This is the first in a four part series on Public Employee Pension Transparency Act of 2013, also known as PEPTA.
More and more, Congress appears to be considering legislation that is based on anecdotal and inaccurate information and not on good public policy or the facts.
That certainly was the case when the House last month approved a bill to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). Even though House leadership might tell you otherwise, the decision to move programmatic authority from local elected officials and local business leaders to governors had nothing to do with improving the governance structure of the workforce development system, nor did the decision to consolidate nearly 50 funding streams into one have anything to do with improving the delivery of services. The proposed changes were made on ideological grounds, and information to support making those changes — a study of the Workforce Investment Act by the General Accountability Office – was taken out of context.
Now it appears to be happening again around public pensions and municipal bonds. Numerous press reports, most notably in the New York Times, have suggested that public pensions are on the verge of collapse, and that their collapse will set off a wave of local bankruptcies that will seriously jeopardize the economic health of the United States. Other reports have suggested that cities and towns are too heavily leveraged and are about to default in massive numbers on their tax exempt municipal bonds. While the evidence is clearly otherwise – in 2011 only 13 municipalities filed for bankruptcy protection – members of Congress have latched onto these reports as an excuse to go after state and local public pensions and to link their sustainability to the issuance of municipal bonds.
Last week Reps. Devin Nunes (R-CA), Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced H.R. 1628, the Public Employee Transparency Act of 2013 or PEPTA in the House and Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK) and John Thune (R-SD) introduced S. 779, the Public Employee Transparency Act of 2013 or PEPTA in the Senate.
Like so many other bills introduced in Congress, this bill is based on fictitious notions that states and localities are about to declare bankruptcy, or come to the federal government for bailouts to prevent them from defaulting on their obligations.
The City of Los Angeles and the LA Unified School District as close working partners: who would have predicted this in the midst of bitter struggles over mayoral leadership of schools a few years ago? Yet, it’s this partnership, and more, that I witnessed this week on a visit to the Boyle Heights Tech Center In East LA. And perhaps ironically, the focus of the partnership rests on the 100,000 out of school youth and young adults in the city- not, in this case, on management and governance of students in existing schools.
Many exciting pieces come together to support young people at the Boyle Heights center, none so innovative as the placement of an LAUSD counselor at this and twelve other centers around the city. At the close of the first school year of this partnership-in-action, outplaced counselors have met with 3,800 young people, 600 of those fully out of school, many of the rest well off track in credit accumulation for their age.
The City of LA’s Community Development Department (CDD), the local manager of federal workforce and community development funds, administers the thirteen YouthSource centers – running three directly, contracting for the rest. The centers have routed 2,300 of the 3,800 out of school and off track youth into programs funded through the Workforce Investment Act.
CDD won a US Department of Labor Workforce Innovation Grant for the 13-site reengagement network. The grant permits the city to pay half the salaries of the LAUSD counselors, and also to expand services to many more dropouts.
The employee status of the LAUSD counselors ensures a critical link. Counselors, even those seated at the YouthSource centers, have on-line access to the LAUSD student information system. Counselors can work with dropouts to assess their educational status, for instance, in terms of credits obtained. With this information in hand, counselors can make far more informed referrals to a high school completion option.
Overall, with early reports are so promising, the LA approach to dropout reengagement bears close attention for results and operational tips. Already, other cities could adapt the LA partnership model to scale up reengagement services and supports.
This post was written by Elizabeth Miller, Communications Associate at the Knight Foundation.
This is the sixth and final post in a blog series highlighting communities profiled in “Bright Spots in Community Engagement,” a joint report of Knight Foundation and National League of Cities. It showcases 14 U.S. communities that are building greater civic participation and engagement from the bottom up. Previous blog posts included an in-depth look at Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, Austin, Texas, St. Paul, Minn., Akron, Ohio and San Jose. Calif. This post originally appeared in the Knight Blog.
New research finds that collaborative civic revitalization efforts go a long way towards enabling residents to help improve their communities.
“Bright Spots in Community Engagement” – a new report released earlier this week – demonstrates that successful collaborations including multiple networks and representatives from all facets of the community led to significant improvements in both Macon, Ga. and Charlotte, N.C.
