How Two Ohio Cities Used Partnerships to House Veterans

Cities like Parma, Ohio, are partnering with organizations such as Purple Heart Homes and The Home Depot Foundation to ensure aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities have safe housing. (Photos: Purple Heart Homes)

Cities in the Cleveland area are increasingly using the opportunity to rally their communities in support of housing for veterans, including aging veterans and those with service-connected disabilities.

In the face of limited local and federal resources, the cities of Parma and South Euclid have begun to partner with nonprofits to build, preserve, or adapt the homes of aging veterans as well as those with service-connected disabilities. These partnerships allow the cities to maximize the use of traditional programs used to rehabilitate or adapt homes for seniors and those with special needs, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

From 1966-1972, as part of the Vietnam War, Parma resident Dale Dunmire served in the U.S. Navy. He was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and the Vietnam Service Medal, and returned home where he began a 35-year career with Cuyahoga County Corrections and the Sherriff’s Office.

After a 2014 operation left Mr. Dunmire wheelchair-bound, he had a ramp installed to help him get in and out of his home. Following an insurance denial for the ramp, the durable medical supply company offered to finance the metal ramp for $325 a month – an amount which Dale could not afford. The ramp was repossessed, leaving Dale home-bound and unable to continue his physical therapy.

As Dale and his family began grappling with their new reality, his Medicare provider connected him to Purple Heart Homes (PHH). PHH is a non-profit started by Dale Beatty and John Gallina, both service-connected disabled veterans of the Iraq War, to provide housing solutions to aging veterans and fellow service-connected disabled veterans.

To build Mr. Dunmire’s ramp, PHH worked closely with both the City of Parma and The Home Depot Foundation. In addition, volunteer associates from the local retail Home Depot, known as “Team Depot,” were key partners. Joining this team were local contractors who provided expertise and local restaurants that provided volunteers with food.

“Our city’s motto is ‘Progress Through Partnerships,’” said Parma Mayor Tim DeGeeter. “I couldn’t think of a better example that illustrates this.”

To help the project, the city waived the permit fees affiliated with the work. “Our city was happy to help in a small way in terms of the permit fees – but overall, we have limited resources to do this type of work for our residents,” said Mayor DeGeeter. “We aren’t in a position to use a lot of CDBG money for home accessibility projects and we have only some money available through our senior center. By working with Purple Heart Homes, and thanks to the support of our local Team Depot, The Home Depot Foundation, and the good will of our community, we were able to make sure that a veteran who has called Parma home for more than 20 years can continue to do so.”

In South Euclid, another Cleveland suburb in Cuyahoga County, the city worked with Purple Heart Homes, Inc. to revitalize foreclosed properties and provide homes for two service-connected disabled veterans. Working with One South Euclid (a nonprofit citizens group), the North East Ohio Foundation for Patriotism (NEOPAT), and local contractors and suppliers, two previously foreclosed vacant properties that were acquired by the Cuyahoga Land Bank were rehabilitated and provided to veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Thanks to the property contributed by the land bank for these projects, the overall cost of each home was dramatically reduced. PHH then worked with the city, which agreed to waive contractor registration fees and permitting expenses and expedite the inspection process for the homes.

Once again, PHH’s involvement with the city rallied the community’s support, and volunteers provided much of the needed labor to rehab each home. During the volunteer days when building was happening, the city provided extra police to direct traffic and manage the increased need for parking.

As a result of low land and labor costs, each home is financed with low-cost mortgages that are paid in part by the veteran, with a second soft mortgage held by PHH that diminishes over time and conditionally gifts 50 percent of the home value. A deed restriction ensures each home will remain owner-occupied by a veteran, and over time, the veteran accrues equity in the home, which they are able to take with them in the event they choose to move to another location.

On January 25, 2016, after seeing the value of their work for both veterans and cities in the region, PHH moved to solidify their presence and held the first meeting of the Northeast Ohio Chapter of Purple Heart Homes. The organization’s chapter will bring together the networks and experiences established during each of these projects to more cities in the area.

