A New Education Playbook for City Leaders

The YEF Council Education Playbook provides examples of 27 action steps taken by select U.S. cities to provide greater resources and opportunities for their communities and for youth from early childhood to postsecondary success.

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Most mayors and city councilmembers know that education is an essential asset for both the financial stability of families and the overall economic vitality of communities as a whole. (Getty Images)

In our globalized economy, the knowledge and skills acquired by completing high school and then pursuing some type of postsecondary education or training can be the key to family financial stability and local economic vitality. City leaders recognize the critical link between education and stability, but all too often they just don’t know how to push students towards success in this endeavor, particularly if they play no role in the governance of their public schools – which is usually the case.

A new “education playbook” for city leaders, released by the National League of Cities today, provides much-needed ideas and answers. Developed by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families in collaboration with the NLC Council on Youth, Education, and Families, the playbook is a web-based resource that provides local elected officials and city staff a menu of 27 action steps and city examples that any community (big or small) can use to expand learning opportunities for children and youth.

With the ideas put forward in the playbook, mayors and city councilmembers can take concrete steps to strengthen foundations for early learning, provide more and better learning time, and help all children succeed. Here are a few of the city examples highlighted in the playbook – a glimpse of the many ways that cities and towns are already promoting learning, from the first years of life all the way into young adulthood.

Boston’s Preschool Program:

Across the nation, city officials and community members understand that positive educational experiences in the earliest years of life are critical for children to achieve long-term success and grow into productive members of the community. This is backed up by research that demonstrates high-quality pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) education increases a child’s chances of succeeding in school and in life. Further down the road, quality universal Pre-K could mean higher test scores, lower dropout rates, and better educated citizens. Children who attend high quality early childhood programs tend to show higher rate of completing high school, above-average test scores, and positive attitudes toward school among children and parents. They also demonstrate higher rate of stable employment, family involvement, and educational attainment.

Boston is playing a lead role with partners in funding, highlighting, and supporting the importance of preschool. The city understands that expanding their Pre-K offerings improve education outcomes for children while also helping parents and caregivers balance the responsibilities of work and family. The city of Boston has established two initiatives, Thrive in 5 and Countdown to Kindergarten, both of which are citywide movements that help ensure children from families of all races, ethnicities, incomes, abilities, and languages have the opportunities and support they need for success in school and beyond.

Thrive in 5 is a public-private partnership, supported by philanthropic funders, among the City of Boston, the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, and Merrimack Valley. Countdown to Kindergarten is led by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, the Boston School Committee, and Superintendent Dr. Tommy Chang in a partnership with 28 local organizations; it implements a school readiness campaign that helps families participate actively in their children’s education right from the start, helping parents understand the value of kindergarten, learn how to choose schools, and register their children in the Boston Public Schools system.

Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center’s Alliance for Youth:

An increase in crime can be very damaging to a community’s economic growth because it can scare off potential new residents and hinder the establishment of new businesses. In Minnesota, two small communities have developed a dynamic answer to juvenile crime by created the Brooklyn Alliance for Youth, a governing board of top level decision-makers and stakeholders, bound together as one group, to address regional youth issues and create an action plan for positive youth development in the small cities of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.

The Brooklyn Bridge Alliance for Youth exists to give youth aged 10-19 a chance to thrive by connecting them to learning opportunities after school and during the summer. The Alliance created Brooklyns Connect, an online program locator that serves as a ‘one-stop-shop’ to find information on afterschool and summer programs in the Brooklyn communities. It is not a static resource guide, but a resource updated every quarter to help parents find up to date program information. By effectively coordinating their efforts, they have maximized their resources and streamlined their systems. The Alliance is a joint powers agreement among the two cities, Hennepin County, four area school districts, and two community colleges.

San Antonio Café College:

As city leaders focus on what educational supports their community needs, many realize that they have an essential role to play in connecting graduating seniors and adults to postsecondary and career opportunities. San Antonio has developed an actual brick and mortar location that provides an extensive array of services to families, youth and returning adult students all attempting to achieve a higher education. While Café College provides financial aid assistance, career exploration, college applications, and SAT & ACT preparation, this one-stop shop for college access, guidance and support holds three classrooms and a computer lab.

The Café College model has been replicated in multiple cities and endorsed by the Lumina Foundation, the Texas Guaranteed Student Loan Program (TG), and the National College Access Network (NCAN), and is one of two statewide pilot programs for the Texas College Access Network (TxCAN).

Cities from across the nation are pooling their resources and working collectively with their school districts, local businesses, higher education institutions, and community partners to develop educational pathways for their citizens so they can be active participants in their communities’ economic growth and prosperity. The YEF Council Education Playbook illuminates the path forward. Check it out today!

