The Inside Story of the “Keep GM” Movement

One mayor’s dynamic, collaborative management model essentially saved a U.S. manufacturing city – Lansing, Michigan – using public-private partnerships. Here’s how it was done.

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The city of Lansing, Michigan, has more than 100 years of involvement with General Motors – a give-and-take between GM and the community, and an example of competitive dynamics in play in the Lansing and Michigan areas. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post. The post was co-authored by David Closs, Tomas Hult and David Hollister.

When car-making giant General Motors decided to close its plant in Lansing, Michigan, in 1996, one person – the city’s newly elected mayor, David Hollister – stood up and said “no.” Hollister’s “no” began a five-year competitive, collaborative, strategically intricate process to keep GM in town. Not once in its century-long history had GM reversed a decision to close a plant. But Mayor Hollister quietly went to work building the “Lansing Works! Keep GM!” movement – and succeeded in defying all the odds.

The Framework

Hollister’s collaborative problem-solving approach – the “Second Shift Model” – succeeded in bringing together state and regional politicians, economic developers, private sector firms, labor unions, educators, and residents of the region. Powerful, persuasive and well organized, this coalition implemented a strategic, six-dimensional framework to achieve the seemingly impossible. The six dimensions have been illustrated in animated form and they are:

  • Identifying: Name the challenge and its impact
  • Partnering: Develop meaningful relationships
  • Building: Construct the strategy as you go
  • Solving: Engage in constant problem solving
  • Celebrating: Mark successful milestones
  • Persevering: Adapt and endure

The “Lansing Works! Keep GM!“ movement was a victory of people over bureaucracy, of a can-do attitude over cynicism – a story rarely told in today’s complex, technological, and often dehumanizing world of big business and out-of-control government. And the best part was that, in the end, both sides came away winners. It’s proof positive that when the public and private sectors work together as equal partners, amazing things can happen.

Tom Izzo, Head Basketball Coach at Michigan State University and 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee, highlighted the amazing things that happened with GM in the community: “Teamwork and rebounding win a lot of basketball games, and teamwork and rebounding helped Lansing save GM in town. Second Shift shows what true collaboration, a shared vision, and hard work can do for a community.”

Debbie Stabenow, Senior Senator from the state of Michigan, echoes mayor Hollister’s tenacity and team approach: “Second Shift captures a truly unique and uplifting story of teamwork on a whole new level. It’s a tribute to General Motors, its workers, and to leaders across the community who came together with a common purpose. Second Shift defines teamwork in a new way and is full of meaningful lessons for leaders and communities across our country.”

Lou Anna K. Simon, President of Michigan State University, captures this sentiment well: “No one can ever take what you have for granted, particularly in this very complex global marketplace. Decisions are often made by those who do not have personal knowledge of the community. Thus, every day we must continue to grow the value of our work to diverse stakeholders. Second Shift is an exceptional story of perseverance.”

The Result

The city now has two of only 18 GM plants in the U.S. (and two of the 78 assembly plants worldwide). The economic benefits are in the billions of dollars (more than $3 billion just in plants), with direct and indirect employment affecting some 77,000 people in Michigan (around 7,000 GM employees and 70,000 people working for suppliers to the two Lansing-based GM plants).

The Second Shift Model is focused on driving win-win solutions with the problem-solving framework that kept GM in Lansing. Ultimately, “true satisfaction has many stakeholders… the Second Shift Model provides a superb road map to get all stakeholders engaged,” said Claes Fornell, Founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index and Chair of the Board of Directors of CFI Group Worldwide.

And, more important than Lansing keeping GM, communities around the world can learn from the Second Shift Model to solve complex and dynamic problems of their own. Politics, competitive dynamics, and a “me first” attitude can be set aside by implementing this model.

When Hollister and colleague Ray Tadgerson started the “Lansing Works! Keep GM!” process, they noted that “Lansing is a great place to invest, live, work, recreate and raise a family.” This rings true more than ever. As a Lansing-born, 35-year second-generation veteran of GM stated, “Lansing needs GM, and GM needs Lansing.”

About the authors: David Hollister was mayor of Lansing, Michigan from 1994 to 2003. Ray Tadgerson is former CEO and president of architectural engineering firm C2AE. David Closs is Professor and McConnell Endowed Chair of Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University. Tomas Hult is Professor and Byington Endowed Chair of International Business at Michigan State University. They are the authors of Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement. The story has also been made into a 54-minute documentary film.

Cities Should Let the Sharing Economy Thrive

In too many cities across the country, sharing economy platforms face outdated rules that prevent competition in favor of incumbent industries. Ultimately, public policy that stifles competition, limits innovation, or hinders sharing economy platforms is bad for local economies.