Cities are increasingly facing the challenges of an aging population with varying degrees of disabilities. Previous CitiesSpeak articles have talked about the value that can be found by focusing on the issue of housing and the veteran sub-population.

As cities in Ohio have seen, a focus on veteran housing provides leaders with the opportunity to learn what works, which stakeholders and programs can be best aligned, and how to best bring communities together to meet the housing needs of their neighbors.

For more information on Purple Heart Homes visit, and for more information about The Home Depot Foundation visit

Elisha_blogAbout the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is the Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Supreme Court Puts Clean Power Plan Regulations on Hold

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan requires power plants to reduce carbon emissions and establishes state-by-state targets to accomplish this goal.

In a 5-4 decision, the court halted enforcement of the plan until after legal challenges are resolved. (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court may currently be on recess but that did not stop it from issuing a stay preventing the Clean Power Plan regulations from going into effect until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court if it chooses to, rules on the regulations.

The Clean Power Plan requires power plants to reduce carbon emissions and establishes state-by-state targets to accomplish this goal.

Twenty-seven states and others are currently challenging the Clean Power Plan. They argue that the regulations exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority granted under the Clean Air Act.

“We disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to stay the Clean Power Plan while litigation proceeds,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said in a statement.

The National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors filed a motion in the D.C. Circuit supporting the Clean Power Act. It discussed the impact climate change has had on cities.

The Supreme Court has apparently never blocked an EPA regulation before the Court has had a chance to rule on the regulation.

The Court’s actions indicate it is likely to hear this case on appeal after it is decided by the D.C. Circuit.

The four more liberal Justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan) voted against the stay.

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

Predatory Small Business Lending Concerns Voiced at Federal, State Hearings

The push for more fairness and transparency within the non-traditional business lending industry was recently brought to the attention of policymakers on Capitol Hill and at the Illinois State House.

As we recently covered, predatory lending to small business owners is of growing concern now that entrepreneurs are increasingly relying on the unregulated, alternative lending market to borrow under the $250,000 threshold needed for most traditional bank loans.

The lack of regulation and oversight of the alternative business lending industry has allowed several bad apples to emerge and take advantage of business owners – particularly in lower income and high-minority communities – with exorbitantly high interest rates, hidden fees, and other unreasonable penalties that make repayment difficult.

A panel discussion on Capitol Hill, spearheaded by the advocacy group Small Business Majority, zeroed in on how educating business owners and regulating the alternative lending market are two needed strategies to prevent businesses from taking out loans with predatory terms. Small Business Majority Founder and CEO John Arensmeyer was joined by representation from Accion Chicago, Fundera, and the Aspen Institute to raise awareness about what Arensmeyer called the “wild west” of business lending.

“It’s crucial that small business owners have protections in place and a way to separate trustworthy lenders from bad actors,” said Arensmeyer.

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The Illinois State Senate Financial Institutions Committee recently convened a hearing on predatory small business lending. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Senate Financial Institutions Committee convened a hearing on predatory small business lending and the lack of access to capital for business owners. During the hearing, Chicago Treasurer Kurt Summers called for new state legislation to protect business owners from becoming victims of alternative lending schemes that are not in the best interest of the borrower.

The legislation suggested by Treasurer Summers would require transparency in loan terms and prevent fee traps, among several other steps to protect small business borrowers.

“Chicago’s small business community deserves protection from the unchecked greed of predatory lenders,” Summers said. “While access to capital is the number one concern of small business owners across the state, bank and commercial loans continue to decline, steering [business owners] to underhanded lenders. As we continue to urge banking partners to increase their local investment, this new, common-sense legislation would ensure transparency in lending that so often puts our entrepreneurs at risk.”

