A Term of Recurring Themes

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

If you follow the Supreme Court’s docket, one theme from this term is unmistakable:  patent cases.  The Court has taken at least five patent cases (out of less than 70).  But patents don’t worry the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC).  Qualified immunity and protesters do.  And the Court has been immersed in both of these issues too.

Earlier this month the SLLC filed an amicus brief in a qualified immunity case involving deadly force, which NLC signed onto.  Earlier in the term the SLLC filed an amicus brief in a case involving a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics adopted by the Massachusetts legislature to keep protesters from crowding, which NLC also signed onto.  Now the themes of qualified immunity and protesters collide in Wood v. Moss.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which again, NLC joined.

In this case, the Court will decide whether Secret Service agents engaged in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination when they moved anti-Bush protesters about one block further from the President than pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the lower court evaluated the viewpoint discrimination claim at too high a level of generality when determining whether the agents should have been granted qualified immunity.

Pro- and anti-President Bush demonstrators had equal access to the President as his motorcade arrived in Jacksonville, Oregon.  But when the President made an unexpected stop for dinner at the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio, Secret Service agents, assisted by state and local police officers, moved the anti-Bush protesters, who were closer to the restaurant than the pro-Bush demonstrators, about one block further from the President than the pro-Bush demonstrators.

The anti-Bush protesters sued two Secret Service agents claiming their First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination had been violated.  The Ninth Circuit denied the agents qualified immunity.  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 Supreme Court will decide whether the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question in this case too generally.  The Ninth Circuit focused on its conclusion that the agents engaged in viewpoint discrimination instead of whether it was clearly established that the anti-Bush protesters could not be moved further away from the President than the pro-Bush demonstrators.  The Court also will decide whether the anti-Bush protesters have adequately claimed viewpoint discrimination when there was an obvious security-based rationale for moving them:  they were closer to the President.

The SLLC’s amicus brief encourages the Court to tour downtown Jacksonville using Google Maps Street View.  What the Justices will discover is that there is a parking lot adjacent to the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio which the anti-Bush protesters would have had direct access to had they not been moved a block away.  Pro-Bush demonstrators had no direct access to the Inn where they were gathered because the side of the Inn they were facing was totally blocked by another building.

The SLLC’s brief also argues that when the safety of the President is at stake, police may consider the content of speech.  Finally, the brief argues that the lower court evaluated the qualified immunity question in this case without consideration of the facts, so, too generally.

Oral argument will be March 26.  The Court will issue an opinion by the end of June.

NLC Supports Arkansas League before the Supreme Court

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

To have a case before the United States Supreme Court is quite an honor for most lawyers, and Michael Mosley is no exception. On March 4th, Arkansas Municipal League Attorney Michael Mosley will argue a case that he has been working on for almost a decade before the nine Justices. In the case, Plumhoff v. Rickard, the Supreme Court will decide whether police officers are entitled to qualified immunity for the use of deadly force in a high speed chase. The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief, which NLC joined.

A quick refresher on qualified immunity: state and local government officials can be sued for financial 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.” Qualified immunity is intended to protect “all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law.”

In July 2004, police officers shot and killed Donald Rickard and his passenger after Rickard led police on a high-speed chase. Their families sought money damages claiming the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force. The officers argued they should be granted qualified immunity because their use of force wasn’t prohibited by clearly established law.

The Supreme Court will decide whether the Sixth Circuit properly denied qualified immunity by distinguishing this case, which arose in 2004, from a 2007 Supreme Court decision. The Court also will decide whether qualified immunity should be denied based on the facts of this case. Rickard wove through traffic on an interstate connecting two states, collided with police vehicles twice and used his vehicle to escape after being surrounded by police officers, nearly hitting at least one officer.

Mosley, who is representing the police officers, expressed hope that “the Supreme Court will rule that my clients’ conduct was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

The SLLC’s brief argues that the Supreme Court should rule as follows: officers retain qualified immunity from Fourth Amendment force claims so long as it is arguable, on the historical facts most favorable to the plaintiff, that the force was reasonable. In evaluating immunity, a court must adopt the inferences that a reasonable officer could arguably draw from the facts, regardless of whether those inferences are factual or legal. It is a legal question whether—based on the historical facts, the inferences an officer could arguably draw from them, and clearly established law—only a plainly incompetent officer could conclude that force was reasonable.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the National Association of Counties, the International City/County Management Association, the United States Conference of Mayors and the International Municipal Lawyers Association also signed onto the SLLC’s brief.