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It is estimated that more than one million people use ridesharing apps every day. There are specific steps cities can take to make ridesharing and other facets of the sharing economy integrate effectively into the municipal landscape. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Dusty Brighton.

“Be your own boss.” Traditionally, when people hear that phrase, they think of a tiny sliver of the population fortunate enough to enjoy the flexibility and independence of working for themselves. Yet, over the past few years, a surge in independent entrepreneurship has enabled millions of Americans in cities and towns across the country to define the hours and terms of their work.

Today, anyone with free time or spare space can offer their services on a platform such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, HomeAway, Handy, Task Rabbit, DoorDash or Upwork and earn a premium wage. Thanks to these platforms, free time, a free room, a second home or an idle car can now lead to additional income and new opportunities without the strict commitments required by traditional employment. This flexibility has become a hallmark benefit for participants in the sharing economy – and, increasingly, our cities’ economies.

Many city leaders, like their constituents, understand and champion the immense opportunities for economic empowerment and growth provided by the sharing economy. And for good reason.

The growth of the sharing economy has created a new kind of safety net for individuals who need it. Rather than being limited by lack of opportunity and strict schedules in traditional job markets, the sharing economy allows people to tap into their skills, effort, and assets to earn more money. The only limit is how much an individual is willing to put into it. This means that anyone, from the college student paying for school to the single parent trying to make ends meet, has the ability to boost and diversify their income to fit their needs and lifestyles.

Beyond flexibility, those participating in the sharing economy are able to better support themselves and their families, bringing more value back into their communities. A national survey by Burson-Marstellar found that on-demand workers average three different income streams, with the average gross income from on-demand work accounting for 22 percent of household income. A majority of the workers polled in the Burson-Marstellar survey stated that they are better off financially than a year ago, and expect to be even better off in the future.

In a similar vein, short-term rentals – through platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway – allow residents to stay in their homes while generating income. Better yet, the money coming into communities through short-term rentals typically stays there. This means that the benefits are distributed beyond the renter to local restaurants and stores that would otherwise not be exposed to traditional tourism.

Allowing the sharing economy to thrive in our cities also means more freedom for consumers. This freedom does not come just in the form of more services – it embodies a wider variety of choice. Consumers do not choose to use Uber or Lyft because they are just another taxi company; they use ride-sharing platforms because they offer an innovative option that provides higher quality and safer service at a lower cost.

Americans want to live in cities that allow new services to innovate and make their lives better, not protect the interests of politically connected incumbents. Rather than passing laws that limit the sharing economy, every community should take steps to support increased competition and allow these platforms to compete and thrive. Ultimately, public policy that stifles competition, limits innovation, or hinders sharing economy platforms is bad for local economies.

In too many cities across the country, sharing economy platforms face outdated rules that prevent competition in favor of incumbent industries. For communities to thrive and prosper, the sharing economy must be allowed to compete on a level playing field. Sharing economy platforms hold the potential to provide better, safer services at lower costs – a win-win by any measure. But only if we let them.

As part of our engagement, the Internet Association is working to expand its outreach to local governments across the U.S. We continue to work on the ground with city officials and staff to reach policy goals that satisfy regulatory concerns while allowing innovative internet-enabled competition to thrive. The Internet Association also offers educational outreach to cities looking to learn more about our member companies and foster collaborative partnerships on local issues like economic development.

About the author: Dusty Brighton is the Vice President of State Government Affairs for the Internet Association. The Internet Association’s mission is to foster innovation, promote economic growth, and empower people through the free and open internet.

How Cities Can Implement Successful CSA Programs for Local Families

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are emerging in as a way cities can help even the most low-income children and families save for college and potentially disrupt cycles of multi-generational poverty.

Research shows that when a child has a savings account – even if that account holds less than $500 – she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. (Getty Images)

Research shows that when a child has a savings account – even if that account holds less than $500 – she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. (Getty Images)

When higher education becomes an expectation as early as kindergarten, parents save and children know that college is an attainable goal. CSAs often include an initial deposit into a savings account for young children, incentives for children and their parents to save, and opportunities to engage parents and children through financial education and other activities. After seeing pioneer cities that were part of an National League of Cities’ (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) peer network launch CSA programs over the past year, a new group of cities is exploring how some of the lessons learned apply in diverse environments: urban and rural, large and small.

In conjunction with our partners at the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), YEF Institute staff will take part in an Oct. 28 webinar focusing on how municipalities can implement successful CSA programs for local families. All city staff are invited to join.

With support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, this peer network is thinking strategically about design and implementation of their programs, how to tie programs to postsecondary success efforts and local financial inclusion, and how to launch successfully to reach and engage residents. Participating cities include Louisville, Kentucky; Durham, North Carolina; Oakland, California; Garden City, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston; Chelsea, Massachusetts; St. Louis, Missouri; and San Francisco.