If state legislation emerges from the ongoing discussions in Chicago, it would likely mirror many of the same stipulations that are in the national Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights, a pledge that NLC recently endorsed that pushes for more transparency in the alternative lending market.

City leaders can begin to understand the scope of this issue in their own communities by surveying business owners about their credit usage, talking to businesses about their borrowing needs, and informing business owners about their borrowing rights.

We are curious to know about the landscape of access to capital in your city. Are their credit barriers for business owners? Is predatory lending on your radar as a potential issue? Share your story with us.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate of Finance and Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

How Cities Can Solve Police Challenges with Open Data

In the past year we have witnessed a complete shift with many police departments today embracing data transparency as the foundation to enhancing – or, in some cases, restoring – trust.

Increasingly, police departments are promoting transparency through open data in order to establish stronger relationships with citizens and rebuild trust with the communities they serve. (photo: Creatas/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Kara Turner.

From the White House to police departments to individual citizens, there is recognition that data-centered police-community relations will better meet the needs of both the police and those they serve. Transparency is the foundation of trust and ultimately engagement. In the past year we have witnessed a complete shift with many police departments today embracing data transparency as the foundation to enhancing – or, in some cases, restoring – trust.

Above, a census of currently available open datasets about police interactions with citizens in the U.S. (

Above, a census of currently available open datasets about police interactions with citizens in the U.S. (

Join Bill Schrier, Chief Information Officer of the Seattle Police Department and Cam Caldwell of Socrata for an engaging discussion on The Open Policing Movement on Tuesday, February 9, 2016 at 10 a.m. PST / 1 p.m. EST. Together, they’ll discuss tactics for using open data to take on law enforcement challenges.

Schrier brings a unique perspective from the field. Only a few years ago, when the Seattle Police Department faced a federal investigation, the department took the opportunity to embrace reforms in oversight, training, and reporting. Today, his department has established a much stronger relationship with citizens and has even found ways to reduce operating costs.

Webinar participants will learn exactly what to consider before incorporating and deploying new technologies to improve public safety. Specifically, the webinar will showcase:

  • How crime data transparency delivers results
  • Examples of public safety data transparency in cities
  • How the latest available tools can reduce costs and increase efficiency

City leadership, data analysts, and law enforcement professionals are encouraged to attend this important discussion on open data and law enforcement. Sign up now for the webinar.

About the Author: Kara Turner serves as Content Marketing Manager for Socrata. In recent years, she led Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley’s communications team and served on the Board of Directors for AIGA Baltimore. She enjoys narrating her dog’s life and participating in DC’s theatre scene.

3 Innovative Ways Cities Can Curb Overdose Deaths

New strategies can empower city leaders to not only coordinate actions across multiple levels of government but stem the tide of addiction and substance abuse that is growing in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Responding to record increases in prescription drug and heroin overdoses across America, the U.S. Communities Alliance made medications that can stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose available to the state and local government sector in October 2015. Now, a key medication is available to cities at a steep discount. (Photo: yanyong/Getty Images)

Deaths involving opium-based prescription pain-killers and heroin are increasing sharply, according to new data for all of 2014 recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Every day in the United States, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose. More Americans are dying every year from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle crashes. Communities across America have seen steady rise in the cost and impact of treating opioid related overdose. In the community of Middleton, Ohio, for example, the cost of treating opioid overdoses has exceeded 10 percent of the Middleton Fire Division overall operating budget. In Indiana, the Indianapolis Emergency Medical Services saw a 58 percent jump in Narcan® applications in just one year, from 2013 to 2014.

Responses are coming from the federal, state and local levels. Here are three notable ways cities can curb the sharp increase in overdose deaths:

1. Funding from President Barack Obama’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget proposal

The proposal includes $1 billion in new funding for states to expand access to medication-assisted treatments for opioid use disorders. Also included is funding for more addiction treatment providers under the National Health Service Corps.

