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. 

Hospitals: Essential Partners in Violence Prevention Work

Supported by the California Endowment, this post is part of a series, “Galvanizing the Civic Sector to Reduce Gun Violence.” The series focuses on what several sectors parents, teens, schools, hospitals, law enforcement, the faith community, the philanthropic and business sectors, civic leaders and others can do, independent of state and federal legislative activity, to reduce violence and the number of gun-related injuries and deaths.

“We can’t just patch up folks and send them back. When they show up in our emergency rooms, we have the opportunity to discover what’s really going on, what led to these wounds in the first place.”
– Yvonne Madlock, Director, Shelby County [Memphis, TN] Health Department

Where there is violent crime, there are hospitals; and where hospitals exist, there stands in the wings an essential partner for violence prevention work.

What hospitals can and do bring to the table ranges from basic medical services to provision of data, from tattoo removal programs to hosting intervention programs to neighborhood involvement – even neighborhood reclamation.

At the most basic level, hospitals can provide data that tell the story of patients who are victimized by violence.  And the story they tell is graphic, grim and, sadly, no mystery.  Except for several highly publicized school shootings, most of the victims of violence, via stabbings or shootings, are poor.  Many victims come to the hospital with little education, scant family support, a great deal of anger, fear and pain, bleak prospects for the future and a desire for revenge.  They are more often than not boys or young men of color with obscenely easy access to guns.  They have grown up in a culture of violence often at home, usually in the neighborhood and sometimes on the way to school.  Fear has inhibited their ability to learn.  As Shawn Dove of the Open Society Foundations has said, “These kids can’t get out of Vietnam.”  Once shot, many victims will return from the hospital either permanently injured or dead.

If a hospital only provides data, it has already given the crime and violence prevention community a gift, a prism through which prevention and intervention services can become clear.  Yet, there is much more that hospitals are doing to stem the violence that sends so many Americans to their emergency rooms.

This post, based on interviews with top public health officials in communities across the nation, explores some of the factors motivating hospitals and their personnel to engage in violence prevention work, highlights promising strategies that hospitals throughout the country are using to reduce violence in their surrounding neighborhoods, and describes notable examples of intervention programs that are hospital-based or involve hospitals as key partners.

To read the post in its entirety, click here.

Jack Calhoun
About the Author: Jack Calhoun is a senior consultant to NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education and Families in the areas of family policy and youth violence prevention. Follow Jack on Twitter at @HopeMattersOrg.

Small Businesses Saturday Can – and Should – Last All Year Round

Recruiting new small businesses is one approach for developing a resilient local economy, but cities also need to retain existing local businesses by celebrating their history, acknowledging their contributions to the community’s character, and recognizing the unique goods and services they provide to neighborhoods.

Small Business Saturday, happening November 30th, is an opportune time to use our collective buying power to champion our cities’ small businesses.

Of course, there are also ways that cities can celebrate and support their local businesses throughout the rest of the year. For example, the Greenville, South Carolina City Council recently passed an ordinance to provide anniversary discounts to businesses that have been serving the community for more than ten years. These discounts, delivered in the form of a business license tax remittance, were designed to make Greenville a place where small businesses want to keep their doors open.

The economic development department in Boulder, Colorado recognizes successful second-stage companies with official city proclamations and celebratory events through the Colorado Companies to Watch program.

Other economic development strategies, such as streamlining permitting processes, connecting small businesses to capital and other resources, and providing good customer service to shop owners are other small steps that local officials can take to encourage a thriving local business scene.

After you peruse the local shops in your neighborhood this weekend, make sure you check out NLC’s Small Business Toolkit  and our recap of the major themes from our Big Ideas for Small Business Summit to learn about long-term strategies for ensuring the objectives of Small Business Saturday are met all year long.

The NLC finance and economic development team is here to support your efforts to bolster the small business community in your city. If there’s anything we can help you with, please be in touch at

Why Cities Lead

Cities illustration
Washington, DC is a transient city.  At least it feels that way to me, a transplant.  I moved to DC a little over two years ago, after spending a couple years in Chicago, and before that, Louisville.  When I meet people here, their first question typically is, “what do you do?”  But what quickly follows is, “where do you come from?”

For a lot of people, the answer to the latter question is a city.  Whether it’s Saint Paul, Omaha, Hartford or Phoenix, people often define themselves in terms of their community.  They take pride in the cold winters they survived in Chicago, the hot, humid summer days of Houston, or the mountains that frame their memories of Denver.

In identifying with a city, people show that they see their values reflected in that place – whether it’s their community’s unique emphasis on equitable transit and affordable housing; its renowned music scene or cultural amenities that leave residents proudly proclaiming: keep my city weird; or a national reputation for entrepreneurship and thought leadership that instills a persistent pursuit for the next big thing.