The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014.

NLC Joins Public Safety Buffer Zone Case

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

It looks like an abortion case…but it really isn’t.  It just happens to have come up in the abortion clinic context.   It’s actually a speech case; a time, place, and manner case.  And local governments use speech buffer zones all the time in many contexts.  So a lot could be a stake in this case.

The Supreme Court will decide in McCullen v. Coakley whether a Massachusetts statute prohibiting speech within 35-feet of a reproductive health care facility violates the First Amendment.  The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed an amicus brief in this case, which NLC signed onto.

Massachusetts law initially allowed protesters to come within six feet of those entering a clinic, within an 18-foot buffer zone around the clinic.  Protesters would crowd six feet from a clinic door, making entry into the clinic difficult and intimidating.  In 2007, Massachusetts adopted a 35-foot fixed buffer zone around clinics.  The First Circuit held that this statute is a constitutional time, place, and manner regulation of speech because numerous communication channels remain available to protesters.

The SLLC’s brief points out that how the Court rules in this case could affect state and local government’s ability to regulate speech to protect public safety in many contexts.  For example, lower courts have upheld buffer zones to prevent congestion at special events and places that regularly draw crowds (funerals, for instance).  These buffer zones and many others may be in jeopardy if the Court rules against Massachusetts.

The National Association of Counties, the United States Conference of Mayors, the International City/County Management Association, and the International Municipal Lawyers Association also joined this brief.

Oral argument has been scheduled for January 15.  The Supreme Court will issue an opinion in this case by June 30, 2014. 

What the Philanthropic and Business Sectors Can Do to Help Reduce Violence and Gun Crime

This post is part of a series, ‘Galvanizing the Civic Sector to Reduce Gun Violence.’  The series focuses on what several sectors – including parents, teens, schools, hospitals, the faith community and city leaders – can do, independent of state and federal legislative activity, to reduce violence and the number of gun-related deaths.

Most private or business-related foundations do not list violence prevention among their top funding priorities.  However, if one views violence prevention work through a wide lens, then many if not most foundations play some role in helping to reduce violence.  In point of fact, if one sees violence prevention as stopping crime and helping to build vital communities that do not generate crime, then initiatives such as mentoring, afterschool programs, family support, job training and neighborhood improvement all can and do fit under the rubric of violence prevention.  The potency of such initiatives is maximized if they are part of a comprehensive citywide plan blending prevention, intervention, enforcement and reentry.

Because of its ability to move fast, take risks and tailor the work to community realities, the private sector’s participation in violence prevention is essential.  America, with five percent of the world’s population, locks up 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.  At a cost of $80 billion, one in every 107 Americans was behind bars and one in every 34 was under correctional supervision at the end of 2011.  On the basis of these staggering prison costs, and realizing the status quo is neither effective nor efficient, those on both sides of the political spectrum now argue together for fundamental changes.  Attorney General Eric Holder’s recent critique of “draconian mandatory minimums,” which result in the warehousing of low-level offenders, signals a growing consensus that the U.S. must reduce its excessive dependence on incarceration.  This shift will mean, in part, an increased demand for proven, evidence-based community programs that affix responsibility and provide help for such offenders.

Activists and policymakers at the local, state and federal levels will almost certainly turn to the private sector for help, and local officials should balance their needs with an assessment of what particular foundations stand for and what they have funded in the past.  City leaders who are spearheading violence prevention efforts must think pragmatically, too.  Low crime and little fear mean citizens are unafraid to shop; a violence-free environment is good for business.  Local businesses should be among a city’s active partners.

Finally, city leaders can show potential supporters how their investment connects to others.  Single interventions are okay, but limited unless part of a larger context.  Showing funders how their support fits into a comprehensive plan, how it will be leveraged, increases the chances of securing funding.