Miles SandlerAbout the Author: Miles Sandler is the Senior Associate for Education in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Miles can be reached at sandler@nlc.org.

Enhancing Faith Community and Law Enforcement Communication in an Era of Mistrust

First-hand knowledge of the pain caused by broken communities, combined with a theology of reconciliation, means that the faith community can play an increasingly important role in helping to effect police/community trust.

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Faith communities can not only help bridge the gap between police and an increasingly distrustful public, they can show the public that, behind their uniforms, police officers are real people facing difficult decisions. (Getty Images)

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

Throughout the nation’s history, the faith community has played a catalytic and sometimes central role in the nation’s most seismic changes – abolition of slavery, women’s right to vote, and the Civil Rights Movement led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The faith community is again called into the breach, positioning itself between a yawning gap of mistrust between the police and the community.

On Jan. 12, the Department of Justice, along with roughly 35 faith-based leaders from across the nation, held a “Community of Practice” (Learning Community) conference call. The theme: “Enhancing faith community and law enforcement communication in an era of mistrust.”

The call was hosted by the Center of the White House Faith-based & Neighborhood Partnerships Office at the Department of Justice, an Office focusing on issues important to the community and to the current administration. Kevin Norton, a new hire, and Policy Advisor for the Faith-based office, Buki Baruwa, Presidential Management Fellow, and David Curtiss, intern, currently coordinate the Office’s work on behalf of the Justice Department.

I chaired the session which featured three speakers, who launched a fascinating, in-depth discussion. They included: Pastor Gregory Sanders, The Rock Christian Fellowship and President, Long Beach Ministerial Alliance, Long Beach, California; Pastor Danny Sanchez, City Peace Project, San Jose, California; and Lt. Col. Mel Russell, Baltimore Police Department (Russell, too, is ordained).

While each speaker’s faith took them in different directions, all shared common principles:

  • The faith community’s position is in the middle, where efforts to reconcile can generate criticism from both sides
  • The work begins with the personal, not the institutional
  • The work must begin with a firm commitment to mutual transparency, constant communication and willingness to tackle the most sensitive issues, and that each must be held accountable
  • All seemed based on the implicit and sometimes explicit theological underpinnings: we are all children of God, each of us needing forgiveness, each pledged to reconciliation leading to the creation of the beloved community

Pastor Gregory Sanders opened by quoting from Joshua 5:13. “When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” In this, Sanders spotlighted his motivational core – the faith community’s central role is to stand the middle, casting lots with neither side, while striving to forge bonds between each.

Sanders is trusted. Monthly he shares thoughts with Police Academy Students, advises on hiring, and helps the Police Department identify those areas in the city that are “hurting most,” “communities in or on the edge of trouble. He works closely with the Department in crisis situations.

The word “transparency” cropped up most frequently during his presentation. In this he meant full disclosure, a willingness to identify mistakes, “telling it like it is” while working toward solutions. In lay terms, Sanders might be called an “honest broker.” Theologically framed, he is a reconciler.

Pastor Danny Sanchez, founder of The City Peace, winner of President Obama’s Champion of Change Award in 2012 and who was involved in the gang lifestyle, echoed the reconciliation theme, describing its manifestation in three separate programs. Individuals in several parishes throughout the city have, through the Adopt a Cop program, signed up to pray for individual law enforcement officers. They connect through a website. Officers can be people of faith, “or of little faith or no faith,” says Sanchez. “The important thing is that the officers know they’re loved and appreciated.”

Pastor Sanchez also created the City Chaplaincy Program. Sanchez the lead chaplain and his team work with police and other community and faith-based organizations to go “under the tape” into the trauma and messiness of families torn apart by homicide. “Services” provided range from prayer to help with rent, food, funeral expenses, and links to counseling and on-going support for the wide-ranging needs of each remaining family member. Through the “Trauma to Triumph” program at Santa Clara County Valley Medical Hospital, Sanchez’s faith-based team, while providing basic services for victimized families, attempts to stop retaliation.

Sanchez also takes kids at risk of gang involvement (as well as some already in gangs) to Police Department headquarters where they meet with police Captain Anthony Mata. When he first proposed it to them the youth recoiled in horror: “We don’t want to go to jail.” He reassured them that his purpose had little to do with the law. “It has to do with our youth getting to know the officers as people.” Sanchez describes how “the Captain opens up, tells his story, what he was like as a kid…” Then the youth get to explore different areas of the department and sit in the police cars. The Captain provides tips on how to react if approached by an officer and how and where to complain if they feel unjustly treated. Sanchez reports that youth could not believe that the officers, swathed in uniforms, wearing guns were “real people.”