With the examples of cities like Durham, San Francisco and St. Louis – which continue to participate in learning collaborative initiatives as they strengthen and expand their projects – cities exploring CSAs have the opportunity to learn from a variety of models. Programs vary dramatically in terms of size and savings goals, and the participating cities face challenges with very different populations.

However, the process of program design requires all cities to ask similar questions: What is the current expectation of college attainment for children in my city? Which partners do I need to bring to the table? How do we partner with local businesses, foundations, community organizations, or others who might support this program with funding or wraparound services? Should I start with one classroom, or a whole school district?

No matter how they choose to implement CSAs, cities will need to think critically about the infrastructure upon which their program is built. Exploring savings account structures, determining how accounts and financial education will fit into the school day, and investigating technological systems will help cities design programs that function smoothly from day one.

More importantly, cities are strengthening relationships with stakeholders to raise community expectations around saving for and attending college. On a recent call with cities that are part of the peer network, Phil Maurizi, vice president of Promise Indiana, a CSA initiative operating in 14 counties, emphasized the importance of community ownership of a CSA program. Without buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders, a CSA program will fall short of changing city culture. Cities don’t just need to think about the nuts and bolts of savings accounts, they must engage the members of the community and the local institutions that ensure success.

The National League of Cities’ CSA project is part of a national campaign to integrate savings into the systems that already serve children and families. Cities can still join the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, which supports access to CSAs nationwide and is working to connect 1.4 million kids to CSAs by 2020.

Join us for the Oct. 28 webinar to learn best practices cities and counties can use to develop their own CSA programs.

Lily Roberts photoAbout the author: Lily Roberts is an Intern with the NLC YEF Institute’s Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment team.


Women Are Being Jailed at the Highest Rates Ever. Here’s How Cities Can Help Stem the Tide.

Recently, the national conversation about mass incarceration has turned local, focusing on county and city-run jails that act as incarceration’s front door. A missing element to that discussion, however, is the fastest growing correctional population: women.

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According to the most recent national data, 82 percent of women are in jail for nonviolent offenses, and cities are increasingly rethinking the need to use jail as a response to these crimes. (Getty Images)

As revealed in a new report – Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform – by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, the number of women incarcerated in local jails has grown 14-fold since 1970.

While incarcerated women share many of the same experiences and characteristics of incarcerated men, women can experience incarceration and its collateral consequences in unique ways. Unlike incarcerated men, women are often single parents and enter jails with higher rates of mental illness. Because women earn less and are less likely to have full-time employment before their arrest, bail, fines, and fees can be even more devastating to them. This is especially true for women of color – almost half of all single black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth.

Once women enter the criminal justice system, they often encounter policies, programs, and services designed for the majority of the people moving through it: men. Standard practices and procedures for law enforcement and correctional staff can create or reignite traumatic experiences for these women, the majority of whom come into the justice systems having experienced high rates of violence and are at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence in custody.

Shifting attention and resources away from policing minor offenses and leveraging existing community resources and services can provide opportunities to intervene early on during anyone’s experience with the justice system and safely address her needs in the community. These approaches can especially benefit women. Some jurisdictions – including the twenty that are participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge – have been able to implement reforms at the very front end of the criminal justice process to divert individuals away from incarceration, minimizing the harm that can accompany even a short stay in jail.

Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform

Decline to arrest

According to the most recent national data, 82 percent of women are in jail for nonviolent offenses, and cities are increasingly rethinking the need to use jail as a response to these crimes. In 2007, the Baltimore Police Department adopted a policy of declining to arrest people for low-level, quality of life offenses. A report on the women held in Baltimore City’s jail found that in 2010, the number of women had declined by 15 percent as compared to 2005. Similarly, following the success of the City of Philadelphia’s decision to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the mayor signed a directive for officers to issue civil citations – instead of criminal violations – for certain low-level offenses, such as disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. The city projects the strategy will divert more than 10,000 cases out of the criminal system annually.

Pre-arrest crisis intervention for people struggling with mental illness

On average, 32 percent of women in jail have a serious mental illness – more than double the rate of men in jails and six times the rate of the general public. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the police and other first responders can call Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services (COPES) for assistance with people experiencing mental health crises in the community. COPES provides mobile crisis intervention services and can refer people to community-based treatment when needed. Between July 2014 and June 2016, COPES received more than 10,000 calls for service. Of those calls, 3,900 were for women, and only 3 percent of those calls resulted in women being taken to jail.

These programs are examples of opportunities for stakeholders to divert women away from incarceration and allow them to remain in their communities. In addition to decreasing the harm caused by prolonged justice-system involvement, community-based programming and services can offer respite to the constant economic disadvantages in women’s lives that so often affect their children. Though establishing these strategies may take considerable effort, reducing the number of women held in jails is achievable and an essential component of creating safer communities.

