashtag #Cities4Health to let us know!

Have City Finances Recovered?

At the release event for NLC’s annual City Fiscal Conditions, it was revealed that although the worst is behind, city finances have not yet reached full recovery.

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Most accounts of the current state of economic and fiscal health go something like this: stabilizing but not yet returned to pre-recession levels. The media guys (and gals) hate it. There doesn’t seem to be much of a story when all we are seeing is incremental change. But when you think about persistently stagnant growth, the real question becomes, how far are we from full recovery?

At a release event today for NLC’s annual City Fiscal Conditions, it was revealed that although the worst is behind, city finances have not yet reached full recovery.

The cost and demands of services, pension, healthcare and infrastructure are on the rise. Federal aid and accompanying mandates are in flux and create uncertainty for local governments. Revenue options are constrained by economic conditions, state limitations and political culture.

Compounding these fiscal stresses are new demographic trends, housing and labor market changes, and the rise of new and disruptive industries, all of which underscore the misalignment between traditional revenue sources — property, income and sales taxes –and the economic activity that drives them.

So, how do we know how far city budgets are from full recovery? What are the key vital signs of city fiscal health?

The outlook of city finance officers, general fund revenues, workforce and personnel, and ending balances offer a unique window into recovery at the local level.

Outlook of City Finance Officers

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In 2014, 80% of city finance officers report that they are better able to meet the financial needs of their community this year than last. In fact, more city finance officers report a positive outlook this year than in the 29-year history of the survey.

On the flip side, this finding also means that 80% of cities across the country were worse off last year, indicative of magnitude of the recession and the depths to which cities sank throughout the recessionary period.

General Fund Revenues

General fund revenues grew modestly in 2013, and were the first post-recession year over year growth in revenues. However, revenues are projected to stagnate as cities close the books on 2014.

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To gain more perspective on how the general fund revenues are faring pre and post-recession, we created an index using 2006 as the base year. 2006 was the pre-recession peak in revenues, the low came in 2012 when revenues were 88% of 2006 levels.

The first post-recession increase in revenues didn’t come until 2013 but in 2014 are still only projected to be around 90% of the 2006 revenue base.

Revenues are not yet at full recovery and the growth in revenues appears to be stagnating.

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Another window in general fund revenues is to take a closer look at the drivers of the general fund: property, sales and income taxes.

During the recent recession, all three sources of tax revenue declined together due to the severity and length of the recession. Property tax revenue is anticipated to increase slightly in 2014 as collections catch up with improvements in the real estate market. This will be the first increase coming out of the recession.

Sales tax and income tax revenues continue to grow in 2013, but are projected to slow as cities close the books on fiscal year 2014. This is indicative not only of a harsh winter, but also the type of employment recovery we are seeing, with low wage jobs dominating growth.

Municipal Workforce

Speaking of jobs, throughout the recession, many cities implemented some combination of personnel and workforce-related cuts, including hiring freezes and layoffs, in an effort to reduce costs.

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The good news: for the first time post-recession, more cities are increasing rather than decreasing the size their municipal workforces. The bad news: in the context of returning to full recovery, there are still ½ million fewer local government jobs today than there were in 2008.

This is particularly troublesome given the state of the mid-wage and mid-skill jobs crisis we are experiencing today.

Ending Balances

Ending Balances, or reserves, provide a financial cushion for cities to help balance budgets or to use toward a major planned project. Bond underwriters also look at a city’s reserves as an indicator of how likely the city is to make good on its debt.

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Ending balances are on a positive trajectory, at almost 22% of expenditures in 2013. Prior to the recession, ending balances hovered around a high of 25% of expenditures, indicating that reserves have not yet hit pre-recession levels.

So, as we take stock key city fiscal vitals, we are starting to see city finances turn the corner coming out of the recession, but as revenues, workforce, and ending balances indicate, they have not yet returned to full recovery.

For first time since the recession, general fund revenues are increasing, but are projected to stagnate in 2014. More cities are hiring, helping to close the mid-wage, mid-skill gap, but we are still ½ million jobs away from pre-recession levels. Ending balances are showing a positive trajectory, but again, still have not caught up.

Cities were at the forefront of the Great Recession and are making their way back through tough choices, innovation and partnerships with the private sector, nonprofits, and others. Given persistent constraints on city budgets, however, the future is anything but certain.

christy-mcfarlandAbout the Author: Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

With So Much at Stake, Mayors Look to Lead on Education

Mayors and community leaders alike recognize that a high quality education system spurs economic development, reduces crime and lifts families out of poverty.

mayor readingNLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. has made education a priority. Photo credit: chriscoleman.org.