2. Tools and resources from state and local organizations

Organizations representing state and local elected and appointed leaders (such as the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the National Governor’s Association, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors) are educating their members and providing tools to turn back the tide of heroin addiction through strategies such as medication-assisted treatments.

Most notably, the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance (together with Adapt Phama and Premier, Inc., and acting in partnership with local and state associations) is now making available the life-saving Narcan® Nasal Spray (naloxone hydrochloride), which helps stop or reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, at a steep discount.

3. The creation of local policy solutions

For their part, individual cities are also taking important action steps along the same lines. Naloxone access was cited by New York Mayor Bill De Blasio as a major component of his city’s comprehensive effort to reduce opioid misuse and overdoses.

“By issuing a standing order for Naloxone and building capacity in our health network’s ability to treat people most in need, we will save more lives,” said New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Basset in her comments with the mayor.

A creative response from law enforcement is also an important step.

The City of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is helping change the nature of municipal policing in the face of heroin and opiate addiction. In Gloucester, any person seeking help for addiction from public safety personnel will be connected to an addiction recovery program through a network of local and regional providers. “Gloucester is changing the conversation. Police officers exist to help people,” said Police Chief Leonard Campanello. “Drug addiction is a disease, and drug addicts need help.”

The National League of Cities will engage elected and appointed municipal officials on the many questions and challenges of substance abuse and addiction at the upcoming Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., which takes place March 5-9, 2016. Additional details about that program will be posted in this space in late February. City leaders with stories to share on this issue should add comments to this post or contact the author directly.

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.


To Be An Effective Leader, Be a Lifelong Learner

“It was clear to me that I could have great policy ideas and a keen grasp of budgeting, but if I didn’t develop key leadership skills, I would never be able to lead my colleagues, my constituents, or my city forward.”

Clarence Anthony welcomes city leaders from across the nation to NLC’s 2015 Congress of Cities in Washington, D.C. (photo: Jason Dixson)

This post originally appeared in the newsletter of the Colorado Municipal League.

When people hear that I was elected mayor of South Bay, Florida at age 24, they often comment that successfully running for office at such a young age must have been difficult.

“No,” I tell them. “Getting elected was the easy part. Governing was the hard part.”

I am fortunate that the skills it took to get elected came naturally to me. But governing required a different set of skills. Some skills were operational, such as budgeting and planning. Others skills were more policy-oriented. I have a master’s degree in public administration, and I specialized in city growth management, so my education provided me with many of the basic skills I would need to govern.

Once in office, however, I realized that it would take more than an understanding of policy, budgeting and planning to succeed. It would take leadership.

I quickly learned that the most important skills for an elected official – communication, vision, building trust, leading change and collaboration – were personal and organizational skills. It was clear to me that I could have great policy ideas and a keen grasp of budgeting, but if I didn’t develop those key leadership skills, I would never be able to lead my colleagues, my constituents, or my city forward.

Armed with this new realization, I immediately turned to my State League (the Florida League of Cities), the National League of Cities (NLC), and NLC University (NLCU, formerly known as the Leadership Training Institute). Then, as now, NLCU’s courses provided invaluable leadership development skills that I utilized and applied in my professional and personal life. I highly recommend these courses for all elected officials. They are offered online, as pre-conference sessions at both of our annual conferences, or at our Annual Leadership Summit.

One of the most important tenets of leadership I’ve learned in my career is that leadership is a mindset and practice that is applicable to all facets of life, not just one’s professional life. Other mayors and councilmembers have shared stories with me over the years about how they, too, have leveraged their leadership competencies and behaviors to achieve great outcomes in a variety of endeavors.

For so many of our members, the role of elected official is but one of several roles they play. Our members are also dentists, architects, farmers and small business owners, as well as parents, spouses and coaches. In each of these roles, they are expected to be leaders. NLCU educational sessions help them develop behaviors and skills that enable them be better leaders and achieve greater success in all of the roles they play.

