Why We Host the Congressional City Conference in March

DC neighborhoodColorful rowhouses near the Shaw neighborhood of Northwest D.C. (Getty Images)

We host our annual Congressional City Conference in March for a number of reasons. Most importantly, March is when Congressional action begins to take place. Before March, new members are likely to still be figuring out the ropes; after March, you’ll find that many other people will be competing for your representative’s time. So we’ve planned the conference with a specific strategy in mind: maximizing the return on your advocacy efforts, and enabling you to get in on the ground floor and advocate for your city while your legislators are all ears.

As a serendipitous bonus, March also happens to be a great time to visit Washington, D.C. You know that the District is home to the three pillars of federal government, and you may have visited many of our marble-clad monuments before – but there’s a city beyond the tourist brochures and textbooks, and spring is the ideal season to discover all that the nation’s capital has to offer. Although we’ll be keeping you busy during the conference, we encourage you to take some time before or after to explore both the grandeur and the grittiness of our city.

On a pleasant day, the National Mall is a delightful place to take a tree-lined stroll or a break for lunch on one of the park benches. And if you haven’t visited the Smithsonian museums along the Mall since high school, this is your chance to take advantage of a walkable strip of artworks and historical artifacts. As you make your way along this historic pathway lined with cherry trees and budding tulip flowers, stop inside the museums and you’ll find everything from cursed diamonds and movie props to nuclear missiles and other military relics. You may even stumble upon some of the personal belongings of our nation’s forefathers.

D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood

D.C.’s Adams Morgan neighborhood is known for its restaurants, eclectic shops and nightlife. (Getty Images)

Want to get to know the real D.C.? You won’t need to travel far from your hotel. Located in the Northwest quadrant of the city, the Marriott Wardman Park is situated between two distinct neighborhoods – one elegant, and one eccentric. Head north to the residential neighborhood of Cleveland Park, and you’ll find stately old manors and the occasional bookstore or coffee shop. Head south to Adams Morgan, and discover your new favorite cuisine as you explore a hodgepodge of funky bars, mural-splashed walls, ethnic eateries, and quirky shops crammed with off-beat art. Between these two neighborhoods, you’ll experience two sides of the city that you won’t see on TV or read about in most guidebooks.

In the end, you’ll find that Washington, D.C. is a diverse city full of hidden gems – for more suggestions, check out these NLC staff recommendations!

Mari Andrew bio photoAbout the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more creative clothing.

LED Street Lights: Energy Savings Likely to Outweigh Initial Costs for These Three Cities

LED streetlights on the Lowry Avenue Bridge in MinnesotaLED streetlights, such as those found on the Lowry Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minn., can provide better visibility while reducing emissions and cutting cities’ energy bills by more than 60%. (Joe Ferrer/Getty Images)

Nearly every boulevard, avenue, road or side street in America is lined with opportunities to reduce energy consumption and save important municipal dollars. Street lights in the United States are estimated to use as much energy as six million households, and the energy bills cost local governments more than $10 billion per year.

Due to recent advances of LED and other solid state lighting options, modern streetlights have the potential to cut those figures by 50% or more.

This is why the Obama Administration has challenged mayors around the country to retrofit their lights and install modern, high efficiency lighting. The Presidential Challenge for Advanced Outdoor Lighting sets a goal of upgrading at least 1.5 million poles by May 2016, tripling the previous goal to upgrade 500,000.

The challenge is backed by extensive resources in the Better Buildings Outdoor Lighting Accelerator, which contains financial calculators, case studies, and more. The Solid State Street Lighting Consortium, a DOE-managed peer group of cities pursuing lighting upgrades, also has technical specifications and market reports to help cities through the procurement process.

Thanks to early adopters like Raleigh, Los Angeles and Seattle, many of the concerns surrounding technical issues and public acceptance have been debunked in the last few years, illuminating the path for others to follow. Costs for both energy use and maintenance have proven lower under the new systems. In surveys conducted for the city of Seattle, more than 85% of respondents approved of the new lights.