Responding with “New York” might invoke thoughts of cheap food from anywhere in the world, at any time, while “Cleveland” might bring back memories of the small-scale urban farms popping up across the city.  For me, “Owensboro, KY,” my hometown, speaks to my appreciation for mutton, college basketball and lazy summer days on the banks of the Ohio River.

These attachments to place reveal that city design, culture and reputation are fundamentally intertwined with how we perceive ourselves and what we care about.  However, if we peel away those layers, what unites all cities is what actually makes them home.  Cities host our aspirations and our struggles.  They are the setting of our unique personal stories. They are where we have families, make friends and form community.  They are where we rally for justice, and where we celebrate our most tightly held beliefs.

Last week, at NLC’s annual Congress of Cities Conference in Seattle, we heard Bruce Katz, Vice President at the Brookings Institution and founding Director of the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, talk about what he has dubbed the “metropolitan revolution.”

He described how the pragmatic and resourceful leaders that govern our cities are taking on the big issues, ones that Washington refuses to solve, and helping to reshape our economy and fix our broken political system.  This national movement that Katz so aptly described resonated with our members.

Cities and towns, large and small, are continuing to tackle the tough issues that they always have—poverty, unemployment, fiscal challenges and aging infrastructure to name a few—with a renewed sense of urgency needed to address current national and global crises.

“In the absence of federal leadership, cities are stepping up,” said Katz.  “In this century, cities will lead and the states and federal government will follow.”

I like that idea – the leadership that will define our future will be the leadership closest to our communities.  The mission of cities is very much about getting things done, not bickering about ideology and being bogged down by politics.  Our members work hard every day to make their communities better places.  After all, their city is their home.  Their constituents are their neighbors. And that’s why cities lead.

In future posts on this blog, we’ll highlight the ways in which cities are tackling our country’s most urgent problems.  I hope you will join the conversation.  Let us know how your city leads on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #CitiesLead.

Fair Housing Act Case Settles…Again

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

For the second time in two years, the parties have settled a dispute before the Supreme Court over whether the 1968 Fair Housing Act (FHA) allows plaintiffs to bring disparate impact claims.  These claims are brought when actions are perceived to have a discriminatory effect on specific groups, either as an intended or unintended consequence. Local governments across the country have been subject to these claims.

The FHA makes it unlawful to refuse to sell or rent a property to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.  The question presented in Mount Holly Gardens Citizens in Action v. Township of Mount Holly, which has now been removed from the Supreme Court’s December docket due to the settlement, was whether a policy or action that disproportionately affects a protected class of citizens but does not intentionally discriminate on the basis of race or other factors can give rise to an FHA claim.

In this case, residents sued the Township of Mount Holly, NJ over a plan to redevelop a low-income minority neighborhood on the basis that it violated the FHA, because the redevelopment would disproportionately impact the township’s minority population.

All of the federal circuit courts have ruled that disparate impact claims are recognized under the FHA, and this year the Department of Housing and Urban Development adopted final rules stating the same. The USA Today reports that the financial services industry has vowed to find another case to bring to the Supreme Court — one that won’t settle.

It is widely speculated that the current Supreme Court would hold that disparate impact claims cannot be brought under the FHA.

The International Municipal Lawyers Association filed a brief on behalf of the Township.

This National Tragedy is Ending and Cities Are Leading the Way

This post also appears on the blog of The Home Depot Foundation.

Last week in Seattle, NLC held its annual Congress of Cities and Exposition. More than 3,500 participants gathered to learn about the dynamic ways cities are driving change and finding solutions to the most pressing challenges facing local government. Among these challenges is the issue of homelessness, especially the disgrace of veteran homelessness. At multiple points over the conference, local leaders came together to discuss what is happening in cities across the country and hear from colleagues and others about the progress being made to ensure all veterans have a place to call home.

Of particular note is the recent announcement by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker that his community is on pace to end chronic veteran homelessness in the coming months. Before NLC’s Large Cities Council and during a Veteran Homelessness Roundtable, Mayor Becker discussed the collaborative efforts being made between the city, non-profits, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and others to identify homeless veterans and ensure they receive the services that can best meet their needs.

Fred Wacker, Mayor Becker and Becky Kanis talk about the progress being made in Salt Lake City after the Veteran Homelessness Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition.

Fred Wacker, Mayor Becker and Becky Kanis talk about the progress being made in Salt Lake City after the Veteran Homelessness Roundtable at NLC’s Congress of Cities and Exposition.

During the roundtable, participants also heard from Vince Kane of the VA’s National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans. Mr. Kane outlined resources available to end veteran homelessness, including HUD-VA Supportive Housing vouchers (HUD-VASH) and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program (SSVF). In addition, Mr. Kane spoke about a new 25 Cities Initiative that will soon be underway to bring the communities in line with the national goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015.