I’ve also come to realize that being a leader means recognizing that the process of learning and development never ends. There is always new information to be gained, and there are always new insights to be discovered. As the great management theorist and author Peter Drucker once said, “Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly – or it vanishes.”

As an elected official, I felt that it was my responsibility to my constituents to be a learner – constantly improving, challenging and increasing my knowledge so that it did not vanish. I trust you feel the same way.

Learning of course, takes many shapes; it encompasses more than just engaging in formal classroom education. In fact, most leadership researchers agree that the ratio of formal learning opportunities available (workshops, seminars, classes) to informal learning opportunities (self-study, mentorships, networking, on-the-job experiences, problem solving and feedback) is somewhere around 1:4.

This is not to say that formal learning opportunities are not important. In fact, a formal education is the essential building block of a larger education that is complimented by all types of informal learning opportunities. Informal learning involves applying what was learned in the formal learning setting. It also involves learning from one’s peers, and learning about and incorporating best practices and creative ideas. The National League of Cities and NLCU are essential partners in helping our members become lifelong learners ­– and thus, more effective local leaders – through both formal and informal learning.

Our members are exposed to the best in-depth research on cities, courtesy of our City Solutions and Applied Research department. In addition, when our members attend NLCU offerings, they take the formal knowledge they’ve acquired for an informal “test drive,” sharing it with their peers and discussing possible applications outside the classroom that can lead to best practices. Armed with a wealth of knowledge that has been acquired in many different ways, our members apply that knowledge to their roles in their professional and personal lives, leading to better outcomes for their communities and citizens.

The National League of Cities has a number of strategic goals, one of which is to “expand the capacity of city officials to serve as ethical, effective and engaged leaders.” It is a goal born of belief and experience – belief in the power of leadership to transform individuals, organizations and communities, and the experience that comes from constantly learning and consistently applying the mindset and practice of leadership to governing.

About the Author: Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @ceanthony50.

Mayors and City Officials Lead Communities Toward Global Engagement

Effective global engagement strategies are essential for any leader and community that aspires to remain at the cutting edge of international trends for the coming decades.


Local leaders who want to ensure their communities retain jobs and continue to grow must seek global connections – and small cities stand to gain the most by seeking international opportunities. (photo:

This is a guest post by Reta Jo Lewis and Lora Berg.

The peaceful and prosperous future of transatlantic cities and regions depends on their ability to recognize and seize opportunities for global engagement. As refugees flee from war torn regions in historic numbers, as the effects of climate change disrupt vulnerable communities, and as a slowing Chinese economy reminds us that recovery from economic crisis involves acknowledging our shared economic ties, municipal officials must transcend their local perspectives and access shared resources and agendas to address international challenges. Subnational leaders, such as governors, mayors and local leaders, stand at the forefront of efforts to link local and global action and implement policies enacted at national levels to create meaningful change.

Thriving local economies capitalize on global investment opportunities. The average major metro area in the United States leads the country in foreign direct investment (FDI) from 33 different countries and 77 different city-regions worldwide. Similarly, the European Union is the largest recipient in the world of FDI, at approximately $US 246 billion. Jobs, moreover, increasingly depend on global economic links. Foreign-owned U.S. affiliate companies directly employ some 5.6 million workers spread across every sector of the economy. In the European Union, 14 percent of the total working population is employed by foreign controlled enterprises. Local leaders who want to ensure their communities retain jobs and continue to grow must seek global connections, and small cities stand to gain the most by seeking international opportunities. Trade ties, use of natural resources, increased labor mobility, and shifting demographics impact a community’s economic health, job creation, ability to innovate, and capacity to create schools and cultural centers for diverse populations.