In Macon, Ga., the launch of the College Hill Corridor in 2007 offered new opportunities for residents to be involved in the physical, economic and civic revitalization of the neighborhoods surrounding Mercer University. It truly sprung from the ground up – a group of students first proposed the idea as part of their capstone project. The university’s president also took a leadership role in helping bring the idea to light. With financial support from the Knight Foundation, the multi-sector redevelopment planning process was really a collaborative effort: in addition to the university and private philanthropy, it involved the city, local business and neighborhood residents. It ultimately led to new and rehabilitated housing through a partnership with Historic Macon and helped create everyday leaders in the community.
Simultaneously, “Knight Neighborhood Challenge” grants (which ranged from $450 to $10,000) supported “bottom up” ideas from the community. Projects that received funding to improve the community ranged from social events like an annual soapbox derby and movies in the park, to physical upgrades, like park improvements and the Historic Macon Facade Loan Program.
Involving multiple sectors in citywide visioning processes was a successful tactic used in Charlotte, N.C. “Crossroads Charlotte” – a civic project – encouraged corporate and civic leaders to examine four possible scenarios of the city’s future and steps to steer the community towards better collective outcomes. As a result of the project (and combined with other community initiatives), some 30 organizations – representing the corporate, service, nonprofit and government sectors – have undertaken projects to address issues related to access, inclusion and equity in the community.
Other factors also help contribute to successful community engagement efforts, like a strong community relations committee that serves as an integral part of the human relations support system for the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Additionally, a citizens’ academy has successfully used technology to engage young people to blog about school board meetings.
Most of us are familiar with the popular Earth Day catch phrase, “Make Earth Day Every Day.” While we might not always live up to this ideal, I try to keep this quote from Denis Hayes, founder of the Earth Day Network and president of Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation, in mind when I need a little extra motivation to be a better environmentalist: “Listen up, you couch potatoes: each recycled beer can saves enough electricity to run a television for three hours.” If there ever was inspiration to imbibe, that’s it.
NLC celebrated Earth Day and Earth Month this year by hosting a four-part “Spotlight on Sustainability” webinar series that profiled the sustainability programs of large and small cities across the country. The series started in the coastal community of Miami Beach, Fla., then hit the Midwest with a stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. The third presentation came from the southwest via Flagstaff, Ariz. Finally, the series was capped by a timely presentation from Seattle, Wash. on their green building program.
Seattle has a robust Green Building program that facilitates green building policies and programs in both municipal operations and the private market. The city is a national leader in the development of standard practices for green buildings, and has chosen to lead by example by ensuring that, to the extent possible, new construction and retrofits/redevelopment of public buildings are green.
Over the last decade, almost 30 of Seattle’s public buildings have been certified LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver or gold. These LEED gold buildings are 15% beyond code in energy reduction, 30% beyond code in water reduction and have a 90% waste diversion rate.
Seattle doesn’t just talk the green talk, they walk the green walk and in doing so have shown the private market that the benefits of green buildings, such as increasing a project’s market value, lowering operating costs over the life of a building and providing businesses with a healthier and more productive work environment, outweigh the initial higher costs that these buildings can entail.
In addition to being a leader in green building, Seattle has numerous city-led sustainability initiatives, ranging from green infrastructure, energy efficiency, urban agriculture and urban forest restoration. The city is also home to countless groups and organizations focused on sustainability and environmental protection, the Bullitt Foundation being a prime example.
We’re excited to be holding our annual conference, the Congress of Cities, in Seattle this November. The Congress of Cities brings together over 2,000 local leaders from cities across the U.S. Model sustainability practices from Seattle as well as other cities will be a key component of the program. Join us in the Emerald City from November 13-16 for learning and networking opportunities highlighting successful city programs and initiatives from communities across the country!
This post was written by Elizabeth Miller, Communications Associate at the Knight Foundation.
The following is part of blog series highlighting communities profiled in “Bright Spots in Community Engagement,” a report by the National League of Cities and funded by Knight Foundation. It showcases 14 U.S. communities that are building greater civic participation and engagement from the bottom up. Previous blog posts included an in-depth look at Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and Austin, Texas. This post originally appeared in the Knight Blog.
Having strong neighborhood associations and getting input from residents is key when it comes to successful community engagement.
That’s one of the major lessons in “Bright Spots,” a new report released this week. A series of case studies reveals that creating greater civic participation in communities like San Jose, Calif., Akron, Ohio and St. Paul, Minn. is easier when residents are involved in meaningful ways around issues that impact them, like area and neighborhood redevelopment.
