Unqualified Win in Qualified Immunity Cases

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The Supreme Court resolves circuit splits (where federal circuit courts of appeals have decided the same issue differently) and isn’t an error correcting Court.  But you would not know that if you looked just at the Court’s two unanimous qualified immunity decided this week.

State and local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

The errors in these two cases were obvious.  In the first case discussed below the lower court did not so much as discuss the qualified immunity standard when denying qualified immunity.  In the second case discussed below the dissent in the lower court decision warned:  “Our court’s track record in deciding qualified immunity cases is far from exemplary, and with this decision, I am concerned that our storied losing streak will continue.”

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed amicus briefs in both cases which NLC joined.  Arkansas Municipal League attorney Mike Mosley briefed and argued the first case discussed below.

Deadly Force High Speed Chase

In Plumhoff v. Rickard the Court held 7-2 that police officers didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment when they shot and killed the driver of a fleeing vehicle to end a dangerous car chase.  Alternatively, the Court unanimously concluded the officers were entitled to qualified immunity.

Donald Rickard drove away after being pulled over because his vehicle had only one operating headlight and was pursued by police.  He drove over 100 miles an hour and passed more than two dozen vehicles before exiting the highway where he made contact with three police cars.  Rickard’s tires were spinning and his car was rocking back and forth when Officer Plumhoff fired three shots into his car.  Rickard then reversed his car, nearly hitting an officer on foot, and again fled.  Officers fired 12 shots more killing Rickard and his passenger.

Rickard’s surviving daughter argued that the Fourth Amendment did not allow the police to use deadly force to end the chase and that even if police were permitted to fire their weapons, they fired too many shots. The Court disagreed concluding the use of deadly force was reasonable because “[u]nder the circumstances at the moment when the shots were fired, all that a reasonable police officer could have concluded was that Rickard was intent on resuming his flight and that, if he was allowed to do so, he would once again pose a deadly threat for others on the road.”  The number of shots wasn’t unreasonable because “if police officers are justified in firing at a suspect in order to end a severe threat to public safety, the officers need not stop shooting until the threat has ended.”

The Court concluded that even if the use of deadly force in this case violated the Fourth Amendment the officers would be entitled to qualified immunity.  The most on point Supreme Court case at the time of this case granted qualified immunity where the facts were less favorable to the officer than the facts in this case.  So it was not clearly established the force in this case was unreasonable.

The SLLC’s amicus brief argued that the lower court failed to properly apply qualified immunity.  The Court noted that the lower court “said nothing about whether the officers violated clearly established law,” when denying the officers qualified immunity.

Viewpoint Discrimination when Moving Protesters

In Wood v. Moss, the Court unanimously granted qualified immunity to two Secret Service agents who moved anti-Bush protesters a block further from the President than pro-Bush supporters.

Pro- and anti-President Bush demonstrators had assembled on opposite sides of the street on which President Bush’s motorcade was supposed to travel to take him to a cottage in Jacksonville, Oregon, for the evening. The President made a last-minute decision to have dinner at the outdoor patio dining area of the Jacksonville Inn.  Learning of the route change, protesters moved down the street in front of the Inn.  Secret Service agents moved them two blocks down the street, about a block further away from the Inn than the supporters.  The anti-Bush protesters sued two Secret Service agents claiming their First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination had been violated.  The agents claimed they were entitled to qualified immunity.

Justice Ginsburg had little trouble concluding the officers in this case were entitled to qualified immunity:  “No decision of this Court so much as hinted that their on-the-spot action was unlawful because they failed to keep the protesters and supporters, throughout the episode, equidistant from the President.”

The SLLC’s amicus brief encouraged the Court to tour downtown Jacksonville using Google Maps Street View.  What the Justices would discover there is a parking lot adjacent to the Jacksonville Inn’s outdoor patio which the anti-Bush protesters would have had direct access to had they not been moved two blocks away.  Pro-Bush demonstrators had no direct access to the Inn where they were gathered because the side of the Inn they were facing was totally blocked by another building.  The Court observed these geographic features when concluding that the agents had a security-based rationale for moving the anti-Bush protesters out of weapons range of the President.

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

NLC On The Road Again: Alabama

Join the NLC Membership Team as we visit cities from across the country, yours could be next!

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At NLC, we’re always looking for new ways to have conversations with our members around the country. Our goal is to visit ninety cities and towns by December 2014 in celebration of NLC’s 90th Anniversary. If you haven’t seen us yet, look out.