Economic imperatives are not the only motivation for greater global engagement. As natural resources diminish and the dangerous effects of carbon emissions — on both large and small cities — become apparent, nations are increasingly working together to build resilient communities by  developing renewable energy resources and curbing emissions. At the 2015 COP21 climate negotiations in Paris, governments around the world agreed to limit temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius through historic commitments to cut carbon emissions. Local leadership was vital in pushing for this agreement, with cities and regions at the forefront of climate action, through their own ambitious commitments to carbon reductions and green investments.

Mayors and regional leaders on both sides of the Atlantic understand the value added by their own citizens. They also understand that newcomers, who are part of the sweeping demographic change remaking Europe and the U.S., serve as a stock of innovation and a resource for future growth and stability. In the United States 9.2 percent of public school students — approximately 4.4 million students – are learning English as a second language. In large U.S. cities, students come from hundreds of different language backgrounds; the New York City Department of Education reports that there are 180 different languages spoken in the homes of students citywide. In the EU at large, an estimated 33.5 million people born outside the EU now live in an EU member state. Globally engaged communities that are inclusive, recognize the realities of demographic change and encourage global economic ties demonstrate the highest rates of growth, lowest unemployment, and highest rates of social stability.

Effective global engagement strategies are essential for any leader and community that aspires to remain at the cutting edge of international trends for the coming decades. They provide the opportunity for cities and regions, large and small, to lead from the front, and to drive international agreements rather than simply react to national priorities.

About the Authors:

Reta Jo Lewis is a Senior Resident Fellow for Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She has been a global business affairs adviser since leaving government in April 2013, and specializes in working with U.S. governors, mayors, legislators as well as provincial leaders across the Atlantic.

Lora Berg is a Senior Resident Fellow for Transatlantic Leadership Initiatives at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. She develops partnerships on the international stage to strengthen diversity and inclusion, and designs leadership programs such as the Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN), which builds the capacity of rising diverse young leaders from both sides of the Atlantic who hold or plan to run for public office.

Please note that the opinions here are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent those of the German Marshall Fund.

In the Presidential Candidate Debates, a Missed Opportunity for Infrastructure

Perhaps what’s most disappointing about this week’s events is the candidates’ failure to take hold of the growing chorus in our country that is talking about transportation as a ladder of opportunity.

(photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

(photo: Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Monday’s Democratic presidential candidate town hall and Thursday’s Republican debate in Des Moines, Iowa – much like the debates that came before them – can hardly be counted as a win for cities across America that rely on our road, bridge, transit, air, water and port infrastructure as their economic lifeblood. America’s infrastructure has long been the envy of the world, and for cities, it is our economic competitive advantage. Yet, with only brief mentions of infrastructure and how to pay for it, the debates continue to be a missed opportunity for the presidential candidates.

But perhaps what’s most disappointing is the candidates’ failure to take hold of the growing chorus in our country that is talking about transportation as a ladder of opportunity – the idea that our transportation network can serve as a tool to uplift every member of our communities by connecting them to new opportunities for education, employment, services, and physical well-being. Inequities in safe, reliable access to transit, safe routes for children to walk or bicycle to and from school and parks each day, or for our businesses to have access to a truly diverse workforce too often impact low income communities and communities of color across our nation.

For too many Americans, our nation’s streets serve more as a painful symbol of injustice than they do a stage for exciting new technologies like self-driving cars and the shared economy. This campaign season should be an opportunity for candidates to highlight their biggest, most innovative ideas for tackling these problems. If we want to move our multi-trillion dollar economy and continue growing opportunities in our cities, we need permanent, long term solutions to backfill and sustain the trust funds that keep our roads and bridges in a state of good repair. We need transit systems that are safe, equitable, and reliable. And we need to repair and replace our hundred-year-old water infrastructure that is crumbling around us. America’s cities should, and do deserve better.

While we support the few proposals that have been put forward to make significant investments in our nation’s infrastructure, we urge the candidates to do more and go further. Let this be an opportunity to detail how you will continue to make our transportation infrastructure the envy of the world. Propose real solutions that won’t leave our cities once again guessing as to whether or not they can count on long-term funding every few months. And highlight the critical role transportation plays in connecting communities to opportunity.