“The City Peace Project steps into the lives of gang-impacted youth, families and communities to provide education, awareness and support, walking with them toward a brighter future,” reads the Project’s mission statement. Danny cites Matthew 5:1 as his theological starting point: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” “Because of this,” notes Danny, “We go where nobody else goes, and we stay.”

Baltimore’s Lt. Col Russell pointed to a department “needing reform,” but cautioned not to throw out the baby with the bath water. While extremely hopeful for the future and in full support for the Department’s new leadership, he spoke of “little peace among the peacemakers,” and the need to create “police/citizen equity for the co-production of safety.”

Russell pointed to several promising initiatives including: a re-entry initiative “to restore broken lives” through which 105 returning offenders have been placed in jobs; a citywide effort to help the “poor, the widows” and to address the split between the haves and have-nots; police readiness to form personal relationship through such programs as Officer Friendly,” and the mobilization of roughly 2,000 faith-based entities to convey “love, hope and peace in the city’s most broken areas.”

Other than affected families, faith communities across the nation live closest to the pain. First-hand knowledge of that pain combined with a theology of reconciliation means that the faith community will play an increasingly important – if not central – role in helping to effect police/community trust.

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

Public Sector Fair Share Laws Survive in 4-4 SCOTUS Decision

In a 4-4 tie, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court’s decision upholding the legality of collective bargaining service fees for public sector employees who aren’t union members.

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In the 1977 case Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, the Court held that “fair share” service fees for public sector employees are legal. This morning’s ruling upheld that view. (Getty Images)

Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association could have turned public sector labor law upside down. In an unsurprising move the Supreme Court issued a non-precedential 4-4 opinion affirming the lower court’s decision by an equally divided Court. This opinion continues the status quo. Had Justice Antonin Scalia not passed away in February, this case almost certainly would have had a different outcome.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Court was contemplating overruling a nearly 40-year old precedent requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs. More than 20 States have enacted statutes authorizing fair share.

In Abood vs. the Detroit Board of Education, public school teachers in Detroit had sought to overturn the requirement that they pay fees equivalent to union dues on the grounds that they opposed public sector collective bargaining and objected to the ideological activities of the union. The Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent “agency shop” arrangements where public employees who do not join the union are still required to pay their “fair share” of union dues for collective-bargaining, contract administration, and grievance-adjustment. The rationale for an agency fee is that the union may not discriminate between members and nonmembers in performing these functions. So basically, no free-riders are allowed.

In Knox v. SEIU (2012) and Harris v. Quinn (2014) – two recent cases in which 5-4 opinions were written by Justice Alito and joined by the other conservative Justices (including Justice Scalia) and Justice Kennedy – the Court was very critical of Abood.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in this case in January, and the five more conservative Justices seemed poised to overrule Abood. After Justice Scalia passed away, the Court had two choices, knowing it was divided 4-4:  wait for a ninth Justice to join the Court and rehear the case, or do what it just did: affirm the lower court’s decision.

The Ninth Circuit in a very brief opinion had refused to overrule Abood.

Given the uncertainty of when a new Justice will be confirmed and the lack of a circuit split on this issue, the Court’s decision was expected. If a more liberal Justice joins the Court, it is unlikely this issue will be brought before the Court again anytime soon.

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.

Big Ideas for Cities Event Coming to Miami Beach, Florida

The one-day event will provide a platform for America’s mayors to share their “big ideas” that are driving economic resilience within their communities.

Miami Beach. (Getty Images)

On April 15th, the National League of Cities will convene in Miami Beach for an interactive dialogue with mayors who are deeply committed to moving our country forward by taking bold steps at the local level. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Angelica Mercado.

Each spring, NLC hosts Big Ideas for Cities, a one-day TEDx-style event where mayors from big cities share the innovative strategies being used to address challenges and create solutions in their communities. Big Ideas for Cities has previously taken place in Chicago and Los Angeles, and has featured discussions on different approaches to city innovation, citizen engagement and solutions to common municipal issues. Mayors have discussed topics ranging from infrastructure and the environment to socioeconomic and racial inequities and economic justice.

This year, Big Ideas for Cities: Economic Resilience will take place in Miami Beach, Florida, on Friday, April 15, and will feature talks from mayors across the country on the “big ideas” that are driving economic resilience within their communities.

City leaders share a common interest in building stronger, more inclusive and more livable communities, and offer strategies at the event that can be shaped to best address the challenges facing many cities across the country. Big Ideas for Cities: Economic Resilience will feature a series of panels and talks in order to discuss common challenges and opportunities, and will end the day with concrete ideas for collaboration moving forward.