About the authors:

2016_06_27_vhs_kristi_riley_0026Kristine Riley is a Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice.


2016_06_27_vhs_liz_swavola_0010Elizabeth Swavola is a Senior Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice.

For Local Leaders, the Water Bill in Congress is Urgent

The residents of Flint, Michigan, have been unable to use their own taps for months – and now fears of Shigellosis make the need for congressional action more pressing than ever.

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Levee construction and flood prevention infrastructure are examples of projects included in versions of the Water Bill. (Getty Images)

The recent outbreaks of bacterial illness in Flint and other Michigan cities remind the American public and local leaders that Flint’s drinking water crisis is still very much an ongoing crisis. These outbreaks also drive home the fact that Congress needs to act soon to provide financial aid to the struggling city and its residents; to bring some relief to a crisis that has lasted too long and affected too many.

Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right, and local leaders need the resources to deliver, maintain and protect that promise. For months now, the people of Flint have been unable to use their own taps – and now fears of Shigellosis make the need for congressional action all the more urgent.

While the situation may seem dire, there is some good news on the horizon for those in Flint and for local leaders around the nation.

Over the past month, as Congress prepared to adjourn until after the elections, NLC celebrated small policy victories when both the House and the Senate passed versions of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that included provisions for Flint relief.

Attention now turns to the ‘to-be-determined’ WRDA conference committee that will try to hammer out differences between the two bills in time to send a final bill to the President’s desk before the end of the year — which is an absolute necessity.

In the House, disagreement over Flint aid was much stronger and became entangle with the negotiations for funding the federal government past Sept. 30 — the start of a new fiscal year. With NLC’s support, an eleventh hour agreement allowed for a Flint aid vote as an amendment to WRDA.

But, WRDA will provide much more than the relief for Flint. Both versions of the bill authorize restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will improve infrastructure for flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration. These projects are so important to communities and local leaders nationwide — from restoring the Florida Everglades to flood protection in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

For local elected officials, passage of a strong version of WRDA is a must. As Clarence Anthony, executive director and CEO of the National League of Cities stated, “Improved water infrastructure is essential to keeping our cities strong, our local economies vibrant and our residents healthy.”

Both bills also include funding to any state, such as Michigan, that receives an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply system. The Senate bill goes further, with additional provisions for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure such as funding for WIFIA; grants for lead service line replacement, testing, planning, corrosion control and education; grants to address sewer overflows and assist small and disadvantaged communities in complying with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act; and addressing integrated planning and affordability issues.

Congress must pass WRDA for the sake of Flint, but also for the cities nationwide who are in need of these proposed water infrastructure projects. NLC has been calling for and continues to fight for a strong version of WRDA that not only does the most good for nation’s water infrastructure, but also restores a basic human right to the City of Flint.

We commend both chambers of Congress for bringing us this far. And with our ongoing efforts, we urge Congress to come to a swift conference compromise that puts cities first.

Carolyn BerndtAbout the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.





Mayors and the Politics of the Property Tax

This post is the final installment in a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report.

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In his 2016 State of the City address, Helena, Montana, Mayor James Smith stated that “Our ability to compensate our employees from year to year depends first and foremost on property tax revenues.” (Getty Images)

Mayors have a love-hate relationship with the property tax. On one hand, it is one of the few fiscal tools they have to raise revenue for mounting needs. On the other, accessing this tax can be an uphill political battle. Given these dynamics, it was no surprise that ‘property tax’ was the hottest budget issue discussed by mayors in their 2016 State of the City speeches.

(National League of Cities)

(National League of Cities)

Tax Profile
Property tax revenues are driven by the assessed value of residential and commercial property. They typically lag the real estate market due to delays in local assessment practices. For example, the sharp drop in the real estate market that set the recession into motion did not hit property tax rolls until 2010. Cities faced several years of declining property tax revenues following 2010, even though real estate markets across the country were stabilizing. In North Ridgeville, Ohio, Mayor G. David Gillock noted that, “Our real estate tax [revenues] increased somewhat during 2011 and 2012, but due to… reevaluation in 2013, they again dropped precipitously. They are appreciating but are still about $300,000 below where they were in 2012.”

In recent years, property tax collections have begun to rebound, attributed largely to improved values catching up with collections, not necessarily rate hikes. Those with high property tax rates are cities like Bridgeport, Conneticut, or Detroit; these cities have low property values and/or high levels of local government spending as well as no access to sales or income tax.

Since the mid-1990’s, irrespective of economic conditions, the number of cities increasing property tax rates in any given year has always been about the same, about one in five. This is reflective of state- and voter-imposed restrictions on local property tax authority as well as the political challenges of raising property tax rates.