These trips are designed to give elected officials and city staff an opportunity to meet with NLC staff to discuss issues and concerns unique to their local context and showcase their city. Most importantly, this opportunity allows NLC to develop closer relationships with member towns and cities and become an even stronger and better advocate for local interests.

Look out for myself, accompanied by Hana Watkins, Senior Membership Outreach Specialist.  Our first stop was in the home state of the Northern Flicker, Alabama!

NLC On The Road Again … Sweet Home Alabama

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Recently, NLC Membership staff traveled to Alabama for the 2014 Alabama Municipal League Annual Conference, which was held in the oldest city founded by French colonists, Mobile, AL.  Mobile is also known for having the oldest organized Carnival celebrations in the United States.

Sweet Home Alabama did not disappoint.  Once we landed we were immediately greeted with a sign that read “Smile.  You’re in Mobile.”  The people were friendly, the weather was warm, the food was outstanding and the conference was great.  Our visit really allowed us to touch base with our members and learn about the most prevalent issues in their cities such as teenage pregnancy, flooding and challenges dealing with their education system.

This trip also provided us the opportunity to show our members how NLC has programs and resources in place to help city leaders build better communities.  Cities visited on our Alabama Road Trip included Daphne, Fairhope, Foley, Mobile, Prichard, Saraland, Satsuma and Spanish Fort.

During our time in Alabama we saw many familiar faces during the league’s conference  and concluding our visit by invitation (from Council Vice-President Frederick Richardson, Jr.) to address the Mobile city council.  NLC was recognized by the city council and municipal staff for the great work of our organization and in turn we were able to thank the City of Mobile for being members since 1962.

Here are just a few highlights of our trip:


We had a grand time in Mobile, AL … next stops Little Rock, AR, June 18-20.

Would you like NLC to visit your city?  Let us know and we’ll come running. Email us at remy@nlc.org or watkins@nlc.org.

Not a NLC Member yet?

Gail-headshotGail Remy is the Director of Membership at NLC. Follow her on twitter at @RemyGKing.

Keeping the Promises in Jacksonville, Florida

This post was written by the Honorable Alvin Brown, Mayor, Jacksonville, Florida. It originally appeared on the GradNation blog.

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As mayor of Jacksonville, I recognize the importance of education to the success and vitality of a city.

By equipping students with the skills they need to achieve their fullest potential, we ensure our city has a talented and competitive workforce ready to meet the challenges of the global economy. Support for education must be the responsibility of the entire community – we all have an interest in providing empowerment and opportunity to our young people.

That’s why it was so important to me to bring a GradNation Community Summit to Jacksonville. I am proud of the way our community has rallied around our children and young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years. But we must continue our efforts to close the achievement gap, ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school and in life.

From the first day I took office in 2011, education has been a top priority in my administration. During my first week in office, I created by executive order the cabinet-level position of education commissioner to carry out my vision for education initiatives that support lifelong learning in our city. The commissioner, Dr. Annmarie Kent-Willette, partners with schools and community organizations to improve the quality and accessibility of educational programs for Jacksonville residents.

Our recent GradNation Community Summit focused on four key issues that require our attention: early childhood education, mentoring and support for at-risk middle school students, literacy and grade-level reading, and African-American male achievement.

I was delighted that Alma Powell was able to join us in person for the summit, and we were honored to host her and the America’s Promise Alliance team in our city, along with the opportunity for our community to hear Mrs. Powell speak so powerfully about our achievements, challenges and goals here in Jacksonville.

Jacksonville’s GradNation advisory council reconvened on May 20 to discuss findings from the summit, and make recommendations about short-term and long-term education goals for our community. One of the goals highlighted by the council and meeting attendees was to meet the continued demand for mentors in our schools.

Our community has rallied around our young people, increasing the graduation rate from 56 percent to 72 percent over the past five years.

I have been so gratified to align our mentoring efforts with Achievers for Life, a dropout prevention initiative developed and funded by the United Way of Northeast Florida in partnership with Communities in Schools of Jacksonville and Jewish Family and Community Services.  Serving the community since 2007, Achievers for Life has expanded from two to ten middle schools with plans for additional schools in the near future. By leveraging the influence of my office in support of our students, my Mayor’s Mentors program has successfully placed over 600 screened and trained mentors with youth considered at-risk for dropping out of school. I have been able to connect students at these schools with diverse opportunities including visits by NBA Legends players to talk about the importance of staying in school, to science enrichment opportunities offered by partnerships with DuPont, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the United States Military Academy at West Point.