For many city leaders, though, the decision isn’t quite that clear. As with any major retrofit, the upfront capital cost can be daunting. Los Angeles, for example, has replaced more than 140,000 lights in four years, yielding an annual savings of more than 60%. Even with a payback period estimated at just seven years, the initial cost has been reported to be $57 million. Given the constraints on local budgets, it can be difficult to justify a costly upgrade for a system that is already functioning.

Additionally, some city officials may be waiting to see if those installation costs continue to drop before they convert. Between 2011 and 2013, the cost of new LED streetlights fell an estimated 50%. Even then, the price was four times that of high-pressure sodium lights. In the short term, waiting may result in further savings and an even more efficient LED product.

Nonetheless, the takeaway is overwhelmingly positive. A tipping point seems to have been reached as the rate of adoption accelerates. If the President’s challenge is met, and the 1.5 million poles achieve the same efficiency and CO2 reductions as Los Angeles, it will create a reduction of more than 369,000 tons of emissions each year.

Headshot1-CMartinAbout the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Open Data Is Finally Making A Dent In Cities

This post originally appeared on Fast Company’s Co.Exist blog.

Chicago-StOpen data can help you find your lost dog, make your commute more efficient, and make government more transparent – if cities will let it. (Getty Images)

What is the best way to get from 12th Street to Main, and should I take the subway, a bike, or rideshare? How many lobbyists are there in my city and more importantly, what are they doing? And, by the way, where did my dog go?

All of these questions and more can now be answered in cities as a result of open data. Beyond just its functional use for an increasingly app-dependent society, data collection and analysis is powering and redefining how we think about ourselves and how we interact with others, in almost every part of life. From who we date, to who we share our commute with to work, a whole new world is being created through access to useful, usable information.

As with a range of leading issues, cities are at the vanguard of this shifting environment. Through increased measurement, analysis, and engagement, open data will further solidify the centrality of cities.

In Chicago, the voice of the mayor counts for a lot. And Mayor Emmanuel has been at the forefront in supporting and encouraging open data in the city, resulting in a strong open government community. The city has more than 600 datasets online, and has seen millions of page views on its data portal. The public benefits have accrued widely with civic initiatives like Chicagolobbyists.org, as well as with a myriad of other open data led endeavors.

Transparency is one of the great promises of open data. Petitioning the government is a fundamental tenet of democracy and many government relations’ professionals perform this task brilliantly. At the same time that transparency is good for the city, it’s good for citizens and democracy. Through the advent of Chicagolobbyists.org, anyone can now see how many lobbyists are in the city, how much they are spending, who they are talking to, and when it is happening.

Throughout the country, we are seeing data driven sites and apps like this that engage citizens, enhance services, and provide a rich understanding of government operations In Austin, a grassroots movement has formed with advocacy organization Open Austin. Through hackathons and other opportunities, citizens are getting involved, services are improving, and businesses are being built.

Data can even find your dog, reducing the number of stray animals being sheltered, with Stray Mapper. The site has a simple map-based web portal where you can type in whether you are missing a dog or cat, when you lost them, and where. That information is then plugged into the data being collected by the city on stray animals. This project, developed by a Code for America brigade team, helps the city improve its rate of returning pets to owners.

It’s not only animals that get lost or at least can’t find the best way home. I’ve found myself in that situation too. Thanks to Ridescout, incubated in Washington, D.C., at 1776, I have been able to easily find the best way home. Through the use of open data available from both cities and the Department of Transportation, Ridescout created an app that is an intuitive mobility tool. By showing me all of the available options from transit to ridesharing to my own two feet, it frequently helps me get from place to place in the city. It looks like it wasn’t just me that found this app to be handy; Daimler recently acquired Ridescout as the auto giant continues its own expansion into the data driven mobility space.

We are a data driven society, from the private sector where consumer data drives the bottom line to the public sector where more and more outputs are being quantified and analyzed. New businesses are being created and existing firms are growing as companies use open data to build products that improve the lives of people living in and visiting cities. In whatever city you are in, data is a tool to make lives easier, create more robust two-way communications between the governing and governed, and increase and improve commerce.