Political Challenges
In recent cases of tax increases, mayors have felt the backlash. Despite massive pension and education challenges, the city of Chicago had not had a substantial property tax rate hike in many years… until last year. Mayor Rahm Emanuel made a bold move and increased property taxes for residents and businesses, on average, about 13 percent (or $400 per year).

Given the fiscal challenges facing the city, the increase was overdue, but was not without political consequences.  Vocal opposition came strongest from the business community. A Crain’s Chicago Business columnist recently wrote that “in an action unlike any I’ve seen in decades, the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to nearly 2,000 businesses in the Northwest Side’s 1st and 35th wards asking them to contact their aldermen and unite against these harmful policies.”

Property taxes have been called the scapegoats of the tax world, “a catch-all for gripes about potholes, traffic tickets and anything else that ails a local economy.” A key reason for the blatant disdain of property taxes is that the tax burden is more transparent (annual tax bill) and harder to avoid when compared with sales taxes applied at checkout or income taxes withheld from a paycheck. Case in point: earlier this year, Ferguson, Missouri, voters approved a half-cent sales tax hike for economic development but failed to garner the two-thirds needed to pass a separate property tax hike.

Undergirding much property tax angst is the continued slow and uncertain pace of economic growth. Mayors from cities as diverse as Buffalo, Baltimore, and Carson City, Nevada, touted their efforts to lower property tax burdens, stabilize property taxes and offer rebates and credits to seniors, low income families and city workers. “This year I am proposing to do even more with the creation of a property tax credit for our sworn police officers, firefighters and sheriff’s deputies who own homes in our city as their primary residence. I want to encourage more of our first responders to live in the neighborhoods they are sworn to protect,” said Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

Mayors also used their speeches to describe the complexities and potential unintended consequences of property tax reductions. While praising recent efforts to lower tax bills to more equitably balance commercial versus residential property taxes, Mayor Steven Adler of Austin, Texas, also noted, “The danger of using the wrong metric to measure whether your government is helping with affordability is not that we’re just measuring the wrong thing – it’s that measuring the wrong thing means we’re not working on what will really have an impact on affordability.” Although property tax reductions are visible, they alone are not the most impactful way to increase affordability within the city. He went on to discuss the importance of transportation, housing and workforce development.

In addition to oversimplifying solutions to complex city goals, property taxes reductions also mean less revenue for city services and the employees who provide them. “Our ability to compensate our employees from year to year depends first and foremost on property tax revenues… the Commission did not approve a cost of living adjustment for city employees for FY16,” said Mayor James Smith of Helena, Montana. “It’s a classic balancing act. It really captures the dynamic tension that exists between government and the private sector of the economy.”

How to Pay
Political challenges often keep local governments from accessing the property tax. This means that the question of how to pay still looms large. One of most common responses is to raise fees for services, which of course brings equity concerns as poorer families pay a larger share of their income for services. Some cities, like Syracuse, New York and Boston, have reengaged nonprofit tax-exempt institutions to contribute more cash and community programming to offset use of city services and provide unique benefits city residents. Some, like New Orleans and Denver, have focused on cost-cutting innovations in service delivery. In most cases, cities are using a mix of strategies to balance their budgets, provide services, tackle broad goals and meet obligations.

To learn more about the performance of the property tax and its impact on city fiscal health, don’t miss the release of NLC’s annual City Fiscal Conditions 2016 report on Thursday, October 13 at 11 a.m. EDT.

christy-mcfarlandAbout the Author: Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

2016 Supreme Court Preview for Local Governments

A number of cases currently on the Court’s docket will directly impact local governments – and in two of those cases, a city is a named party.

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The Supreme Court’s docket is currently about half full – which is typical for this time of year. (Getty Images)

*Indicates a case where the SLLC has filed or will file an amicus brief.

The cases on the Supreme Court’s 2016 docket described below will directly impact local governments. In two of those cases, a city is a named party.

The issue in both Wells Fargo v. City of Miami* and Bank of America v. City of Miami* is whether Miami has “statutory standing” to sue banks under the Fair Housing Act (FHA) for economic harm caused to the city by discriminatory lending practices.

The Eleventh Circuit concluded Miami had “statutory standing” based on an older case, Trafficante v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (1972), where the Supreme Court stated that statutory standing under the Fair Housing Act is “as broad as is permitted by Article III of the Constitution.” The parties do not dispute that the city of Miami has Article III standing in this case.

In Ivy v. Morath,* the Supreme Court will decide when state and local governments are responsible for ensuring that a private actor complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

In Texas, state law requires that most people under the age of 25 attend a state-licensed private driver education school to obtain a driver’s license. Deaf students sued the Texas Education Agency (TEA), arguing it was required to bring the driver education schools — none of which would accommodate deaf students — into compliance with the ADA.

The ADA states that no qualified individual with a disability may be excluded from participation in, or be denied the benefits of, public entity “services, programs, or activities” because of a disability. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the ADA does not apply to the TEA because it does not provide “services, programs, or activities.”