At our city’s annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast earlier this year, I announced a citywide youth initiative to improve opportunities for Jacksonville’s next generation, recognizing that we must invest in their success and help them take their lives in the right direction. An important aspect of this initiative is helping young people who are first-time offenders stay out of further trouble by expanding Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Boards.

These programs follow a restorative justice model, allowing students to be accountable for their mistakes through sanctions such as public apologies, community service, and other rehabilitative measures. Successful completion of these requirements means they avoid a criminal record that could otherwise foreclose future educational and employment opportunities.  By guarding young people who have made minor mistakes from the harsh realities of the criminal justice system, we give them the opportunity to stay focused on their education and enter adulthood with a clean slate.

The overwhelming percentage of students not only fulfill the requirements, but also take to heart the lessons they learned through the experience. Consider that 92 percent of juveniles who appear before Teen Court and Neighborhood Accountability Board in Duval County successfully complete the program. Of those students, 91 percent are not rearrested within the next year. Statewide, these programs boast a 4 percent recidivism rate, the lowest of any Florida juvenile justice program.

Additionally, through the expansion of this initiative, young people are receiving increased quality of care as Teen Court monitors work with them identifying needs for mental health services for trauma, neglect, or sexual abuse, as well as substance abuse counseling.

Recognizing the wealth of resources within our own community, we have partnered with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and other youth services groups in Jacksonville to increase funding for a system of care that will help young people with mental health and/or substance abuse problems access services. By reversing a damaging trend of low funding for these vital services, we are able to improve the lives of young people who face the highest risk of entering the juvenile justice system. Together we can give hope for a healthier, more productive future and the opportunity to succeed. That hope has the power to transform our young people, and we must honor our shared responsibility to stand by them during that transformation, nurturing the self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline they need to succeed in school and in life.

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 Alvin Brown is the Mayor of Jacksonville, Florida. He was elected in 2011 and education is one of his top priorities, along with job creation, downtown revitalization, and public safety.

NLC at 90: Supporting Our Nation’s Veterans

NLC is celebrating 90 years of making cities better place to live. Read the anniversary kick-off letter from NLC President Chris Coleman, mayor of Saint Paul, Minn.

NLC supported veteran education opportunities following the Vietnam War. Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

Photo courtesy of Morehead State University

As NLC celebrates its 90th anniversary, we again join the nation in pausing this Memorial Day weekend to reflect on the sacrifices made by the men and women who have served in our armed forces.

Today, as in the past, cities face the reality of thousands of veterans returning home from the battlefield. With their unique skills and experiences, veterans are assets to our communities.

To support veterans and their families, NLC works with local leaders to ensure our veterans successfully reintegrate into communities after their time in the military has ended.

In the wake of the Vietnam War, NLC partnered with the Office of Economic Opportunity to establish the Veterans’ Education and Training Services (VETS) program. The program worked with veteran “peer counselors” in Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, Providence, Seattle and Wichita.

Peer counselors worked with veterans to help them connect to education and training programs, employment counseling, housing and other services.

In the program’s first three and a half years, more than 25,000 veterans were connected to some form of assistance. An outside evaluation of the VETS program noted, “The most effective programs tended to be those with strong ties to local governmental agencies.”

Today, NLC’s work to support veterans continues. As the country’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan declines, our military is undergoing force reductions due to changing global needs. The confluence of these factors with an economy continuing to recover from the Great Recession has led to veteran unemployment rates that have been above the national average, particularly for veterans who have served after September 11th.

These challenges are one element that can explain why young veterans and their families are already being seen among the ranks of our nation’s homeless.

To help end this national tragedy by the federal goal of 2015, NLC has partnered with The Home Depot Foundation. By supporting cities, sharing best practices and engaging with local efforts, The Home Depot Foundation, NLC and cities have been a part of a 24 percent decline in veteran homelessness since 2010.

This progress is due to a focused effort by the President and agencies such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness. While these federal agencies have provided resources and technical support to communities, it has been the collaborative work driven by city leaders that has powered this change.

From San Diego to Salt Lake City, Phoenix to St. Paul, New Orleans to Washington, D.C., cities are at the center of efforts that are uniting all levels of government with the non-profit community, faith communities, the business sector and philanthropies.

Cities will always be hubs of economic activity and services. Ensuring veterans receive the dignity of a safe place to call home and the opportunity to continue serving their community has been a hallmark of NLC’s first 90 years.

Moving forward, NLC and our members will continue our presence on the front lines to honor our veterans and their families.