For example, in 2003 Akron residents decided they wanted to help revitalize their schools and neighborhoods. As a result, citizens approved a 0.25 percent income tax increase to partially fund remodeling or rebuilding efforts at all area public schools. The schools were designed to serve as Community Learning Centers, which offer in school, after-school and summer programs for students. Additionally, the Akron Neighborhood Trust helped identify a vision for the Buchtel neighborhood. A call for volunteers led to community engagement dialogues with nearly 40 people being trained as facilitators – including representatives from the mayor and city council’s offices. Community meetings in these centers have resulted in 30 to 60 participants per meeting. They’ve also helped identify neighborhood issues and priority areas, like public safety, job readiness and service delivery from local government and literacy programs.
In San Jose, Calif. the Strong Neighborhoods initiative (a 19-neighborhood initiative) is often cited as a strong example of city-led democratic governance. The initiative brought community members and leaders together with the city to launch a comprehensive revitalization program – focused on building clean, safe and prosperous neighborhoods. But because much of its identity and purpose was tied to an $80 million redevelopment fund, it struggled with how to survive when the money ran out and the state legislature dissolved it. Some of the contacts and activities from the initiative are being maintained by the city manager’s office, with reduced staffing. The community is now building on successful examples of online engagement initiatives; for example, the NeighborGoods platform that was designed to build local networking and sharing opportunities online.
Ensuring meaningful community engagement was at the heart of the redevelopment strategy in St. Paul, Minn.’s central corridor. The central corridor light rail line (which will connect downtown Minneapolis to St. Paul by 2014) involved a major planning and decision-making authority. The strategy involved a city-led, civic-minded planning initiative launched by Mayor Chris Coleman to address potential land use and the economic and social development impact of the construction. The report reveals how a series of task forces, which consisted of 18 to 20 representatives of residents, businesses and communities of color, were key to helping guide decisions in the corridor. In meetings held over a series of nine months, community and neighborhood representatives were able to conduct focus group discussions, open houses and presentations. They also connected with city’s system of district council to gather diverse community input.
This is the fourth post in a blog series highlighting communities that were profiled in the new Knight Foundation and NLC joint report, Bright Spots in Community Engagement. The report showcases 14 U.S. communities that are building greater civic participation and engagement from the bottom up. Previous blog posts included an in-depth look at Philadelphia, Detroit, and Chicago.
“This is a city that prides itself on, and has a long history of, successful community engagement. There is an underlying culture of engagement that is a part of how the city is governed. What we designed was not your father’s comprehensive planning process.”
- Larry Schooler, Community Engagement Consultant, City of Austin
The City of Austin, Texas has grown dramatically over the last decade. Between 2000 and 2010, the city saw a 37% increase in population. Many new residents have come to the city with a diploma in-hand; 43% of adults 25 and older in Austin now have a bachelor’s degree or above.
The city has seen strong growth in the manufacturing and technology sectors in recent years, and the region’s rapid growth led Forbes to rank the Austin metropolitan area first among all big cities for the best places for jobs in 2012.
Austin’s original comprehensive plan was adopted in 1979, and was updated in 2008. However, the update process exposed the need for a more extensive overhaul of the plan to better fit the significant growth projections for the city over the next three decades and reflect the community’s values and vision for the future.
In 2009, Austin began a three-year process for creating a new, 30-year comprehensive plan. Most cities have planning processes that solicit public input, but Austin chose to use a more aggressive participation strategy, establishing community engagement as an overarching goal of the process. City leaders wanted to ensure that the comprehensive plan was developed and essentially written by the citizens of Austin.
Austin’s community engagement efforts used a diverse set of tools and strategies to engage more than 25,000 residents in the development of the final plan, Imagine Austin, which was adopted unanimously by the city council in June 2012.
Citizens had the opportunity to participate in a four-part community forum series; respond to surveys; provide input through social media; and attend neighborhood meetings, bilingual gatherings, and special events targeted to youth and younger families. The city also developed the “Meeting-in-a-Box,” a self-conducted small gathering of friends and neighbors to brainstorm ideas about how Austin should grow and allocate its resources that comes prepackaged with invitations, scripts, and questions. City leaders reported that this tool was particularly successful with harder-to-reach groups.