In Murr v. Wisconsin,* the Supreme Court will decide whether merger provisions in state law and local ordinances (where nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership are combined for zoning purposes) may result in the unconstitutional taking of property.

The Murrs owned contiguous lots E and F, which together totaled .98 acres. Lot F contained a cabin and lot E was undeveloped.

A St. Croix County merger ordinance prohibits the individual development or sale of adjacent lots under common ownership that are less than one acre total. But the ordinance treats commonly owned adjacent lots of less than an acre as a single, buildable lot.

The Murrs sought and were denied a variance to separately use or sell lots E and F. They claim the ordinance resulted in an unconstitutional uncompensated taking.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruled there was no taking in this case. It looked at the value of lots E and F in combination and determined that the Murrs’ property retained significant value despite being merged. A year-round residence could be located on lot E or F, or could straddle both lots.

In the case of Manuel v. City of Joliet,* Elijah Manuel was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance even though a field test indicated his pills weren’t illegal drugs. About six weeks after his arrest, he was released when a state crime laboratory test cleared him.

If Manuel would have brought a timely false arrest claim in his case, it is almost certain he would have won. But such a claim would not have been timely because Manuel didn’t sue within two years of being arrested or charged. So he brought a malicious prosecution claim under the Fourth Amendment.

An element of a malicious prosecution claim is that the plaintiff prevails in the underlying prosecution. Manuel “prevailed” when the charges against him were dismissed, and he brought his lawsuit within two years of the dismissal.

The question the Supreme Court will decide in Manuel v. City of Joliet* is whether malicious prosecution claims can be brought under the Fourth Amendment in the first place. The Supreme Court left this question open in Albright v. Oliver (1994).

Notably absent from the Court’s docket this term so far are a lot of routine issues the Court regularly takes, including Fourth Amendment searches, qualified immunity, and employment. The Court has plenty of time and space on the docket to agree to decide cases raising those issues.

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.

6 Ways Cities Can Reform Their Pension Systems

There’s no silver bullet, and it will take the implementation of several steps to actually address problems in a meaningful way.

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The Kinder Institute calculated that if the city of Houston’s municipal workers contributed to their pension plans at the average level of public employees nationwide, by 2025, Houston would be saving $100 million annually. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Ryan Holeywell.

Cities are still struggling with soaring pension costs, and Houston, Texas – home to my organization, Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research – is among them. Mayor Sylvester Turner pegged Houston’s unfunded pension liability at $7.7 billion when he introduced a reform proposal on September 14, 2016.

Our newly-published report, “The Houston Pension Question,” explains how Houston can get its pension costs under control. But the solutions we highlight aren’t unique to Houston, and they can be considered by any city seeking to improve the stability of its pension system. Moreover, these options aren’t intended to be a specific policy prescription; instead, they’re more like a menu that Houston and other cities can choose from. Below are our six reform options:

1) Change investment assumptions associated with the pension plans

Since 1992, Houston’s plans have assumed a rate of return on its investments of 8 to 8.5 percent, even though they’ve earned less than that recently. Those shortfalls result in higher unfunded liabilities. In Houston’s case, we estimate that shortfall has contributed a combined $872 million to the city’s unfunded pension liability since 1992.

Plans nationwide are starting to respond to this pressure. Nationally, the assumed rate of return on investments dropped from an average of 8 to 7.6 percent from 2001 to 2015. In Houston, Mayor Turner has proposed using a 7 percent assumption. Every pension system should use investment projections that align with its recent financial performance.

2) Change funding methods

“Amortization” means paying off a liability through installments, as opposed to paying it off in one lump sum payment. Today Houston – and many other cities – use a “rolling amortization” schedule that effectively resets the clock on the annual pension payment schedule, ensuring the liability will never be fully paid.

Cities such as Phoenix and Baltimore have switched to “closed amortization” schedules, which commit to fully paying the unfunded liability within a set period of time, generally 20 to 30 years. Mayor Turner has proposed this reform in Houston. While the technique can help cities pay off the liability in a more timely fashion, it often increases the already-rising payments required of those cities.

3) Consider new funding sources

Because many of the steps needed to shrink the liability necessarily result in increased payments, cities may need to consider other funding sources. This might entail new or increased revenue, or it might mean diverting resources from other public uses.

In Houston, rescinding a voter-imposed revenue cap that has limited the city’s budget flexibility could result in an extra $40 to $60 million in annual revenue. Mayor Turner says he’ll ask voters to do this next year, though he hasn’t explicitly tied that strategy to pension reform.

Of course, increasing revenue or cutting services are steps that could be unpopular with taxpayers, and in some cases, state law may preclude local governments from increasing revenue.