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

From Low-Skilled to College-Ready: Building Pathways for All Youth Who Drop Out – Part 2

Low skilled to college ready - for blogThis post was written by Peter Kleinbard, a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. It is the second in a series on dropout reengagement, drawn from the case study: For Young Adults who Dropout: Pathways or merely Stops along the Way? The study is funded by the William T. Grant Foundation and The Pinkerton Foundation, as well as others.

This post describes how two community organizations have sought to reduce a major obstacle that hinders the effectiveness of their work with young adults: the short periods of service determined by limited funding. This issue is especially important today when increasing numbers of young people achieve economic independence much later in their lives than in past decades. Those with limited skills often must trek over even longer and along more tenuous paths.

Yet, the largest source of funding for dropouts, Title I of The Workforce Investment Act is designed so that participants must achieve marketable outcomes in relatively short time periods, an approach that dominates the field, even among private funders. Title II, Adult Basic Education, is funded at levels so low that it is difficult to serve young adults because many need multiple and costly supports. As a result, many providers choose to enroll youth with higher skill levels.

The majority of dropouts, however, read and do math at the eighth grade level or below, lack vocational skills and work maturity. Research shows that the GED is a distant hope for many of these youth. Young adults in foster care or those coming out of prison require help for extended periods as well.

Both organizations described here have extended the length of their services to young adults well before they were able to bring about support for such changes from their funders. This stemmed from the foundation of their work – a deep commitment to young people at transitional stages in their lives. In addition to dropouts, both serve foster youth who are in school, and have developed high schools in cooperation with their school districts. This combination of activities gives them a large number of staff with an interest and expertise in adolescents.

Site A
(Note: as part of the research agreement for this project, the names of the sites, staff and participants are not included. The term “organization” refers to the parent organization of which the “site” is a part.)

Based in a large city, Site A is one program of a citywide organization founded in the 1930s. Young adults have long been a major focus. The site is located in an impoverished section with many outward signs of poverty and serves nearly 400 youth annually.

It has sought to serve nearly the full range of dropouts, from low-skilled to college-ready. Unable to get the local government to adjust its guidelines, Site A’s parent organization engaged a policy advocacy group that prepared a paper highlighting research that shows that gains in academic skills improved labor market outcomes, even short of the GED. The paper convinced the city’s largest private funder to pay on interim outcomes, such as academic gain. In the past it funded only on achievement of an outcome such as the GED or employment.

But money was not the only consideration at Site A. The organization recognized that it required new capabilities. Working with an intermediary, it has developed its instructional capacity and nurtures a culture that supports rigorous tracking and follow-up of participants, including home visits when attendance declines. All staff receives training and ongoing coaching, supported by private funds. Counselors and instructors meet regularly to discuss students that they work with in common.

Eventually, when a three-year evaluation study highlighted its strengths, the city government itself adopted the model that Site A implemented, reflecting the city’s renewed commitment to improve the life prospects for young adults.

Site B
Site B is based in a city of 150,000 residents and serves about 80 dropouts annually. It opened in the mid-1970s and in recent years has narrowed its focus to adolescents, including those in foster care and dropouts, about 400 each year. Its major offices and programs are located in an old factory building in a quiet residential area. The organization operates several other sites as well and is expanding statewide.

The organization’s approach emphasizes providing highly individualized support to each participant, shaped by comprehensive educational and vocational assessments, and a commitment to assist youth for a year after they complete its programs. This reflects the view of the Chief Operating Officer: “One of the biggest failures is using a cookie cutter approach to try to get young people to succeed. It just does not work anymore. I know [individualized support] is sometimes costly… But that is what we do.”

The organization’s leaders have worked for years with city and state officials to build understanding of their approach and to influence policies. While it has gained greater flexibility, the organization does not receive additional funds to provide longer-term support to young adults. Because of this, it must manage its private dollars to extend services.

Of their approach, a youth interviewed at the site said: “They helped me out tremendously. They helped me become a better adult, a more mature person. They helped me with my education, they helped me with my employment… I think without […], I probably wouldn’t be where I’m at now. ..I’m glad that I got into this program and been in it as long as I have.”

It is important to emphasize that for both organizations these changes in funding and guidelines came about only after protracted efforts, and resulted in part from the credibility that they had established through the quality of their services. The results have made an important difference. Among the 27 young adults tracked for this study, those who had longer-term services had better outcomes.