What Factors have Brought Foundations in to Work on Violence Prevention Efforts?

Interviews with leaders of national and state-based foundations suggest a multitude of factors that are motivating the philanthropic sector to engage in violence prevention work:

Read More

Building for the Future in an Uncertain Present: State of the Cities 2013

“Synergy is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. When applied to finding new solutions to the challenges we face in building a community, this requires an inclusive process that seeks input and ideas from many people. In doing so, we can generate new and better ways of doing business.”

On January 16th, Mayor Tom Dale delivered an inspiring and optimistic State of the City Address titled, “Our People, Our Progress, Our Path Forward,” to the citizens of Nampa, Idaho.  In it, he emphasized people and relationships as the single largest community asset that contributed to solving the challenges of the previous year, challenges that included “reduction in revenues, increased demand for services, and uncertainty at the national level.”  Mayor Dale’s speech was characterized by renewed optimism, and a sense that perhaps the answers to these challenges lay in a fresh outlook towards the city’s future and the creative use of local resources.

The sentiment put forth by Mayor Dale and the “synergy” he describes is a story that rings familiar not only to this community of roughly 82,000 residents, but to small, medium and large cities across America.  In 2013, local governments are facing similar challenges as in prior years, but more than ever, they see community assets—the people, the relationships and the partnerships—as key to solving these challenges.

Regardless of the issue, mayors, city staff and residents are working with their fellow citizens to address traditional challenges through creative problem-solving, often utilizing programs and/or policies to connect what have typically been thought of as disparate issues in new and innovative ways.  Whether the strategies include creative uses of technology, partnership-building in and outside city government, or simply better communication and coordination, mayors and their staff are working to build strong and healthy communities for their constituents—communities that thrive on creativity, transparency and trusted relationships.

Reflecting this, mayors’ State of the City Addresses this year have embraced innovation and experimentation as critical elements to solve persistent challenges in their cities around five major issue areas:

  • Regardless of whether the economy is humming or in crisis, economic development is always at the forefront of local policy making, with mayors often unofficially identifying themselves as the Chief Economic Development Officers of their municipalities. Mayors from cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina and Auburn, Washington. tout improvements to their airports, which connect cities to important international and domestic trading partners, as an important local economic development driver.  Others recognize the critical role of partnering with a variety of institutions (universities, regional cities and private organizations). And as working millennials seek out thriving urban centers to live, work and play, downtown revitalization is a key focus for mayors in cities such as Durham, North Carolina and Wichita, Kansas.
  • With public safety affecting all sectors of city life, from health and education to economic development, it is encouraging to find that several cities have seen a reduction in overall crime rates in recent years. In cities such as Memphis, Tennessee and Salem, Oregon, mayors attribute this, in large part, to new community-oriented policing initiatives designed to help law enforcement become more attuned to the needs and concerns of the citizens that they serve and protect. Other mayors, from cities such as Fayetteville, Arkansas, tout technology advancements to enhance first responder capabilities as a means of improving overall public safety, resulting in a better quality of life for city residents. ­
  • City leaders increasingly view education reform as critical to developing their local labor force and attracting and retaining businesses. Through engaging in creative local partnerships with school districts, Pre-k providers, human service organizations, and local businesses, mayors are leading innovative efforts to strengthen the educational pipeline for all residents. For example, in Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Michael Coleman is working to establish a new public-private partnership for education, focused on attracting and keeping the best teachers and principals; providing access to quality Pre-k; closing the digital divide; and encouraging growth of high quality public and charter schools.
  • Infrastructure demands are not being met with any single solution. Rather, city leaders are using limited funds to imagine multi-modal transportation systems that improve accessibility for more residents—systems that include street car lines, bus lines and bicycle and pedestrian networks. At the same time, many city mayors are taking a holistic approach to infrastructure planning, recognizing the connections between streets, water systems, sewer lines and urban forests as a means to improve quality of life for residents while addressing pressing environmental issues such as climate change and sea-level rise.
  • Since the financial crisis, municipal finance has become a hot topic due to the immense challenges that cities face in meeting budgetary obligations. The aftereffects of the recession still linger, forcing city mayors to put in place tangible solutions to ensure fiscal sustainability.  For example, Fort Wayne, Indiana established a fiscal policy group of experts to narrow its focus on brainstorming strategic options to stem fiscal decay.  Columbus, Georgia reformed its employee pension system, which, combined with other reforms, has contributed to an improved bond rating.

