Remarkable New Policy Allows City Employees in Louisville to Mentor — and Pays Them

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun. The post originally appeared here.

Louisville, Ky. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, the city of Louisville, Ky., has created a new program which allows employees the opportunity to take two hours of paid time a week to work with at-risk youth. (Getty Images)

“When I ask businesses and others to step up to mentor, they ask, ‘What are you guys doing?’ And I say, ‘Here’s our Mentors Program. Mentoring is an act of citizenship; at the end of the day, we’re put on the earth to make the world a better place… being an American is not a spectator sport.’”

– Mayor Greg Fischer, City of Louisville

When speaking about his groundbreaking new mentorship program, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer did not limit his rallying cry to moral exhortation and sound bites. He set a goal: to sign up 10 percent of the city’s workforce – 600 individuals – as mentors. And he anchored his exhortation in city policy.

Louisville’s Metro Government Personnel Policies, states, in section 1.21 (1), “The future of Louisville rests in the hearts and minds of our young people – we must do all we can to plant the seeds of future growth and success in our young people. The purpose of this policy is to allow all Louisville Metro employees to act as mentors for area youth.” The policy continues: “Metro employees qualifying to participate in the program will be allowed up to two hours per week, to be used during their regular work shift, in order to volunteer at one of the program’s partner organizations with the purpose of mentoring at-risk youth in our community and shall commit to participate for a minimum of one year. This time will be paid.”

“We talk the talk, but now’s the time to walk the walk,” asserts Sadiqa Reynolds Chief for Community Building, top aide to Mayor Fischer. “Ours are public employees, and we see this as part of their public service commitment.”

Anthony Smith, who directs the Office for Safe and Healthy Neighborhoods for the City, has woven mentoring into “One Love Louisville,” the City’s comprehensive violence prevention/community building plan. He views mentoring as an essential crime prevention tool: “We have a lot of kids who might be involved in the criminal justice system. They need positive adults in their lives right now. And there are kids in the third grade who can’t read. They’re in danger of dropping out and getting into trouble.”

Sytisha Claycomb, a city employee who serves as the Administrative Director for the Youth Detention Center, points to the powerful effect of mentoring on her life. Having helped her mentee complete his GED, and now working to enroll him into a local university, she states: “I felt like a proud parent at his GED graduation this morning at the institution. All the facility workers, line staff and other kids and family attended his graduation. He thanked me from the stage. Thanked me! I can’t tell you how honored I felt.” She also underscored one of mentoring’s core purposes, namely, steadiness and reliability in otherwise chaotic, mistrusting lives. Speaking about her mentee, she noted that “He doesn’t need another person dropping in and out of his life. He needs consistency.”   The City’s program asks for a year’s commitment. Not enough for Sytisha: “I originally signed up for one year,” she stated, “but I’m committed for at least two to make sure he’s solidly on his next path.”

In addition to consistency and trust, exposure to a wider world and to trusted adults who can provide that exposure, lie at the core of a successful mentoring program. Says Smith, “The mentees need to see a better world than they see now, a wider world, the wide horizon of Louisville and beyond, because all they know is their tiny corner.” City employees can introduce them to that wider world. As Smith notes, “We’re actually talking about job shadowing now, kids coming into city hall and other places to see what people actually do.” Darryl Young, another mentor, echoes Smith’s sentiment: “We who have made it take for granted that everyone has people to look up to, people who are examples of jobs, of opportunity.”

The paid mentorship program instituted in Louisville offers city employees increased incentive to serve as positive examples for at-risk youth, and the program serves as a model of what can be accomplished by cities willing to dedicate resources to such an endeavor. The key takeaway: this model doesn’t add additional costs to city budgets. It simply allows employees to spend two hours of their work mentoring youth . Two hours makes little difference in employee productivity and a huge difference in the lives of young people. And Mayor Fischer is quick to recognize that not every city employee is prepared to mentor a youth who has been in trouble or who finds him or herself in a particularly turbulent, even violent situation. His response?  “I understand that, but come on, everyone can help a third grader read!”

Note: It’s an idea that’s taking root at the federal level. The Department of Justice recently approved two hours a week (8 hours a month) of paid administrative leave for Office of Justice Program (OJP) employees to receive training and perform academic mentoring at a DC area public school through an already approved afterschool program. Echoing Louisville’s Reynolds, Beth McGarry, OJP’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General said, “When I returned to OJP one of my goals was to ‘walk the walk’ and set up a program for our employees to mentor.”Cities throughout the nation are embarked on mentoring campaigns, especially for at risk children and youth. The Louisville and the Department of Justice examples show that the government can model what it is asking citizens to do.