In the National League of Cities’ newly released report, City Open Data Policies: Learning by Doing, we sought to find out what cities are currently doing with open data and what they could be doing far into the future. Working together with our partners at American University’s Department of Public Administration and Policy, this publication is a resource for cities developing open data policies.

By opening data, cities are developing an unprecedented portal into the operations and functioning of government for the use of and to the benefit of community members, the private sector, and open government advocates. Enhanced data analysis and increased open data availability also allows us to envision a future where city services are radically transformed, leading toward a seamlessness of operations from city government to resident delivery. This forward momentum further reinforces that data has become the infrastructural backbone in the century of the city.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the author:Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Don’t Ask, Do Tell: NLC Joins SCOTUS Amicus Brief in Religious Accommodation Case

religious head scarfDo you think employers should ask job applicants about the clothing they might wear for religious reasons? Or should applicants disclose their religious accommodation needs without being asked? (Getty Images)

Traditional HR policy practices hold that employers shouldn’t ask prospective employees about protected characteristics such as age, sex, race, national origin, religion, etc. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently decided that if an employer thinks an employee may need a religious accommodation, then the employer must ask about his or her religion. Is the EEOC’s new view correct?

That is what the Supreme Court will decide in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores. Who must ask about the need for a religious accommodation, the employer or the employee/applicant? The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief argues the employee/applicant should ask.

Abercrombie & Fitch’s “Look Policy” prohibits headwear, requiring employees on the sales floor to wear clothing consistent with what Abercrombie sells in it stores. Samantha Elauf wore a head scarf to an interview at Abercrombie, but she didn’t ask for a religious accommodation. Rather than asking, her interviewer assumed Ms. Elauf was Muslim and wore the headscarf for religious reasons. Ms. Elauf was ultimately not hired because of the headscarf. The EEOC subsequently sued Abercrombie, alleging it violated Title VII by failing to accommodate Ms. Elauf’s religious beliefs. At trial, the EEOC’s expert testified that some women wear headscarves for cultural rather than religious reasons.

The Tenth Circuit ultimately held in favor of Abercrombie, finding that an applicant/employee “ordinarily must establish that he or she initially informed the employer that [he or she] adheres to a particular practice for religious reasons, and that he or she needs an accommodation for that practice” – steps which Ms. Elauf did not take.

The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that the applicant/employee should have to notify the employer of the need for a religious accommodation. After all, that had been the EEOC’s position until this particular case. A contrary position requires employers to make assumptions based on stereotypes about the physical characteristics that could indicate a person might practice a particular religion. Requiring employers to ask about an employee’s religion to avoid a failure to accommodate claim may lead to employers being liable for a disparate treatment claim. EEOC guidance says that an employer asking about a protected characteristic like religion may be used as evidence of discrimination in a disparate treatment case. And public employers don’t want to ask an applicant/employer about religion to avoid violating the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

Amanda Kellar and Chuck Thompson of the International Municipal Lawyers Association wrote the SLLC’s brief, which was joined by the National Conference of State Legislatures, the National League of Cities, the United States Conference of Mayors, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the International Municipal Lawyers Association, the International Public Management Association for Human Resources, the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, and the National School Boards Association.

If Title VII stands for anything, it is that employers should not stereotype employees based on protected characteristics. Had Abercrombie & Fitch asked Ms. Elauf if she was a Muslim, they would have been doing just that: assuming that all women who wear headscarves do so for religious reasons.

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.

Supreme Court Rules Correctional Institutions Must Allow Half Inch Beards for Religious Reasons

religious beardThe Supreme Court’s opinion in Holt v. Hobbs communicated a rather pragmatic view of the prison security risks created by short beards – namely, that the beards aren’t much of a risk at all given that they are not an ideal place to hide contraband. (Getty Images)

To the casual Supreme Court watcher, Holt v. Hobbs will probably be known and remembered more for John Oliver’s brilliant rendition of the oral argument featuring dogs posed as Supreme Court Justices, rather than what the Court held. But for Gregory Holt and other inmates who have been not been allowed to grow half inch beards, it is the holding they will remember.