Over the last several weeks, National League of Cities staff from the Center for Research & Innovation and the Institute for Youth, Education & Families analyzed 2013 State of the City Addresses given by mayors and city managers from 30 U.S. cities with diverse populations and geographies, with the intention of identifying cross-cutting issues and innovative solutions. During the week of March 25th, we will publish a blog post each day that reflects one of the five themes identified above.  This series is not meant to be an exhaustive representation of the conditions in cities across America; rather, it is meant to provide a sample of trends in local innovations that can serve as a baseline for discussion and inspiration.

In that vein, we are looking to hear from you:  Do these examples represent the types of creative problem-solving taking place in your community?  Are there innovative programs and policies that your city is utilizing to confront persistent challenges?   We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below and as we continue to post the rest of this series!State of the Cities

Leading City Issues of 2012: Snapshot from CitiesSpeak.org

Jobs and the economy, sustainability, government performance, youth violence prevention, community design, and, wouldn’t you know it, beer, emerged as leading city themes of 2012.  We surveyed the most read posts of the year from NLC’s CitiesSpeak.org blog to get a snapshot of the top local issues on the minds of readers. In order of most viewed content:

  • Cities Court Craft Breweries
    Craft breweries have caught the eyes of local officials and economic developers and they are encouraging the development, growth, and attraction of these companies.   Beer photo
  • “New Urbanism”: What Does it Mean to City Leaders?
    The term new urbanism brings about visions of the constructed reality of Truman Burbank—played by actor Jim Carey in the 1998 Hollywood movie, The Truman Show.  The movie depicts Burbank’s fabricated made-for-TV life in his made-for-TV small town and was filmed on location in Seaside, Florida.
  • Economic Benefits of Green Cities
    From energy efficient strategies for buildings to increasing opportunities for recreation and tourism, cities are taking action and seeing returns on their sustainability investments.
  • Anything New in Economic Attraction?
    Business attraction has been and continues to be an essential part of economic development for many communities. In the context of difficult political, economic and fiscal realities, have economic attraction strategies changed?

In 2013, expect new content on a wide-range of issues, such as city fiscal conditions, business development, workforce development and post-secondary success, sustainable local food systems, municipal broadband, neighborhood revitalization, veterans housing, education, dropout recovery, afterschool learning opportunities, violence prevention, health and wellness, family financial stability, and local data initiatives.

Violence Prevention Efforts in California Cities Continue Strong Despite Challenges

Ten California cities — nine longtime participants in a statewide gang prevention network, plus newly added Long Beach — gathered a few weeks ago to share practices and develop a 2013 policy agenda.  Despite prevailing challenges such as resumed high rates of violent crime, significant turnover among mayors, chiefs of police, city councils, and diminished police forces, and fewer resources than ever, commitment to working together as a network remains strong.

Several cities cited recent signs of progress.  Two cities have embedded leadership for public safety initiatives in mayors’ and city managers‘ offices.  At the ballot box in November, voters approved new or extended tax measures to provide targeted funding for public safety initiatives, in several cities.  Additional cities have raised new supplemental resources from the federal government.  Still others have secured means and partners for rigorous evaluation of their complex, comprehensive, community-wide violence prevention efforts.

With the state having granted dozens of additional cities a share of CalGRIP gang reduction grants, network cities once again named securing the future of this grant source a policy priority.  More broadly, looking at the multiple, sometimes similar grant programs that the newly constituted Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC) administers, network cities spotted an opportunity to pursue consolidation of grant programs, or at least to “blend and braid” funds as contemplated in the recently enacted AB526.  And the cities present observed that — despite ongoing “realignment” in the state corrections and probation/parole system, and the formation of the BSCC — they need to work with the Governor and others to formulate an actual statewide violence prevention strategy and policy.