Joining Mr. Kane at the roundtable was Becky Kanis, Director of the 100,000 Homes Campaign. Ms. Kanis spoke about key strategies that communities are using to place homeless veterans in housing. These strategies include knowing homeless veterans by name, utilizing a vulnerability index to prioritize people for housing based on their likelihood of dying on the street, identifying duplicative processes, building community consensus around housing first models and leveraging Medicaid and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) resources in support of veterans and the chronically homeless.

Fred Wacker, Chief Operating Officer of The Home Depot Foundation, was another roundtable speaker. Mr. Wacker discussed the Foundation’s continued commitment to support the construction and rehabilitation of housing for veterans. The Foundation’s on-going efforts were also discussed at the meeting of NLC’s Military Communities Council.

In another conference session regarding successful reintegration of veterans, attendees heard from Tacoma, Washington Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Mayor Strickland spoke about the citys support of collaborative efforts between the local VA office and medical center with local non-profits and the State of Washington’s Department of Veteran Services. City actions included inserting a preference for veterans in a recent round of funding for multifamily housing rehabilitation projects and partnering with county and state officials to encourage the Washington State Housing Finance Commission to collect data on veterans being served by projects receiving allocations of federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs).

In addition to these events, conference attendees helped assemble hundreds of personal care kits to be sent to service men and women as a part of NLC’s on-going partnership with Good360. Also, NLC members involved with the Women in Municipal Government constituency group and the Community and Economic Development Policy Committee received an update about on-going work related to veteran homelessness.

With the federal government’s goal of ending veteran homelessness by 2015 fast approaching, the leadership of local elected officials is more important than ever. In a growing number of cities, local leaders are joining with non-profits, businesses, philanthropies, faith communities, and state and federal partners to end what was once thought to be an unsolvable problem. The efforts to build collaborative relationships are a lasting way to honor our veterans and strengthen cities.

For more information about how cities are helping ensure all veterans have a place to call home and how NLC can support local efforts, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine at or visit


About the Author: Elisha Harig-Blaine is a Principal Associate for Housing (Veterans and Special Needs) at NLC. Follow Elisha on Twitter at @HarigBlaine.

Local Elected Officials Honored for Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties Achievements

Everyone has a role to play in preventing childhood obesity, including local elected officials who serve as leaders in adopting policies or making environmental changes so children in their communities reach their full potential and live healthy lives.

Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass and NLC President Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, Ariz. at the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties Celebration Event at the Congress of Cities and Exposition.

Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass and NLC President Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, Ariz. at the Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties Celebration Event at the Congress of Cities and Exposition.

As a part of Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties (LMCTC), communities can earn bronze, silver and gold medals in each of the initiative’s five goals, which are aimed at helping young people eat healthy and be physically active. Since July 2012, the National League of Cities has awarded 1,274 medals to participating local elected officials.

Last week, nearly 400 mayors, city councilmembers, and other local elected officials were honored for their participation in Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties at a celebratory event at NLC’s Congress of Cities in Seattle, Wash.

Eighteen communities and the local elected officials leading the efforts in these communities, who have made the most progress in completing the five LMCTC goals, were also honored during the event:

  • Sites with populations with less than 25,000: Hawaiian Gardens, Calif.; Kenmore, Wash.; and Selma, Ala.
  • Sites with populations between 25,000 and 49,999: Annapolis, Md. and Casa Grande, Ariz.
  • Sites with populations between 50,000 and 99,999: Davenport, Iowa; Jackson, Tenn.; Meriden, Conn.; Revere, Mass.; and Somerville, Mass.
  • Sites with populations between 100,000 and 249,999: Beaumont, Texas; Columbia, S.C.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Norfolk, Va.; Orlando, Fla.; and Rancho Cucamonga, Calf.
  • Sites with populations more than 250,000: Columbus, Ohio and Knox County, Tenn.
Local officials receive awards for LMCTC achievements. Pictured from left are NLC Immediate Past President Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, Ariz.; Selma, Ala. Mayor George Evans; Beaumont, Texas Councilman Alan Coleman; Columbia, S.C. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine; and Let's Move! Executive Director Sam Kass.

Local officials receive awards for LMCTC achievements. Pictured from left are NLC Immediate Past President Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, Ariz.; Selma, Ala. Mayor George Evans; Beaumont, Texas Councilman Alan Coleman; Columbia, S.C. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine; and Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass.

The first city to earn five gold medals, Beaumont, Texas, was also honored. Through the leadership of Councilman Alan Coleman and city staff, Beaumont was recognized for their achievements, including hosting a multi-purpose training session where local childcare providers learned and discussed nutrition standards with a dietician.

During the event, Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass commended the city leaders receiving awards and challenged them to take additional actions to improve the health of their communities. A panel comprised of Councilman Coleman; Columbia, S.C. Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine; and Selma, Ala. Mayor George Evans also provided city leaders in the audience with examples of what is working in their cities to address childhood obesity.