The Supreme Court held unanimously that an inmate’s rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Rights Act (RLUIPA) were violated when he was not allowed to grow a half inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs. Cities, take note – this case will affect correctional institutions with no-beard policies and may provide lower court’s guidance in evaluating RLUIPA claims in the corrections and land use context.

Arkansas Department of Corrections (the Department) grooming policy prohibits inmates who do not have a particular dermatological condition from growing beards. Gregory Holt’s request to grow a half inch beard in accordance with his Muslim religious beliefs was denied.

RLUIPA states that the government may not substantially burden the free exercise of an institutionalized person unless the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling government interest. The Eighth Circuit held that the Department satisfied its burden of showing that the no beards policy was the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling security interests.

The Court, in an opinion written by Justice Alito, first concluded the lower court made three errors in concluding that the grooming policy didn’t substantially burden Mr. Holt’s religion. That he had other means of practicing his religion, that he was “credited” by his religion for attempting to follow his beliefs, and that not all Muslims believe men must grow beards were all facts that do not matter in a RLUIPA analysis.

While the Court agreed that preventing the flow of contraband in it facilities and preventing prisoners from disguising their identities are compelling state interests, it concluded that disallowing half inch beards isn’t the least restrictive means of furthering prison safety and security. The Court described the Department’s concern that prisoners may hide contraband in their beards as “hard to take seriously.” Only small items could be concealed, inmates could more easily conceal items in head hair, and beards can be searched. Photographing an inmate with and without a beard would solve the problem of an inmate changing his appearance to enter restricted areas, escape, or evade apprehension upon escaping. And the fact that the Department allows inmates to grow mustaches, head hair, and quarter inch beards for medical reasons – all of which could be shaved off “at a moment’s notice” – indicates that security concerns raised by quickly changing appearance are not “serious.”

Also critical to the Court’s analysis was the fact that most states and the federal government allow inmates to grow half inch beards for any reason.

The Court’s opinion in this case was partially a critique of the lower court opinions, which seemed to gloss over the requirements of RLUIPA rather than carefully apply them, and partially a pragmatic view of security risks created by short beards: “Hair on the head is a more plausible place to hide contraband than a ½ inch beard—and the same is true of an inmate’s clothing and shoes. Nevertheless, the Department does not require inmates to go about bald, barefoot, or naked.”

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.

We Helped U.S. Communities Give 500 Backpacks to These Students in Need

The National League of Cities was represented at the recent U.S. Communities annual meeting and charity event by David Maloney, Program Manager, Strategic Partnerships and Emma Lieberth, Program Manager, Strategic Partnerships. U.S. Communities is the only national purchasing cooperative sponsored by NLC, the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Association of School Business Officials International (ASBO), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM), and more than 70 state level organizations, including 29 state municipal leagues. For more information, visit uscommunities.org.

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Communities website and was republished with permission.

Fresno Unified School District photo

NLC helped U.S. Communities stuff 500 backpacks for students in need(top) Students from the Fresno Unified School District. (photo courtesy of the Fresno Unified School District)
(bottom) Paul Rosencrans of the Fresno Unified School District stands among the 500 backpacks NLC staff helped fill for students in need. (photo courtesy of U.S. Communities)

U.S. Communities, the leading national government and education purchasing cooperative, encouraged philanthropy by raising awareness for underprivileged students during its 2015 Annual Planning Meeting with staff, national sponsors, suppliers and Advisory Board members. Our second annual backpack charity event filled the hearts of all who participated and brought smiles to the students who received the donations. This year’s recipient was the Fresno Unified School District (FUSD).

Fresno, Calif., has the highest rate of unsheltered homelessness in the country, according to 2013 Annual Homeless Assessment Report by the The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Fresno Unified School District is the 4th largest school district in California, serving more than 73,000 students. Fresno Unified is committed to providing students with the greatest number of opportunities to boost student achievement. U.S. Communities recognized an opportunity to make a difference in this community and asked Paul Rosencrans, U.S. Communities Advisory Board member and Executive Director of Purchasing for Fresno Unified School District, to identify schools with the highest-need students.