 

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About the Author: Peter Kleinbard is a consultant who works with organizations serving adolescents. From 2001 until 2010, he was executive director of the Youth Development Institute, a national intermediary based in New York City. He also founded the Youth Transition Funders, an affinity group for foundations.

Big Ideas for Small Business 2014 – Best Practices Report

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The National League of Cities’ new toolkit, Big Ideas for Small Business, discusses important strategies for how local leaders can be better advocates for entrepreneurs and small business in cities. The report provides guidance on how to create an ecosystem that supports small business growth.

Below are some initial next steps that local leaders can take to create a supportive ecosystem and replicate some of the best practices in this new toolkit:

Familiarize yourself with your city’s small business owners and entrepreneurs, and get connected to their informal peer networks. Hosting listening tours and round table sessions are a great way to get feedback from the small business community. Ask about the need for incubator space, business skills training, and other resources.

Establish a task force to advise you on small business issues. Gather a trusted circle of experts made up of representatives from government, small business, non-profit organizations, and local universities with business programs.

Cross-train your city staff in the various city departments that interact with small businesses (e.g., health, inspections, zoning, licensing, etc.). Creating a workforce that can work better across departments will better serve your city’s business clients. As a long-term goal, these key staffers can help you build a plan to create a one-stop-shop in the future.

Create a “roadmap” of all the regulatory steps it takes to establish a small business in your city. Publish this roadmap online and share it with the small business community.

Examine your city’s municipal code to see if there are ways to streamline the inspection or permitting processes to create efficiencies and reduce administrative hurdles for small business owners.

Explore the microlending capacity in your community, and gauge the interest among local business owners to use crowdfunding as a method for raising capital.

Meet with your city’s procurement department to discuss your city’s local sourcing capacity to fulfil city contracts for goods and servicing.

Whether by engaging with the small businesses community, providing better customer service at city hall, or connecting business owners to capital, we hope that the strategies included in the toolkit will guide local leaders towards creating an ecosystem that supports small businesses and provides the foundation for a stronger local economy.

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About the author: Emily Robbins is the Senior Associate, Finance and Economic Development at NLC  and the author of a new report on entrepreneurship and small business growth. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.

A Mayor’s Perspective on Why Sustainability Matters: An Interview with David Narkewicz, Mayor of Northampton, Mass.

This is a guest post by Hilari Varnadore, Executive Director of STAR Communities.

North-Hampton

City of Northampton, Mass.

Last week, STAR Communities announced that Northampton, Massachusetts is the first city in the United States to be awarded the 5-STAR Community Rating, STAR’s highest possible designation, and a recognition of Northampton’s strong record instituting a wide range of sustainability practices as a means to increase quality of life for the city’s residents.

This blog post features Northampton, Mass. Mayor David Narkewicz reflecting on “Paradise City’s” strengths, weaknesses, and the reasons why he is most proud that his city is the first in the nation to reach 5-STAR certification.

What are the qualities of your community that you feel strongly about protecting and enriching through sustainability programs and practices? 

Northampton offers a lifestyle rich in natural beauty, cultural, artistic, academic, and business resources. Our downtown center is one of the most vibrant in New England. The superb quality of life in Northampton contributes to a strong and diversified economic base. Northampton is unique in the number of independently owned businesses that make up our business community.

Northampton’s blend of traditional neighborhoods, forged by the great care of generations of good neighbors, and a lively and sophisticated cultural community would make any great city proud. Located in the heart of the Five-College area, and home to prestigious Smith College, education has always been a priority. Northampton retains the historic character of downtown and the mill villages of Florence, Leeds, and Bay State.

Northampton is proud of its work to create a more sustainable community.  As a community we have embraced restoring and protecting our environment, providing housing and services to all, caring for those with the least resources of their own, and growing our economy in a way that honors our history and serves all of our residents.

Becoming the first certified 5-STAR Community is a great accomplishment. For other cities considering STAR certification, what would you tell them?

STAR lets us [Northampton] promote all the great things that we have done to make our community strong and resilient.  It is positive feedback that lets our residents, taxpayers, businesses, investors, and community partners know that we are on the right track.  The transparency and independence of the process builds confidence in our work.

Equally important, in honoring us for what we have done and in benchmarking our progress, STAR encourages a community conversation on all that we still need to do to make our community even stronger.

So, what are some highlights from your city’s achievements, as reflected inSTAR? 

Our greatest achievement is that we have a balanced approach and try to address all sustainability challenges. Our rail trails, bicycle lanes, arts, and open space serves much of our community, our economy has a strong local focus, and our residents with fewer resources have more opportunity and services than in most communities.