Jack CalhounAbout the Author: John A. “Jack” Calhoun is an internationally renowned public speaker and frequent media guest and editorial contributor. He currently serves as Senior Consultant to the National League of Cities and Founder and CEO of Hope Matters. For more than 20 years, Mr. Calhoun was the founding President of the National Crime Prevention Council, prior to which he served under President Carter as the Commissioner of the Administration for Children, Youth and Families.

City Leaders are Taking Up the Charge of Juvenile Justice Reform

This is the first in a series of blog posts providing ongoing updates as more cities – especially those in NLC’s Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform technical assistance initiative – create new examples of successful reform.

Kid - blog(Getty Images)

As cities strive to create fair and effective responses to young people in the juvenile justice system, everyone benefits from reduced future crime and improved outcomes for young residents. We see new examples of progress toward reform emerging in four key areas:

  • Reducing racial and ethnic disparities that begin at the first point of contact between the system and youth – arrest. This reduction can often be accomplished through improved police training and arrest protocols.
  • Opportunities to improve outcomes for youth accused of non-criminal offenses, such as skipping school or running away, by addressing the needs of these youth in their communities rather than sending them to detention facilities.
  • Mechanisms for sharing information and data across city agencies to support informed policymaking, align services for youth and measure success.
  • Structures that connect youth with a continuum of community-based services so that they are held accountable for their actions in ways that improve their life outcomes and reduce the risk of future criminal activity.

These opportunities have frequently been the focus of conversation among the six cities participating in the Municipal Leadership for Juvenile Justice Reform technical assistance initiative. At the recent Mayors’ Institute on Children and Families, hosted by the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, five mayors discussed juvenile justice reform opportunities, analyzed data demonstrating the need for reform in their cities, and took up the mantle of juvenile justice reform champions.

Finally, in case you haven’t seen it yet, NLC’s recently released municipal action guide, Increasing Public Safety and Improving Outcomes for Youth through Juvenile Justice Reform introduced city leaders to opportunities for city-led juvenile justice reform. The guide also highlights several local examples, including innovative programs and policies in Gainesville, Fla., Minneapolis and Baltimore.

Through this blog series and other resources, NLC will continue to build on the information included in the guide throughout the year, thanks to support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Models for Change initiative.

headshot_LFurrAbout the Authors: Laura Furr is the senior associate for Juvenile Justice Reform in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr. Stay engaged by subscribing to the juvenile justice reform newsletter! Email Laura to start receiving it.  

Highlights from the REAL Talk Town Hall Meeting at the Congressional City Conference

This is a guest post by Leon Andrews.

i-HDF2h7q-X3REAL Talk Town Hall panel members listen as NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone discusses relationships between Cleveland police and community members.

National League of Cities President and Salt Lake City, Utah, Mayor Ralph Becker today announced the launch of a new NLC program, the REAL (Race, Equity And Leadership) initiative. The announcement was made at the first REAL Talk Town Hall meeting at the Congressional Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 10th. FOX News Commentator Juan Williams moderated a provocative discussion with Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Gary, Ind., Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, NLC Second Vice President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone, and President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing Member Dr. Cedric Alexander.

More than 400 city leaders attended the riveting discussion on race and justice in our communities and the challenge and opportunity to build trusting relationships between the community and police. Panel members began by sharing stories about the challenges they face regarding racial inequities in education, criminal justice and housing systems, and highlighted actions they are taking to implement programs and partnerships that include youth employment programs and citizen ambassadors programs.

The second panel was moderated by NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony, and featured leaders from NLC constituency groups – Fremont, Calif., Vice Mayor Suzanne Chan, Asian Pacific American Municipal Officials (APAMO) President and San Marcos, Texas, Mayor Daniel Guerrero, Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO) Board Member and Wilmington, Del., Councilmember Dr. Hanifa Shabazz, and National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) Vice-President and District Heights, Md., Mayor James Walls. The panel also included Julie Nelson, the director for the Local and Regional Government Alliance for Race and Equity. Panel members provided helpful insights on understanding race and equity issues in diverse communities, and expressed the need to take careful steps to normalize the conversation about race in communities with a common understanding and language before organizing to advance racial equity.

Finally, Executive Director Anthony introduced REAL Director Leon T. Andrews, Jr., and encouraged city leaders to stay engaged and join the REAL network to get next steps, share experiences and learn more about what others are doing to combat racial inequity in communities across the nation.

About the Author: Leon Andrews is Senior Fellow at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. For more information on the REAL initiative, please contact Leon at

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.

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