Fresno Unified has a program called Project ACCESS (Achievement in Core Curriculum for Equity and Student Success) which oversees the enrollment of all homeless families into the school district. FUSD Project ACCESS/HHI Manager Nancy Horn explains, “This year, in the first semester alone, we enrolled 465 new homeless students in grades K through 12. It is such a joy to present a child with a backpack filled with school supplies. Students immediately put them on, and a smile creeps across their face. Many times, they don’t have anything that is their own because of being locked out due to eviction or being kicked out of a home they were sharing, so this gift can mean so much.” Throughout the year, Fresno Unified works to help needy students with what they need to be successful in school and at their “home for homework.“ At this point, we are out of backpacks – so your donation is coming at a perfect time,” says Nancy.

Following dinner on the first day of the meeting, volunteers formed assembly lines to fill each backpack with everything from pencils and water bottles to pocket folders, rulers and calculators. As the volunteers filled 500 backpacks with school supplies, inspirational notes were written to each student to let them know they were receiving these backpacks because we care. Paul Rosencrans was honored to accept these backpacks on behalf of Fresno Unified School District, and rented a truck to drive the large donation back to Fresno. “As I drive this rental truck filled with backpacks and supplies from San Diego to Fresno, I plan to take some time of reflection to be grateful for all the opportunities I have been given and what this means for each student that will receive their own backpack,” Paul said, as he also encouraged the audience to take some time to reflect on their own lives.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to give back this year with the help of our supplier partners and attendees who helped stuff each backpack. Their generosity showed a lot of heart, and we are proud to count them as part of the U.S. Communities family.” said Kevin Juhring, General Manager of U.S. Communities.

The 500 backpack donations were made possible by the generous donations from our supplier partners: Acro Service Corporation, Applied Industrial Technologies, BI, Inc., CARQUEST/Advance Professional, Cintas, Fisher Science Education, Gametime, Garland/DBS, Inc., Graybar, Haworth, HD Supply Facilities Maintenance, Herman Miller, Hertz Equipment Rental, The Home Depot, Independent Stationers, Insight Public Sector, KOMPAN, KONE, Kronos, Ricoh, ServiceWear Apparel and TAPCO.

Incarceration as Usual? The MacArthur Foundation Doesn’t Think So

Nearly 12 million people are sent to local jails every year – and 75 percent of those in jail are incarcerated for nonviolent offenses such as traffic, property or public order violations.

MacArthur Foundation blog postThe number of people currently incarcerated in the United States is equal to the combined populations of Los Angeles and New York City. (Getty Images)

To reduce our nation’s over-reliance on the prison industrial complex, and to change the way Americans think about and use jails, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation recently announced the Safety and Justice Challenge. This is a five-year, $75 million investment to help cities and counties create fairer, more effective local justice systems that improve public safety, save taxpayer money and lead to better social outcomes.

Through the Challenge, the MacArthur Foundation will provide funding to jurisdictions to design and implement plans for creating fairer, more effective local justice systems using innovative, collaborative and evidence-based solutions.

The National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education & Families is already working to help cities on juvenile justice reform to increase public safety and improve outcomes for youth. With support from the MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change juvenile justice reform initiative, NLC is supporting city-led strategies that hold youth accountable for their actions in more effective, equitable and developmentally appropriate ways.

For more information and to learn how your city can be part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, read the MacArthur Foundation’s press release and download the request for proposals. Visit NLC’s website for more information on our work with cities to reform the juvenile justice system.

About the Author:
Emily Pickren is the Principal Associate for Communications in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Emily on Twitter at @emilypickren.

Top 3 Ways to Foster Civic Innovation

This is a guest post by Gayatri Mohan of PublicStuff.

Innovation is all around us, and it’s more than just a buzzword. Cities of all sizes are tapping into multiple channels and local resources; they’re creating effective strategies for innovation in governance.

In a recent article by Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Palo Alto, he explains the importance and potential of civic innovation and urges city leaders to prioritize innovation at all levels of government. “Civic innovation” sounds broad and daunting, but there are three steps governments can take to successfully make it a central part of their strategy.

Build Out the Right Channels to Listen

Virgina Veteran Homelessness Infographic

Click on this infographic to view it in a larger format.