I am proud that STAR validated our across-the-board balanced approach.  Whether it is dealing with reducing trash or fossil fuel energy use or encouraging buy local, we are working to address all of our sustainability challenges.  Our years of hard work are paying off.

What challenges are facing your city? How do you plan to address them going forward?

The biggest challenges are always fiscal.  There are never enough resources, especially in a city where the majority of our population is struggling and our median income is far less than we would like.   That said, we need to and will find the resources to be more resilient, to continue all of our efforts, to ensure that our youth and adults both have access to the best education and training, to make our streets safer and promote travel not dependent on private cars, expand our economy, and protect our environment.

STAR Communities is a national leader in rating sustainability efforts of cities, towns and counties; its national ratings program helps communities evaluate themselves in seven areas related to sustainability, such as “Climate and Energy,” “Built Environment,” and “Economy and Jobs.”

Cities can apply this month to be considered for the Fall 2014 Leadership STAR Community Program, joining cities like Northampton, MA; Austin, TX; Des Moines, IA; Tacoma, WA and Fort Collins, CO who became certified while participating in STAR’s leadership program. 

For more information, visit www.STARcommunities.org, visit STAR on Facebook and on Twitter @STARCommRating.

???????????????????????????????About the Author: Hilari Varnadore is the Executive Director of STAR Communities, a Washington, D.C. based nonprofit organization advancing a national framework for sustainable communities. She works with local government leaders to empower communities to chart a clear path toward a sustainable future.

 

 

2_MayorNorthampton (2)About Mayor Narkewicz: David Narkewicz was elected the 44th Mayor of the City of Northampton in November 2011. He previously served as Councilor At-Large and President of the Northampton City Council from 2010-2011 and Ward 4 City Councilor from 2006-2010.

 

 

 

Building Effective Partnerships: Strategies to Increase Digital Access and Literacy, Part 2

This i s a guest post by Delano Squires, and the second in a series on how cities can improve digital literacy in their communities. Read the first blog here.

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DC resident receives help using a computer on Connect.DC’s Mobile Tech Lab.

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has taken a number of steps to make the District of Columbia an attractive location for tech companies. In November 2012, he signed the Technology Sector Enhancement Act of 2012 to expand the benefits and incentives for tech companies looking to locate in the District. The City has also supported business incubators and recently created Digital Commons—an 11,000 square-foot tech center equipped with a 3D printer, 80 computers, collaborative spaces, and other resources for entrepreneurs.

This atmosphere of entrepreneurship and creativity is exactly what a city needs to compete in a global economy. But what about all of the people in a city who aren’t running tech startups or creating the next app that will change the world? What about the people who, in 2014, still don’t have access to high-speed Internet service at home? There are approximately 150,000 households in D.C. that fall into this very category. Unsurprisingly, these homes are in the City’s most economically vulnerable neighborhoods. So what can a city do to address the growing chasm between the haves and the have-nots? One way is to invest in technology training for its most disadvantaged residents.

The first step in that process for D.C. was to use federal grant funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to make critical investments in broadband infrastructure, digital literacy training, community coordination, and public technology resources. The investment in public infrastructure helped the city upgrade computers in libraries and other public facilities (e.g., recreation centers) that later served as digital literacy training sites.

Libraries are critically important resources in any serious efforts to bridge the digital divide. Libraries in D.C. offer resume workshops, clinics on how to use e-readers, and classes on building basic computer skills. One of our local nonprofit partners, Byte Back, teaches digital literacy classes in libraries across the city. Byte Back serves thousands of low-income residents each year and offers three levels of classes: computer literacy classes for students who have never used a computer, Microsoft Office classes for students seeking an office job, and computer certification classes for students interested in entering the IT field.

Connect.DC didn’t limit the City’s investments in training to digital literacy for residents. The City also used grant funding to create an 8-month pilot program partnership with the Latino Economic Development Center (LEDC) to train almost 200 entrepreneurs from some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods. LEDC held sessions that taught small business owners how to get their businesses online, use social media, and improve efficiency through technology. At the end of the program a group of 21 participants received tools that helped them improve their business. Of that group, 20 of the businesses are minority-owned and 15 are women-owned.

This model—expanding public technology access and offering digital literacy training in the areas hardest hit by the digital divide—is one other cities can follow. The key is to find partners that have the resources to deliver sustainable programs that can scale to meet the needs of target communities. Potential partners also need to understand the social and economic factors affecting low-income communities. For example, we’ve partnered with local government agencies to use our 48-foot Mobile Tech Lab—equipped with seven computer workstations and wireless Internet access—to sign residents up for affordable health insurance and register teens for a summer youth employment program. By investing in access and training in underserved neighborhoods, local policymakers lower the types of barriers to digital access that have nothing to do with technology, whether the cost of transportation or the availability of childcare.