Over the last decade, educators and stakeholders in cities across the country have been engaged in vigorous debate about how to best provide the highest quality education to our children. Controversy over issues such as how to evaluate the performance of both teachers and students, teacher tenure protections and funding formulas have made headlines from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

Despite the controversy surrounding education reform, cities across the country do share many pedagogical goals. Namely, to provide high quality educational opportunities (in the classroom and beyond) to all children, and to ensure their education equips them with the necessary tools to make good choices about their future.

In our analysis of Mayoral State of the City addresses this year, we discovered that 70% of speeches covered education, and 32% devoted “significant coverage”—at least three paragraphs or more—to the topic. It is clear that cities are working hard to advance early childhood education, eliminate the achievement gap, cut the dropout rate and prepare every student for success in college and career.

In many cities, mayors and other local elected officials have no formal authority over their city’s school system. Mayors are involved in education in a variety of important ways though. As Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus, Ohio noted in his state of the city address, it is the role of local officials to “bring together extraordinary people from every sector of our community—education, business, labor, nonprofit, the faith community, the school board and City Council to make Columbus the best big city in the nation for educating kids.” Indeed, mayors and community leaders alike recognize that a high quality education system spurs economic development, reduces crime and lifts families out of poverty.

Children are the Future

It may be stating the obvious to say that as we contemplate the future of cities, we’d do well to remember that children are our future. “They represent a source of workforce skills, civic participation, and taxpayer revenue that Durham can ill afford to waste,” Mayor Bill Bell recognized.

Blog 10- 14-14 IYEF-10Many mayors noted their accomplishments in increasing postsecondary access and completion, an area that NLC has a long history of working with cities on. We’re currently working with a diverse group of cities on postsecondary success, including Salt Lake City, San Antonio and Philadelphia. In his address, Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia noted that “in 2007, the number of Philadelphians with a college degree was only 18%. Today, it is almost 25%.” His enthusiasm was tempered with caution however, as he acknowledged, “its progress, but it’s not enough.”

What is enough?

Many cities across the country have adopted a “cradle-to-career” approach to education. To that end, there has been a renewed focus in recent years on the start of a child’s educational journey – early childhood care and education. And for good reason. A growing body of research shows that children with a quality pre-K education are better prepared to succeed in grade school, in high school and beyond. Thirty-four of the mayors in our sample (11%) included pointed remarks in their addresses on the importance of early childhood education.

“We must start when our children are very young. Most brain development occurs in the first three years of life,” stated George Hartwell, Mayor of Grand Rapids, Mich. “Those must be rich, healthy, stimulating years if we are to produce children ready for school,”

Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle summed up the sentiment shared by many of his counterparts with this comment: “I am committed to making affordable preschool available to all children in Seattle before they reach elementary school.”

Cities such as Seattle, Grand Rapids, Mich., Indianapolis and Hartford, Conn., (to name just a few) are making long-term investments in their young residents by allocating resources to early education programs. Hartford has even set a goal to have 100% of preschoolers in school by 2019.

The returns on these investments – a more competitive workforce, the ability to attract and keep more families in cities, fewer residents living in poverty – are the building blocks for creating better communities. To build better communities is the mission of the National League of Cities and, I suspect, the driving force behind the decision of countless mayors and local officials to run for elected office in the first place.

Providing a Local Voice in the National Education Conversation

NLC President Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, Minn. has been a leading voice on education at both the local and national levels. With NLC First Vice President Ralph Becker, Mayor of Salt Lake City, he co-chairs NLC’s Mayors’ Education Reform Task Force. The task force was formed in March 2013 to explore how cities can and should be involved in local education reform efforts, and includes mayors from approximately 60 cities. “The perspectives from mayors of cities large to small are valuable to local and national policymakers,” said Mayor Coleman.

This is the fifth blog post in NLC’s State of the Cities 2014 series.

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About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Senior Staff Writer for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Pay for Success: A New Opportunity for Local Governments to be Catalysts for Change

Calling all participants in the social innovation economy! If you’re a local government interested in social innovation finance or social impact bonds, check out this new opportunity to make impactful social interventions that produce results for communities in need.

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Through its Social Innovation Fund, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) has awarded $1.9 million in grant funding to Third Sector Capital Partners, Inc., a nonprofit advisory firm specializing in Pay for Success (PFS). Third Sector will use the funding to hold an open competition for state and local governments to receive PFS technical advisory services.