Government agencies can establish systems to better listen to their constituents. With an abundance of online civic engagement platforms, forums and mobile apps, this is now easier than ever. The City of Philadelphia uses its Philly311 mobile app, website and call center to better serve and connect with its diverse population of 1.5 million. Citizens have reported issues related to graffiti, residential maintenance, trash, potholes, vacant lots and vacant homes. Gathering this data and understanding the community’s most acute problems helps the city prepare in advance and allocate resources accordingly.

“It’s so exciting to find yet another channel to provide our residents with a more open and accessible government,” said Rosetta Carrington Lue, Customer Service Officer and Philly311 Director.

The City of Tallahassee, Fla. uses a similar mobile-first platform, DigiTally, to enable citizen participation in improving their community. By empowering citizens to be the eyes and ears of their neighborhoods, the community has seen tangible results, from everyday issues being resolved quickly to citizens requesting new bus stops and traffic signs.

But listening is only the first step. How can government leaders further engage the people they serve and truly include them in the business of governance? How does government-citizen interaction become a seamless dialogue around community concerns, ideas and tangible solutions?

Respond Directly to Public Demand

Philadelphia continues to build additional tools into its existing platform to keep it current and relevant for citizens. The Election Day tool, developed by Chief Data Officer Tim Wisnewski, was purely driven by public demand for more information on polling locations, candidates, ballot questions, voter ID rules, and polling hours. Various agencies within the City, like the Office of City Commissioner, GIS Services Group in the Office of Innovation and Technology, and the Philly311 team, came together to build and release the widget in time for elections.

Get Your Community On Board

City of Tallahassee's first interactive press conference
City officials and press gather at the city of Tallahassee’s first interactive press conference. (photo credit: City of Tallahassee)

Building channels to listen and respond to citizen demands is key, but leaders have to make sure their systems are adopted by city staff as well as citizens. In a recent survey, we found that a lack of staff and community adoption were significant roadblocks to adopting new tools in local government. Cities trying to implement new technology programs in their communities have a lot to learn from the city of Tallahassee, Fla.

The city has seen nearly 8,000 app downloads, more than 400 staff users and almost 6,000 completed service requests since DigiTally’s launch. To promote awareness and adoption upon launch, the city hosted public events like its first interactive press conference outside City Hall to conduct mock request submissions. The city also hosted lunch and learn sessions at the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, and made an announcement through their local television talk show to educate local businesses, citizens and civic organizations.

In his article, Jonathan Reichental points out correctly that “communities are demanding more efficient governments… [and] have high expectations for the way cities function.” Nurturing a culture of innovation, and strengthening communication and citizen relations are key steps towards meeting those expectations.

Gayatri Mohan bio photo 175x175About the Author: Gayatri Mohan is Marketing Team Lead at PublicStuff, a civic software company based in New York. She can be reached at gayatri@publicstuff.com.


Just Announced: Chuck Todd, Donna Brazile, Ed Gillespie and Mignon Clyburn to Speak at 2015 Congressional City Conference

We couldn’t be more proud to host these distinguished speakers at our annual Congressional City Conference in March.

Keynote speakers at 2015 NLC Congressional City ConferenceClockwise from top left: Chuck Todd, Donna Brazile, Ed Gillespie and Mignon Clyburn.

Meet the Press host Chuck Todd will join a stellar lineup of keynote speakers at the National League of Cities’ 2015 Congressional City Conference. Todd comes straight to NLC from a book tour promoting his latest work, The Stranger: Barack Obama in The White House. We can’t think of a better way to open our annual legislative conference than to hear from one of the most sought-after voices in American political coverage.

We’re also excited to announce that renowned GOP strategist Ed Gillespie will share with conference attendees his expertise in politics, healthcare, energy and finance. A pillar of the Republican Party, Gillespie is the Former Chair of the Republican National Convention. Well-known as a witty and candid speaker, there’s no doubt that Gillespie will paint a vivid picture of what goes on behind the scenes in the nation’s capital.