Another factor that also creates a barrier to digital use and access is a lack of information. That’s why Connect.DC created a Tech Locator that residents can use to find training and access in their neighborhood. This information is also accessible through our text messaging platform and a new mobile website created specifically for smartphone owners.

Digital literacy and public technology access are a worthwhile investment and a critical step in ensuring access for every person in your city, regardless of income, education, or age. Through our nonprofit and government partners, Connect.DC has delivered more than 272,000 hours of training to almost 8,000 D.C. residents. This training is one way to help the most vulnerable residents compete for jobs in an information economy that can help lift families out of poverty. For policymakers who are constantly looking for ways to maximize resources as cities deal with tightening budgets, these investments can pay serious dividends.

For more information about digital inclusion efforts in the District of Columbia, visit connect.dc.gov.

Delano Squires Headshot (Digital Literacy Blog 2)About the author: Delano Squires leads Connect.DC, the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer’s (OCTO) digital inclusion program. Connect.DC works to “bridge the digital divide” in the District by making technology easier to use, more accessible, more affordable, and more relevant to the everyday lives of DC residents and community institutions.

Connecting Your City: Strategies to Increase Digital Access and Literacy, Part 1

This is a guest post by Sheila Dugan, and the first in a series on how cities can improve digital literacy in their communities.

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EveryoneOn worked with Best Buy, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the DC Housing Authority to provide training to D.C. residents.

Cities across the United States are innovating. From Boston to San Francisco, they are leveraging technology to improve the delivery of social services, increase transparency, and better communicate with their constituents.

Using customized web applications, residents can now apply for library cards, request public records, communicate with councilmembers, and request for a pothole to be fixed online.

These are promising initiatives but many residents cannot take advantage of these new services designed to forge stronger connections between them and their government. One in four households do not have access to the Internet at home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This rate increases for low-income and minority households, as well as those lead by seniors.

Without finding a way for all households to have reliable, high-speed Internet access at home, our nation is at risk of isolating some of our most vulnerable communities. As a national nonprofit devoted to closing the digital divide, EveryoneOn works with cities to help them become more digitally inclusive as local leaders strive to find ways to better communicate with residents. The following strategies can help cities create a more connected, digitally literate population.

Educate yourself.

Many city officials and community leaders aren’t aware that help may be available, making it unlikely that they will direct their constituents to resources that will help them get online. It’s important to know what services your community is already providing through libraries, schools, and other community anchor institutions.

So that efforts aren’t duplicated and resources can be equally distributed, it is important to have this information aggregated to ensure that new resources can be distributed equally.   EveryoneOn features a zip code locator to discover low-cost Internet service, WiFi access, public computers, and training courses.

Bring your local stakeholders together.

The first step in closing the digital divide is to understand your community’s resources. Do you know where an individual should go to use a computer? Where can a senior go to learn how to use Skype to connect with their grandchildren? Where are the public WiFi hotspots?

In April 2014, Oakland, CA opened their City Hall to groups interested in closing the digital divide in their community. City workers, community activists, and nonprofit leaders gathered to understand how to sign up their constituents for low-cost Internet service, purchase discounted computers, and locate digital literacy trainings. Workshop participants emerged energized, empowered, and ready to tackle their community’s challenges. This could not have happened without the City creating a space to discuss how to tackle this challenge.

Make strategic financial investments.

Devoted to making technology easier to use, accessible, and affordable, Connect.DC, Washington, D.C.’s digital literacy initiative, set aside $25,000 to subsidize home modems, Internet service and computers. The organization also devoted itself to connecting 1,000 D.C. households and distributing 500 computers with EveryoneOn. This allows them to aggressively pursue the neediest populations and overcome one of the largest barriers to broadband adoption – cost.

Collaborate with non-profits and other community-based organizations.

This work cannot be done alone. Connect.DC and EveryoneOn are leveraging their partnerships with nonprofits based in the District of Columbia to identify households that could benefit from Internet access. Nonprofits in your community can help you determine who is eligible for your new technology program and distribute subsidized devices.