Join NLC’s effort, Cities Lead 2016, to make sure that city issues are a top priority for 2016 presidential candidates. View a copy of our platform online and sign your name in support of cities everywhere!

About the author: Matthew Colvin is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Development on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. He leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on surface, air and marine transportation issues. Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewAColvin.

Presidential Candidates: Here’s What You Should Learn from Flint, Michigan

Using the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, as a case study, here are three reasons why the presidential candidates need to pay attention to and address city priorities.

Much has been written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the hundreds of children who have been exposed to lead. (photo courtesy

Much has been written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the hundreds of children who have been exposed to lead. (photo courtesy

As the Republican and Democratic candidates took to the debate stage in South Carolina last week, they attempted to persuade voters, particularly those in the upcoming early primary states, that they are the best candidate for the for job. With a few exceptions, there was limited discussion of city priorities: the economy, infrastructure and public safety. Perhaps that is to be expected at this stage in the campaign or because of the different natures of Republicans and Democrats, but nevertheless, the candidates are ignoring some very real issues that matter to local elected officials, cities and the future of our country.

Much has been written about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan and the hundreds of children who have been exposed to lead. Using this as a case study, here are three reasons why the presidential candidates need to pay attention to and address city priorities.

  1. Economy – Lead poisoning affects the brain and brain development, which effects a child’s ability to learn and succeed in school without proper educational programs and medical support. Education is the foundation of a successful career and job that not only supports one’s self and family, but helps grow our economy. How will these children fare in the world 25 years from now? If there ever is a financial settlement in this case, this small glimpse into the lives of lead-poisoned children in Baltimore demonstrates why establishing sufficient support programs, such as financial literacy programs for example, will be necessary.
  1. Infrastructure – From the most basic stand point, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan highlights the nation’s aging infrastructure problem and the need to invest—at all levels of government—in improving and maintaining our drinking water and wastewater infrastructure systems. According to the U.S. Census, local governments spend over $100 billion dollars annually, including $117 billion in 2013, on water infrastructure, but the need is close to $1 trillion over the next 20 years just to maintain our existing infrastructure.
  1. Public Safety – While recent FBI statistics indicate that the national rate of violent crime today is roughly half what it was in 1993, and is continuing to decline, lead poisoning has been linked to an increase in crime rates, even at the neighborhood level. Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Stephen Benjamin recently addressed why gun violence in cities should be a priority. Addressing mental health issues, particularly in light of Flint, Michigan, is also a necessity.

Without getting into the questions about decision making, righting this wrong will require bipartisan action and commitment from all levels of government for the long-term. In many ways, the situation in Flint is unique, but in many other ways it highlights the everyday challenges faced by cities across the country. We ask the presidential candidates to address these important city issues. Join us in this call by signing onto our Cities Lead 2016 platform.

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.

5 Strategies for Inspired Leadership in the Budget Process

Brenda Morrison and Chris Adams explain how to bring your constituents together for better budget solutions that move your city forward. This article is based on the budget toolbox session led by Brenda and Chris and presented by NLC University at the 2015 Congress of Cities in Nashville, Tennessee.

To harness the power of their constituents and create broadly supported budgets, government leaders should consider new strategies. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Brenda Morrison and Chris Adams.

Citizens are increasingly disconnected from the public budgets that impact their pocketbooks and daily lives, but smart leadership in the budget process can change this.

The 2012 Census of Governments counts 89,005 public budget entities in the United States, including the federal government, 3,031 counties, 19,522 municipalities, 16,364 towns, 12,884 school districts, and 37,203 special purpose districts (utility, fire, police, library, etc.).

That’s a whole lot of public budgets that need inspired leadership to move communities toward their common vision and goals. To harness the power of their constituents and create broadly supported budgets, government leaders should consider these five strategies:

1) Continuously revisit why you ran for office.