Last Wednesday, the FCC announced its intent to reclassify the internet as a public utility so that the World Wide Web remains open, innovative and easily accessible to all. At this pivotal time in communications history, city leaders must stay ahead of the curve by understanding their crucial role in providing city residents access to broadband services. That’s why we’re thrilled to have FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn join us as well. A longtime champion of consumers and a defender of the public interest, Commissioner Clyburn will explain how widespread broadband access will change your city’s economy for the better.

Finally, veteran Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile will address our current political environment and hot-topic legislation in her keynote speech. Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, syndicated columnist, television political commentator, and former chair of the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute. Currently working for the full recovery of her native New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Brazile’s passions include encouraging young people to vote, working to strengthen our nation’s political system, and running for public office.

We couldn’t be more proud to host these distinguished speakers at our annual conference, and we hope you’ll join us this March 7-11 in Washington, D.C. for an exciting week of dialogue around the issues of greatest concern to cities today.

Mari Andrew bio photoAbout the author: Mari Andrew is the Senior Associate of Marketing at the National League of Cities. She works hard to help city leaders build better communities, and believes the world would be a better place if people wore more colorful clothing.

Supreme Court to Decide If Police Officers Must Accommodate Mentally Ill Arrestees

handcuffsPer the adoption of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), accommodating persons with disabilities is the norm. Twenty-five years after the Act’s passage, the Supreme Court will decide whether it applies to police officers arresting a mentally ill suspect who is armed and violent. (Getty Images)

In City & County of San Francisco v. Sheehan, the Supreme Court will decide whether, pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), police must accommodate a suspect’s mental illness during an arrest. The State and Local Legal Center’s (SLLC) amicus brief argues against this because no conclusive evidence indicates that accommodating mentally ill suspects reduces injuries or the use of force.

When police officers entered Teresa Sheehan’s room in a group home for persons with mental illnesses, she threatened to kill them with a knife she held, so they retreated. When the officers re-entered her room soon after, Sheehan stepped toward them with her knife raised and continued to hold it even after officers pepper sprayed and ultimately shot her. Sheehan survived.

Title II of the ADA provides that individuals with a disability must be able to participate in the “services, programs, or activities of a public entity,” and that their disability must be reasonably accommodated.

Sheehan argues that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests, and that the officers should have taken her mental illness into account when re-entering her room. Her proposed accommodations included respecting her comfort zone, engaging in non-threatening communications, and using the passage of time to defuse the situation.

The Ninth Circuit agreed with Sheehan that Title II of the ADA applies to arrests.  The ADA applies broadly to police “services, programs, or activities,” which the Ninth Circuit interpreted to mean “anything a public entity does,” including arresting people.  The court refused to dismiss Sheehan’s ADA claim against the city reasoning that whether her proposed accommodations are reasonable is a question of fact for a jury.

The Ninth Circuit also concluded that re-entry into Sheehan’s room violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unreasonable. Although Sheehan needed help, “the officers had no reason to believe that a delay in entering her room would cause her serious harm, especially when weighed against the high likelihood that a deadly confrontation would ensue if they forced a confrontation.”

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The Ninth Circuit refused to grant the officers qualified immunity related to their reentry, stating “If there was no pressing need to rush in, and every reason to expect that doing so would result in Sheehan’s death or serious injury, then any reasonable officer would have known that this use of force was excessive.” The Court will review the Ninth Circuit’s qualified immunity ruling.

The SLLC’s amicus brief argues that the ADA should not apply to arrests. While few police departments have the resources to adopt specialized approaches to responding to incidents involving the mentally ill, no conclusive evidence indicates that these approaches reduce the rate or severity of injuries to mentally ill suspects. No one-size fits-all approach makes sense, because police officers encounter a wide range of suspects with mental illnesses. And even psychiatrists – much less police officers who aren’t mental health professionals – cannot predict with any reasonable degree of certainty whether an armed suspect with a mental illness will harm himself or herself or others in an emergency. Finally, because the officers in this case could not predict whether Sheehan would harm herself or others if they did not reenter her room, the brief argues that they are entitled to qualified immunity.

Orry Korb, Danny Chou, Greta Hanson, and Melissa Kiniyalocts, County of Santa Clara, California wrote the SLLC’s amicus brief which was joined by the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, and the United States Conference of Mayors.

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.