4) Increase employee contributions

Employee payroll contributions are the norm in the public sector. We calculated that participants in the Houston municipal workers’ pension plan contributed 2.77 percent of their city income to their pensions. Nationally, participants in large local plans contribute 7.6 percent.

Several cities, including Phoenix, Jacksonville and Baltimore, have increased employee contributions as part of their pension reform efforts. We calculated that if Houston’s municipal workers contributed at the average level of public employees nationwide, by 2025, Houston would be saving $100 million annually.

But this reform comes at a cost, too: effectively, it reduces total employee compensation, making a city a less competitive employer. Mayor Turner has not included this reform option in his publicly-announced plans.

5) Switch to a defined contribution system or a “hybrid” defined benefit/defined contribution system for new hires

This can slow the growth of the pensions’ unfunded liability because it shifts financial risks from the employers to employees. The technique has been used in places such as San Diego and Fort Lauderdale.

While a defined contribution plan like a 401(k) can help stop future liabilities from mounting, it doesn’t erase previously-accrued liabilities. A defined contribution plan – in the absence of other steps – cannot immediately fix a pension system’s financial woes. For that reason, Mayor Turner said, he did not include this element in his Houston reform package.

6) Reduce benefits for current employees

Generally cities are legally prohibited from cutting benefits for current and former employees. They have some flexibility, however, with annual Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) and reforms to Deferred Retirement Option Plans (DROP), which allow retirees to claim pension benefits while continuing to work.

Mayor Turner says he’s worked with the city’s three pension systems to reduce the liability by about $2.5 billion, largely through negotiated cuts in these areas. But these reforms effectively reduce total employee compensation and may increase the likelihood that retirees could lack sufficient retirement income.

For cities considering pension reform, all of these options may be part of a solution, and all of them are painful. Taxpayers may have to pay higher taxes or enjoy fewer services. Retirees may face lower benefits. Current employees may face higher contributions, potentially coupled with reduced benefits.

Each city, its employees and taxpayers will have to figure out which combination of options will work best in their situation. There’s no silver bullet, and it will take the implementation of several steps to actually address pension system problems in a meaningful way.

About the author: Ryan Holeywell is the Senior Editor at Rice University’s Kinder Institute for Urban Research.

Innovative City Program Teaches Civic Engagement to Parents

Many cities have made ensuring all young children start kindergarten ready to succeed a top priority – and this will only happen when parents are a part of the equation.

Parents are key stakeholders who know what children need, and their voices must be included in policy discussions. (Getty Images)

On a recent visit to Kansas City, Missouri, I was lucky enough to learn about the Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI) and hear from parents who have been part of this innovative program. Parental engagement is a vital component of any strong early childhood system, and PLTI is a program that is enabling parents to be civic leaders and advocates for their children in their communities across the country.

With help from the National League of Cities (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute), Kansas City officials and key community stakeholders are exploring whether the PLTI program is a good fit for their city. After NLC sent Julie Holland, Education Advisor to Kansas City Mayor Sly James, to New Orleans to witness the PLTI program in action, she excitedly advised the mayor to look into bringing the parent empowerment model to the city.

Mayor James, a strong champion of early learning, enthusiastically spoke about PLTI in a recent radio interview, saying, “this is a program that will enhance [parental] engagement, but also takes it outside of the schools. It takes it out into the community. It builds leadership, and Lord knows we could use more leaders.”

While Kansas City is still in the exploratory phase, Mayor James wants as many local parents as possible to eventually take advantage of the PLTI program. He believes it fills an important need to increase and support parental engagement. Kansas City is an excellent example of local leaders taking action to create the necessary components of an early learning nation.

The PLTI model begins with the assumption that parents want what is best for their children, but often lack the leadership skills and civic knowledge to be effective advocates. PLTI Executive Director Elaine Zimmerman began the program in Connecticut after realizing that parents are an important stakeholder group that often was not given a seat at the table when it came to decisions about children’s lives. Through PLTI, a cohort of 25 parents over a series of 20 weekly classes learn key leadership and civic engagement skills such as data analysis, public speaking, and the basics of public policy formation.

The data is clear: after completing PLTI, parents increased their knowledge of how state and local laws work, increased their involvement in their communities, and exhibited increased willingness to work across boundaries with parents who were not similar to them. Participants stay in contact with their parent cohort through an alumni network, and pursue their own civic engagement project in the local community. Laced throughout PLTI is the belief in the agency and intelligence of parents, and each project is completely chosen by the parents.

Benita Cochran, a parent leader and graduate of PLTI in New Orleans, spoke about her experiences with the program in a powerful testimonial to local leaders in Kansas City. Cochran described how PLTI helped her find her voice as a leader and truly changed her life after her husband passed away.