For more information about the LMCTC initiative, its accomplishments, and how local elected officials can sign up, visit:

Tacoma Gets Four Stars for Sustainability

This post was written by Hilari Varnadore, executive director of STAR Communities.  NLC is a core partner of the STAR Community Rating System.

Today STAR Communities announced that the City of Tacoma, WA has received a 4-STAR Community Rating in the STAR Community Rating System. They also have the distinct honor of becoming the first U.S. community to become certified.

Released last fall, the STAR Community Rating System (STAR) is an active roadmap and measuring system for community sustainability. Local leaders use STAR to assess how sustainable they are, set targets for moving ahead, and measure progress along the way.

STAR Communities met up with Tacoma’s Mayor Marilyn Strickland at NLC’s Congress of Cities to discuss their progress over the past year and to learn what’s next for the city. Check out this video with Mayor Strickland to learn more about their sustainability initiatives.

For Tacoma, certification is just the first step. Now that they have the city’s sustainability efforts organized in one place they anticipate developing plans and policies to address gaps that were revealed during the process and continuing to engage the diversity of government agencies and community partners that participated with them on their pathway to certification.

For cities and towns interested in participating in the STAR Community Rating System, go to and click on ‘Get Started’ to learn more.

Ageless Cities

This post is part of a special series of blogs inspired by NLC’s annual Congress of Cities and related events such as the National Summit on Your City’s Families.

Interestingly enough, much of what we have learned about how to make cities great places for youth can be applied to making cities great places for seniors. Perhaps we ought to start talking in terms of age-neutral cities or, better yet, ageless cities.

Engagement is a central characteristic of ageless cities – a determination to create opportunities for individuals to bring their talents to the community for the benefit of all. For youth, engagement may take the form of a city youth commission. Such a commission can offer clear and focused insights about the priorities that young people want, whether it’s skate parks, sports fields, or community service opportunities.

For older citizens, engagement translates into maintaining social networks and an active lifestyle, perhaps including opportunities for employment. For city officials, this means a policy focus on quality health care and the transportation networks that connect people from place to place who may not be able to drive a car.

Good decisions about how local officials build and maintain ageless cities rely on timely data. In the City of Bellevue, Washington for example, the city-created Network on Aging conducted a local needs assessment. The information was used to coordinate and align the work of city departments to address community needs.

I think it boils down to a decision about what and who the community values. Teens, recent college graduates, young singles, married couples, families, empty nesters and single seniors each bring important contributions to a community. Skill, talent, energy, dedication, and ideas are not a product of chronological age. A city that is inclusive; that seeks contributions from all residents and that delivers benefits to all residents is a thriving and attractive place to live. An ageless city makes room for everyone regardless of where they are in the progression of their lives.

Click here to watch my interview with Kathryn Lawler of the Atlanta Regional Commission at NLC’s Congress of Cities on creating ageless cities.

Global Connections Solve Local Problems

This post is part of a special series of blogs inspired by NLC’s annual Congress of Cities and related events such as the National Summit on Your City’s Families.

My smartphone informs me about typhoons in the Philippines as quickly as it does college basketball scores. Sitting in Seattle, at NLC’s annual Congress of Cities and Exposition, reminds me just how far many cities have progressed in their global connections. Technology may have helped advance these relationships, but it is leadership by individual elected officials that gives vision and substance to these relationships.

Since 1991, key leaders at the City of Seattle, the Port Authority, King County and the other large public and private-sector partners in the region have made use of the Greater Seattle Trade Development Alliance (TDA) to coordinate the region’s global outreach. TDA took on the tasks of both educating the region’s partners about global competitiveness but also helping to commercialize products and services from companies in the region. The model has been successfully replicated in many cities over the years.

At a meeting of NLC’s International Council, a feature presentation was made on the growth of Brazil as a global market and U.S. trading partner. One of the most dynamic economies of the BIC trio (Brazil, India, China), Brazil is a major competitor to U.S. agriculture exports but could be a major importer of goods and services to upgrade its infrastructure. While major initiatives are launched by the national government, so much of the innovation is the product of dynamic mayors in cities like Rio de Janeiro.

Local officials know from first-hand experience, or from well-honed instincts, that promising solutions to pressing city problems can originate from anywhere on the planet. During trade missions, attending international conferences, or leading a sister city delegation, American mayors and councilmembers have expertise to share and have a desire to learn from the experience of others. As an organization, NLC is blessed with leaders who have a considerable level of international experience and understanding.

Whether the goal is city solutions or simply the establishment of relationships, NLC has been and will continue to be engaged with peers in city government around the world. It is central to the NLC mission to highlight good local problem solving wherever we find it.