SIF Partners LogoNLC is an outreach partner with Third Sector and is working to educate our members and other local government entities on the benefits of PFS and the opportunities presented by this unique project.

To that end, we encourage interested groups to participate in an informational webinar on Friday, October 24th. Third Sector will present more specific information about the competition, discuss eligibility criteria and take questions from participants. Register here.

Pay for Success has received strong bi-partisan support and is also a presidential priority. Federal legislators and leaders from both sides of the aisle recognize and appreciate the benefits of investing in a performance-driven social sector.

The Social Innovation Fund, which is providing funding and support for this project, is a key White House initiative and major program of CNCS that combines public and private resources to grow the impact of innovative, community-based solutions that have compelling evidence of improving the lives of people in low-income communities throughout the U.S.

Emily

About the Author: Emily Pickren is the Senior Staff Writer for NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

In Call with Mayors, Obama Urges Measured Response to Ebola

The tragic death of Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital reminds us of the severity of the disease, said President Obama, and that it must be taken seriously.

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In a wide ranging conference call with city leaders from across the nation, President Barack Obama on Wednesday spoke about the need for an appropriate and measured response to the Ebola virus and the crisis that is now concerning many in the U.S.

The tragic death of Liberian Thomas Duncan in a Dallas hospital reminds us of the severity of the disease and how we must take it seriously, Obama noted. But we need to respond based on facts and the facts are that doctors in the U.S. know how to deal with infectious diseases, in general, and the Ebola virus, in particular, he added.

Obama reiterated over and over an outbreak in the United States will be prevented, and then announced additional security and screening measures will be taken at five U.S. airports where about 90 percent of all West Africans enter the United States.

President Obama was joined on the call by Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden M.D. Burwell opened her remarks by noting that the U.S. is prepared to deal with the Ebola virus and any outbreak that might occur; that the CDC has been in constant contact through publications and webinars with state and local health officials since the outbreak began nearly a year ago, and is also consulting with airlines, airports, hospitals, private physicians and other health care providers and their representatives.

Dr. Frieden echoed Burwel, saying–as he has said repeatedly–that the U.S. government is confident the virus can be contained in this country, even if other cases are identified; that the CDC is providing information to health care workers on methods for treating Ebola virus patients – something that is very complex — and how health care workers should protect themselves from possible exposure; and has set up a hotline number (800 CDC INFO) for health care workers and others to obtain information on the Ebola virus, its containment, and treatment.

Homeland Security Secretary Johnson addressed the increasing concern about travelers from West Africa. Echoing President Obama’s statement that this is a national security issue, Johnson spoke about how DHS will be increasing inspections of travelers arriving from West Africa. In addition to screenings at departure points in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, customs and immigration agents in the United States will be doing visual inspections for signs of illness, medically trained Coast Guard personnel will be taking temperatures of persons arriving from these countries (with thermometers that operate without direct contact), and when necessary referrals to CDC personnel based at the airports will be made.

The stepped up screenings will take place at five airports – JFK, Newark, Dulles, O’Hare, and Atlanta Hartsfield – and when appropriate, at other entry points, including ports.

Among the mayors who joined the conversation were Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Each praised the federal government for the work it was doing to help their local health departments prepare for, and in the case of Dallas, deal with the disease, and talked about what they have been learning either as they responded to the disease or prepared to respond.

Mayor Rawlings noted that the real difficulties occur on the ground where so many different organizations and operations have to be merged into a single effort to respond to the disease and wondered if there is a way to standardize this. Mayor Nutter requested assistance from the federal government in developing strategies to best communicate with their federal partners. Mayor Landrieu urged every mayor to perform a table top review so that the response methodology and system to the Ebola virus can be tested and strengths and weaknesses can be identified.

In response to their questions and statement, Dr. Frieden and Secretary Burwell underscored the following facts:

  • Ebola cannot be caught from someone who is asymptomatic;
  • Ebola can only be caught from someone who is actually showing symptoms of the disease and then only through direct contact with the sick person or their bodily fluids; and
  • Ebola is not transmitted through the air like Influenza and other more common viruses.

As to communication and response, they said it is imperative that:

  • Mayors and other local officials should stay in touch with their local health departments to discuss any emerging or present threats;
  • Communicate clearly with the public;
  • Underscore that while Ebola is a terrible and frightening disease, keep to the facts; and
  • Every city, county and state should have an identified incident manager who is responsible for bringing all of the actors together to ensure a seamless response.

Ultimately, Sec. Burwell reminded everyone on the call to contact their local and state public health officials as well as the CDC if they have any concerns or questions.