“Over the course of the 20 weeks my mantra changed from ‘I’m just a parent’ to ‘I AM a parent.’ I have a voice, and it’s worth listening to,” Cochran told the group in Kansas City. She also credits her involvement in PLTI with significant changes in her children’s behavior and educational outcomes, saying “the shift that happened to me, the shift that happened to my home, was profound… when I went into PLTI, my daughter was failing. My daughter now has straight A’s.”

Hearing testimonials like this is not something I will forget anytime soon. Parents are key stakeholders who know what children need, and their voices must be included in policy discussions. PLTI is one model that gives parents the tools to be confident leaders at the early learning decision-making table.

If you’re interested in strengthening family engagement efforts in your community, contact Alana Eichner at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families at

alana-eichner-head-shotAbout the Author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Mayors Address Energy, Environmental Issues with Greater Substance

This year’s State of the Cities analysis reflects a growing gap between leading cities and the rest of the country on issues related to energy, environment, and climate change.

(Getty Images)

Mayor Dawn Zimmer celebrated the fact that Hoboken, New Jersey, was named a Role Model City by the United Nations for their efforts to “upgrade infrastructure and prepare the city for a more resilient future.” Thinking holistically, the city was working on park projects, street trees, and zoning changes to incentivize green roofs. (Getty Images)

The last year has been monumental for anyone following environment and energy policy. A global climate change agreement was reached with a one point five degree warming target, the second US-China Low Carbon Cities Summit was held between the world’s largest polluters, and there is growing urgency from bipartisan security experts as well as global business leaders that now is the time to act.

However, not all of the news has been positive. Every month in 2016 has set new global temperature records, making 2016 a near lock to be hottest year ever before the last four months are even included. New analysis of polar ice sheets indicate that they likely melt faster than current models predict. And for all of our actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet is still on track to exceed our “safe” emissions budget within just eight years.

This same tension – between good news and bad, progress and procrastination, leaders and laggards – is evident in the 2016 State of the Cities Report. Each year NLC has published this report, environmental issues have received slightly wider coverage and a bit more emphasis. This year, 28 percent of the mayoral speeches we examined mentioned environment and energy issues – and the substance is truly impressive.

One consistent theme is that cities have quickly realized that solar energy is cost-effective. Nearly every city that mentioned environmental issues had a reference to a solar project that had come to town or to panels that were being installed on municipal buildings. This is just one of the many reasons that the NLC has partnered on SolSmart, an effort to designate leading solar cities and improve local solar policies nationwide.

Two mayors – Mark Gamba of Milwaukie, Oregon, and Jackie Biskupski of Salt Lake City, Utah – touted their plans to receive 100 percent of their city utilities from carbon-free sources.

Additionally, the theme of becoming a more ‘resilient’ city has gained prominence as local leaders understand that some effects of climate change are unavoidable and already occurring. It’s widely-known that NLC and its members have called on the federal government to make a greater investment in infrastructure. A more nuanced part of that request is that cities would like to be able to spend that money more wisely to address multiple environmental, social, and economic challenges.

Speaking about their recovery from devastating floods, Mayor Steve Benjamin of Columbia, South Carolina, called on the city “not only to restore [roads, bridges, water and sewer infrastructure] to what they were, but make them stronger, smarter, and more resilient.”

Mayor Dawn Zimmer celebrated the fact that Hoboken, New Jersey, was named a Role Model City by the United Nations for their efforts to “upgrade infrastructure and prepare the city for a more resilient future.” Thinking holistically, the city was working on park projects, street trees, and zoning changes to incentivize green roofs. All projects that would help the municipal sewer system function better.

Still, it is hard to celebrate the efforts of these cities without acknowledging the fact that 72 percent of the cities analyzed in the report did not provide significant coverage to any issue related to environment or energy. This does not mean that these cities aren’t acting. It does not mean that the mayor doesn’t care. But it at least represents a missed opportunity to communicate the urgency of the issue.

On September 22, widely known activist Bill McKibben published “Recalculating the Climate Math,” an article devoted to the most basic, arithmetic facts about the 1.5 degree warming goal and the emissions we can afford. His conclusion is that a “managed decline” away from fossil fuels and toward renewables and efficiency cannot wait. The unavoidable implication then, is that we need many more elected leaders to respond to the challenge, to replicate the ambitious carbon neutral goals that some have already set, to compete against one another to see who can make it first, and to support the cities that need help with the transition.

One thing is certain, city leaders still have the power to act quickly and make this happen. A week before Mayor Greg Stanton delivered his address, Phoenix adopted a series of resolutions to create a zero-waste circular economy, to maintain a 100-year supply of clean water, and to reduce emissions from buildings, transportation, and waste 80-90 percent by 2050, and the work is already underway. It’s a bold vision for a desert city that relies on air conditioning and cars, but if it works in Phoenix it can work anywhere.

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about city budgets.

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