Cities can play a key role in closing the digital divide. This includes getting the right people around the table to assess the community’s needs and develop targeted solutions. Cities can also set specific, measurable goals to improve access to broadband and make modest investments to lower the financial burden to connect households. By focusing on connecting all residents, cities will be able to fully harness the power of new online tools designed to better connect people with their government.

To learn more about working with Everyone On, visit EveryoneOn.org.

Sheila Dugan Headshot (Digital Literacy Blog 1)About the author: Sheila Dugan is the Marketing and Communications Manager at EveryoneOn, a national nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate the digital divide by making high-speed, low-cost Internet, computers, and free digital literacy accessible to all unconnected Americans.

Economically Stronger Families = Economically Stronger Cities

This is the second of two blog posts in response to the Meeting of the Minds & Living Cities group blogging event which asks, “How could cities better connect all their residents to economic opportunity?”

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In today’s complex financial and economic landscape, families in the lower and middle income brackets can easily find themselves standing on the precipice of financial disaster.  A job loss, a home repair, an emergency room visit or other common but negative life occurrences can cause a family without a large nest egg to go into substantial debt, possibly losing their home in the process.

When this happens, cities also lose.  When residents suffer from foreclosures, cities lose tax revenue and are often left to pick up the slack when a family cannot pay for health care, utilities or other needs.

Municipal governments have a stake in ensuring that families have access to economic opportunities and do not experience financial freefall following a major or even minor financial setback. Fortunately, innovative new strategies are popping up in city governments around the country that are creating pathways for families to have a more firm financial footing.  Mayors and other city entities are stepping up to reach families in ways they had not previously.

In the past, city hall was rarely seen as a place residents could turn to if they had financial troubles. However, as San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros has often pointed out, just as it has always been the responsibility of local officials to relay public health messages to their residents about the importance of vaccinations, shouldn’t they also have a similar responsibility to promote messages about the importance of public financial health?

A handful of cities have taken on the charge of providing residents with opportunities to build a stronger financial foothold. Cities are pioneering new ways to put more money in the pockets of low-income families, increase financial capability and expand access to safe and affordable financial products and wealth-building opportunities.

This includes financial fitness events that connect residents with financial counselors to help them manage their debt, offer access to public benefits such as SNAP or health insurance and provide free income tax filing assistance. Local leaders are also working to protect the assets that families have in order to become more financially stable.

Close to 100 cities have implemented a “Bank On” program to connect residents to mainstream bank accounts and financial education, as pioneered by the City of San Francisco. Mayors, councilmembers and treasurers in these cities have built relationships with local banks and credit unions to offer safe and affordable accounts to unbanked residents who have relied on high cost predatory financial services.

A handful of cities are doing even more to ensure financial stability. San Francisco is at it again, this time investing in children to give them opportunities to attain postsecondary education. In 2012, Treasurer Cisneros launched Kindergarten to College (K2C), which provides a college savings account with a $50 deposit for every child entering public kindergarten in the city.

Low- income children enrolled in the free lunch program receive an additional $50. Children receive financial education and families are encouraged through incentives to continue to save and deposit into the account.  San Francisco has taken this step not only to invest in children and families but to invest in the city’s future. Promoting savings and educational attainment leads to a city where more residents are working, earning and contributing to the tax base.

So far there are 13,000 children with new savings accounts, and 12 percent of those families are contributing their own funds to the accounts.  While criticism of these kinds of savings programs suggest that low-income families cannot or will not save, San Francisco has found that in some of the city’s highest poverty schools where 80 percent of children are receiving free or reduced meals, the savings rate is over 20 percent.

Other cities are following San Francisco’s lead.  Several cities are currently planning to launch children’s savings accounts programs of their own, including large and small cities such as Los Angeles and Lansing, Michigan.

Another small group of cities is currently working with NLC to pilot test a new program model. This program connects residents in debt to the city’s public utility with financial counseling and incentives to not only pay back their utility debt but to address their broader debt and improve their overall financial wellbeing.  This model is intended to bring rewards to both residents and cities – if successful, cities  recoup lost revenue from lost payments and shut-off costs.

Since many of these municipal financial inclusion programs are still new, it is difficult to assess their true impact just yet.  However, early observations suggest there is tremendous promise for cities to step up and develop programs, policies and partnerships to financially empower their residents.

Local leaders have a crucial role to play in promoting the importance of strong family financial health and in creating opportunities for families to achieve and maintain financial stability.  As the economic wellbeing of families improves, so does the economic well-being of the city, creating a true win-win situation.

Heidi-HeadshotAbout the Author: Heidi Goldberg is the Program Director for Early Childhood & Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.