Austinites Make Their Voices Heard
Similar to the success of the participatory budgeting process in Chicago’s 49th Ward, Austin succeeded in engaging the community beyond just the people that Chicago Alderman Joe Moore refers to as “meeting junkies.” Garner Stoll, assistant director for Austin’s neighborhood planning and zoning department, summed up the success of the city’s community engagement process:
We wanted to gauge a broad base of the community’s values and,
in the process, hopefully recruit new leaders. Looking back, it often
felt long and difficult, but in the end we developed a better plan because
we were challenged by our citizens. The community engagement effort
helped the task force and the city council reach consensus on the final
plan because they could be confident that it reflected the values and
preferences of the citizens of Austin.
While the planning process appears to have been successful, it is an open question whether it will lead to sustained community engagement. The city is off to a good start though. It has a dynamic Imagine Austin website and maintains a very active social media presence around the plan’s implementation. There is even an Imagine Austin speaker series that focuses on issues discussed in the plan, such as creating more walkable communities.
Imagine Austin is a big plan with big ideas, and it will take strong, continuous effort to ensure the plan is implemented in a way that reflects shared community values and vision.
This post was written by Matt Leighninger, Executive Director, Deliberative Democracy Consortium.
This is the third post in a blog series highlighting communities that were profiled in the new Knight Foundation and NLC joint report, Bright Spots in Community Engagement. The report showcases 14 U.S. communities that are building greater civic participation and engagement from the bottom up.
The story of Chicago’s 49th Ward shows why many public officials are placing a new emphasis on community engagement. Alderman Joe Moore brought the concept of Participatory Budgeting (PB) to his ward, and has continued to be its most active proponent. He embraced PB partly because he thought it would reverse his political fortunes; the process has not only transformed Moore’s career, it has altered his own perception of his role as an elected official.
After serving for 16 years as a Chicago alderman, Moore was very narrowly re-elected in the 2007 election. This experience was something of a wake-up call for Moore, who felt he needed to reconnect with many of his constituents.
Moore had been exposed to a number of public engagement principles and practices as a member of the Democratic Governance Panel of the National League of Cities; he attended a workshop on PB in 2007, and started planning his own process with the help of the Participatory Budgeting Project, based in New York City.
The 49th Ward PB process includes representatives from civic, religious and community organizations. In the first phase, meetings are held to describe PB as a tool and outline how residents can engage in the process. Participants then form into committees that develop options for spending in areas such as parks, arts, and transportation. The committees brainstorm and review project ideas, conduct research, obtain cost estimates, and ultimately select their projects for inclusion on a ward-wide ballot.
Ward voters select their top projects from the PB process, and the ward’s “menu money” is used to implement these projects. In Chicago, each alderman is allotted a line item (referred to as menu money), amounting to approximately $1 million annually to spend on capital improvements and initiatives within the ward.
In 2010, 36 individual proposals appeared on the ballot, and more than 1,600 residents voted in the election. The number of voters dipped to roughly 1,000 voters in 2011. Participation on the neighborhood assemblies apparently reached its highest level in the third year of PB, and the number of voters rose again to 1,300 in 2012.
The Consent – and Ideas, Energy, and Support – of the Governed
The 49th Ward, which encompasses the neighborhood of Rogers Park, has roughly 60,000 residents living in an area of two square miles. It’s extremely diverse, with over 80 languages spoken, and is about 30% Latino, 30% African American, 30% white, and 10% Asian.
Moore asserts that PB has significantly increased the number and diversity of people engaged in the public life of the ward. “The people that are really involved in the leadership process and community groups are not the usual suspects – these are new people, not the meeting junkies…and that has just been terrific to see,” says Moore.
In addition to increasing involvement in decision-making, PB in the 49th Ward seems to have activated citizens to be more active problem-solvers. For example, a dog park and a community garden, two projects that were initiated and approved through the process, are now operated by teams of neighborhood volunteers. Although Detroit and Philadelphia do not currently engage in participatory budgeting, their community engagement efforts are similar to those happening Chicago in encouraging citizens to be more active in community building and problem solving.
In 2011, Alderman Moore was reelected with 72% of the vote. “I take the result of the last election as a sign of popular support for participatory budget and any similar initiatives that nurture citizen engagement and promote participatory governance,” Moore says. “I take it as a sign that people in the 49th ward want to be active participants in governing rather than being passive observers of government.”