Note: If you have any specific questions that can’t be answered by the CDC website or by your local or state health department, please feel free to email me at bomberg@nlc.org and I will pass your question on to officials at the White House or Health and Human Services Department for an answer.

Neil BombergAbout the author: Neil Bomberg is NLC’s Program Director for Human Development. Through Federal Advocacy, he lobbies on behalf of cities around education, workforce development, health care, welfare, and pensions. Follow Neil on Twitter at @neilbomberg.

Cities Make Sustainability the New Business-as-Usual

Mayors from cities large and small increasingly recognize that the business of local government cannot be separated from environmental issues.

SLC-SustainabilityRalph Becker, Mayor, Salt Lake City (pictured), dedicated over 80% of his State of the City address to environmental issues.

In June 2013, President Obama released the first federal Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon emissions and better protect the country from the anticipated effects of climate change. This came nearly ten years after the city of Keene, N.H. — population 23,000 — completed a lengthy community engagement process and launched its own climate action plan.

It has recently become something of a mantra, even within Washington, D.C., to acknowledge that most of the innovative policies, programs and ideas related to environmental protection are being generated at the local level. Federal agencies have done commendable work through the multi-agency Partnership for Livable Communities, increased CAFÉ standards for fuel economy, among other initiatives – however, many of the innovative policies and financial tools that incentivize green building, improve recycling and waste diversion, promote renewable energy or expand alternative transportation have been championed by local governments.

Blog 10- 6-14 COOPER-06But is this narrative actually true? And if so, how wide reaching is this local leadership? Based on NLC’s ongoing analysis of Mayoral State of the City addresses, we’ve identified tangible actions taken by local leadership on environmental issues in cities of nearly every size, in every region of the country.

Within our sample, we discovered that 63% of speeches covered environmental topics such as renewable energy, water, climate, or sustainability, while 20% devoted “significant coverage”—at least three paragraphs or more—to environmental topics.

Digging into these speeches more closely, a handful of mayors, approximately 12%, are at the forefront of these issues and have made environmental protection a central part of their agenda. Their speeches include specific references to sustainability plans, climate action plans or other comprehensive and holistic plans that guide municipal activities.

Most importantly, these mayors seem to understand that the business of local government cannot be separated from environmental issues. Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix, Ariz. is representative of many other speeches in this regard, explaining to his citizens that:

“No matter how well we have planned in Phoenix to avoid a water shortage, our economy will suffer when reliable water supplies for the region are threatened… We are engaging with leaders in California and southern Nevada to find common ground on shortage scenarios. We should examine our own laws so that as we continue to grow and develop, we do so in a truly sustainable way. We cannot afford to wait.”

The city is not only acting on its own behalf, it is bringing others in the region along.

Water is not the only environmental issue that can have a dramatic impact on a local economy. Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, Utah – who dedicated over 80% of his State of the City address to environmental issues – bluntly related the news that according to the director of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, “the number one reason businesses choose not to come to Utah is because of our bad air quality.”

Leading By Example

Twenty percent of cities demonstrating clear leadership on environmental issues may not appear that significant, but it is important to keep in mind how quickly best practices can spread once a concept is proven. Although local government is a risk-averse business, it is clear from this analysis that many cities are benefiting from the experience of a few innovators.

One example of this is Columbia, S.C., where Mayor Stephen Benjamin announced that the city would be working with private sector partners to build a facility to divert tons of sewer sludge from their waste stream to be recycled and produce high quality fertilizer, compressed natural gas for city vehicles and enough electricity to power 500 homes.

The initiative is described as the “single most impactful green initiative the city has ever taken” and it would likely not be possible without other cities who demonstrated that such technology could be environmentally and economically viable.

Looking to the future, one of the most promising new developments is that two cities in our analysis, Evanston, Ill. and Seattle, Wash., discussed their commitment to pursue the STAR Community Rating. Developed with significant input and cooperation from local government officials, the STAR system rates participating cities on a variety of environmental and social metrics, providing a comprehensive and data-driven benchmark for cities to identify their strengths or areas in which they may need improvement.

This type of consistent, objective, and independently verified rating has the potential to dramatically improve environmental performance.

It will take much more local leadership if we are going to create truly sustainable communities, but this research is indicative of the thousands of communities throughout the country who are at the forefront. It is up to us to measure, replicate, and improve on the examples they have set.

This is the fourth blog post in NLC’s State of the Cities 2014 series.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for Sustainability at the National League of Cities.