In a recent budget toolbox session for city leaders, participants summed up the reasons they ran for office in single words. The most notable of these were “transparency,” “development,” “growth,” “connectedness” and “accountability.”

It’s difficult to keep these larger goals in mind when budgets bring about tough questions with no single right answer. When conflicts arise, keep returning to the reasons you ran office, and this will help you stay focused on larger budget goals.

2) Frame the budget as a leader.

Savvy municipal leaders understand that the budget is many things to many people:

  • a financial plan;
  • a communications document;
  • a reflection of local government priorities; and,
  • a tool for accountability.

But once budget negotiations begin drilling down into math and minutiae, budget leaders can lose sight of the larger themes. To avoid this, stay focused on values and problem solving. Leave the administrative and technical issues to professional staff, or seek help from your state municipal league or state government.

3) Hone your negotiating skills.

Strong negotiating skills are necessary when trying to solve the toughest budget problems – the right vs. right problems. Effective leadership while negotiating means you must consider the larger themes, as articulated by the Institute for Global Ethics:

  • short-term versus long-term;
  • individuals versus communities;
  • justice versus mercy; and,
  • truth versus loyalty.

The book “Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” describes a negotiating style of constantly searching for mutual gains and what is most important to each party. Interest-based negotiation starts with developing and preserving the relationship. Parties educate each other about their needs, and then jointly problem solve on how to meet those needs.

It’s important to note that bad negotiators are like bad drivers: harmful to themselves and dangerous to others. Unfortunately, the history of policymaking is littered with missed opportunities due to bad negotiators.

Unless we want to keep having the same conversations about the same issues with the same inadequate solutions, policy makers need to be excellent negotiators.

4) Engage the public.

“Public engagement” and “government transparency” are more than buzz words in the budget process.

Successful public engagement on the budget can counteract the political apathy so increasingly prevalent in our democracy. Innovators in technology and public policy are developing a range of high touch and high tech methods as alternatives to the giant budget PDFs and budget sessions that offer participants three minutes at the mic but not much genuine participation.

These new budget methods both educate and involve citizens so they can develop better governments that improve society. They include:

  • open data platforms that bring financial transparency to government;
  • participatory budgeting practices that bring groups of citizens together to allocate public dollars; and,
  • civic technology tools that both broaden and deepen citizen input through web and mobile-based tools.

To ensure effective public engagement, leaders need to plan and prepare using the right strategies that consider purpose, issue, primary message, audience and timing. They also need to cultivate an environment of shared purpose, openness, learning, transparency and trust. This builds a participatory culture that leads to sustained engagement.

A detail from the city of San Antonio's budget.

A detail from the city of San Antonio’s budget.

5) Embrace technology’s power.

The public’s expectation of how government should use technology to operate is often defined by the private sector’s use of technology. This means citizens are expecting more technology tools as part of government processes.

For fiscal year 2016, San Antonio engaged residents in a conversation about the budget through #SASpeakUp, which enabled residents to join the budget conversation through in-person meetings or from the comfort of their home on a computer or smartphone by using the city’s interactive budget on Balancing Act, available in both English and Spanish.

The interactive budget enabled citizens to learn about the complex tradeoffs involved in balancing a $1 billion general fund budget. They also got to try their hand at actually balancing increases in certain programs and services with cuts in others.

All of the priorities and ideas gathered from #SASpeakUp were then presented to City Council.

“We thought about it from the residents’ perspective, and saw that we needed to make the budget process more accessible and easier than ever to participate,” said Bryan Layton, assistant director for innovation. “Instead of just asking residents to come to us, we went to them (digitally and physically) as much as possible.”

About the Authors:

Brenda Morrison is a partner at Engaged Public and co-founder of Balancing Act, an online budget simulation app, and the Taxpayer Receipt tool.



Chris Adams is president of Engaged Public, a Denver-based public policy firm that created Balancing Act.