The Soft Stuff is the Hard Stuff

“I’d rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all,” a juvenile murderer said to me when I served as Commissioner of Youth Services in Massachusetts.  This frightening statement throws into sharp relief the fundamental need shared by all of us, namely that we must be seen as important in someone’s eyes, claimed, “beloved.”

Kids disconnected from a relationship with a caring adult – from family, school and a promising future – will be both deeply troubled and oftentimes a source of trouble.  Many “disconnected” kids are desperate – sometimes dying for a relationship.  If a positive adult doesn’t show up, someone else will, including the local gang honcho – someone who will be there 24/7 without fail, who will make an iron pledge to stand with a lonely, angry kid no matter what.  The perception that relationships are the “soft stuff” of crime prevention effectively cedes the playing field to negative role models who know better.

Relationships the soft stuff?  Let’s be honest: anyone who has raised, taught, or worked with teens knows this is the brutally hard stuff that challenges the core of who we are.  And the “soft stuff” is even harder with deeply-wounded youth who ache for relationships, but who will often keep you at arm’s length, fearing that you, as everyone else in their lives, will, when you get close, see them as garbage and reject them.

Simplistic?  Fatuous?  Try it.  Try going into the heart of darkness, try connecting to a tough kid.  My true heroes are the connectors, the confidence builders: parents who parent, mentors who mentor, teachers who don’t give up, streetworkers trying to forge relationships with kids on the corner at midnight, beat cops who attend a football game to let a tough kid know that someone is watching, caring.  In a broken, atomized world, these are the people who say, “I love you.  I will not leave you.”

Yes, we need the best, most proven programs, programs I’ve spent my life helping to design and often run: parental support, early childhood education, mentoring, afterschool programs, community development, restitution, and more. But our often-laudable program work sometimes walks right by or dismisses the most fundamental of human needs in its emphasis on skill-building.  The relational may well precede the transmission of cognitive skills.  If I’ve got an education, some marketable skills, I might have a chance, but that chance will be greatly enhanced if I’ve got someone in my corner, or if I am responsible for someone.

Backed by research, the “soft stuff” is beginning to seep into policy and practice.  The City of Minneapolis, one of ten cities in the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention, an initiative similar to NLC’s 13 California City Gang Prevention Network, rests its comprehensive violence prevention efforts on four foundational goals, the first of which is relational, namely, “Connect every youth with a trusted adult.”

The mission of Community Renewal International (CRI), a nonprofit organization in Shreveport, LA, pledges to “bring together caring partners to restore the foundation of safe and caring communities, making our world a home where every single child is safe and loved.” As part of its mission, CRI builds “Friendship Houses” in the highest crime areas of the city.  Staffed by couples who live in the Houses, the approach is structured around a system of intentional, caring relationships that undergird programs addressing important needs, such as education, safety and work.  The Shreveport Police Department reports dramatic reductions in crime, 20 percent and more, in target areas.

In a special mentoring program targeting at-risk youth, Big Brothers Big Sisters in Philadelphia reports significant gains in confidence, higher aspirations, more avoidance of risky behaviors and increased educational success.

Between 1995 and 1998, Linda A. Teplin, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, interviewed 1,800 Chicago youth serving time in detention.  At some point, more than 80 percent had belonged to a gang, and 70 percent of the men had used a firearm. On November 4, The New York Times reported on Teplin’s results after roughly 15 years of tracking.  Many have been shot, many have been killed, but those who “made it” did so for surprising reasons.  Personal transformations “often have little to do with the promises of politicians or the cyclical crackdowns by law enforcement.  Instead they are often prompted by less tangible forces: the support of a parent, the insistence of a girlfriend, the encouragement of a priest or pastor, the mobilization of a community, the birth of a child.”

We must aggressively continue our comprehensive work that blends prevention (family support, early childhood education), intervention (education, job training), enforcement and reentry (work with offenders returning from prison).  But throughout, relationship-building must be an essential part of our portfolio.  My good friend Dr. Peter Ellis, Director of Community Crime Prevention Associates, said it best in his letter to me last month: “Our 22 years of experience in working with high-risk youth indicates that relationships formed are a key indicator of success in turning these youth around…It all starts with a relationship and love.”