Featured speakers will include:

James Fallows, Moderator – The Atlantic Monthly
Mayor Andy Berke – Chattanooga, Tennessee
Mayor Aja Brown – Compton, California
Mayor Ken Miyagishima – Las Cruces, New Mexico
Mayor Mark Stodola – Little Rock, Arkansas

Attendees will receive three credits in the National League of Cities University Certificate program, in addition to the opportunity to attend a special networking event at the conclusion of the Big Ideas for Cities program. Register today!

About the Author: Angelica Mercado is an intern with the National League of Cities University.

3 Things Every City Should Know About Drones

With Congressional action on drones just around the corner, here are three things you should know about the current landscape of unmanned aerial vehicles.

The FAA has issued more than 2,600 exemptions to allow commercial operators to fly in the National Airspace System. (Getty Images)

Imagine you and your family are trying to enjoy a Labor Day parade while twenty drones buzz loudly overhead, filming the parade route. Or maybe it’s your daughter’s big soccer game, and the same drones are flying just feet above their heads. What if your neighbor placed an order online late at night, only to have one buzz just past your bedroom window to deliver it?

This is what our communities might look like if our mayors and councilmembers aren’t given the authority to decide if, when, and where drones operate. Unfortunately, this may be reality within a matter of months. With Congressional action on drones just around the corner, here are three things you should know about the current landscape of unmanned aerial vehicles.

1. Drones Are Already Here

Roughly 700,000 recreational drones were sold in 2015, a 63 percent increase from the previous year. The vast majority of these drones are small, lightweight aircraft that pose very little threat to the safety of Americans when operated within the bounds of the law. Most recreational drone operators are now required to register with the FAA – but ensuring the more than one million model aircraft in our skies are following the letter of the law still largely falls to local law enforcement.

Commercial drones are less prevalent for now, but it is a quickly growing field. The FAA has issued more than 2,600 exemptions to allow commercial drone operators to fly in the National Airspace System. While our online purchases may not be arriving on our doorsteps just yet, these drones are being used for a growing list of purposes, including aerial photography, crop monitoring, and conservation efforts.

2. States and Cities Are Acting

Twenty-six states have already issued their own drone-related regulations, nearly all 50 states have considered drone-related legislation, and a growing number of cities have begun issuing regulations on when and where drones can operate.

Land use and zoning, regulating hours of flight at local airports, and enforcing sobriety laws and speed limits are all essential functions performed by cities, and it makes perfect sense that cities should issue regulations regarding how, when, and where drones operate within their jurisdictions.

So far, the FAA has examined local and state regulations on a case-by-case basis to ensure they don’t conflict with their authority. Around airports and at heights that may interfere with passenger and private aircraft, this makes a great deal of sense. The FAA has a clear role to play in the regulation and safety of our airspace. But city leaders are better equipped to tell drone operators whether or not they can fly over a parade or just feet above a school.

3. U.S. Senate May Overturn Local Actions

A provision in the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s long-term reauthorization of the FAA would prevent cities, counties, and states from enacting or enforcing any laws regarding the operation of drones. If this legislation is passed into law, cities may not even be able to enforce existing privacy, nuisance, and harassment ordinances.

Commercial drones create tremendous potential for innovation, economic growth, and new business opportunities, but city leaders must be partners when it comes to their operations, and not relegated to the sidelines. We are excited that one day soon, shoes we order online might arrive in our back yards in mere minutes, but we should have a say in the path they take to arrive there. Telling the citizens of our cities that their voices are not important is a dangerous step forward for Congress. We have been down the path of federal preemption enough times to know that it may take decades to claw our way back to the negotiating table – and this technology wont simply sit and wait while we do.

The National League of Cities sent a joint letter with the U.S. Conference of Mayors expressing serious concerns about this provision to Senate Commerce Committee leadership, and is currently working with Congressional staff in hopes that they will exempt certain regulations, like zoning and operations, from preemption before the FAA bill goes before the entire Senate for a vote.

Stay connected with this important issue. Register for updates from NLC on drone regulations.

About the author: Matthew Colvin is the Principal Associate for Infrastructure and Development on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. He leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on surface, air and marine transportation issues. Follow Matthew on Twitter at @MatthewAColvin.

How to Revive a Neighborhood: With Imagination, Beauty and Art

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, each week we’ll be featuring a new TED Talk focused on cities, community issues or local government.

Theaster Gates, a potter by training and a social activist by calling, wanted to do something about the sorry state of his neighborhood on the south side of Chicago. So he did, transforming abandoned buildings to create community hubs that connect and inspire those who still live there (and draw in those who don’t). In this passionate talk, Gates describes his efforts to build a “miniature Versailles” in Chicago, and he shares his fervent belief that culture can be a catalyst for social transformation in any city, anywhere.

Paul Konz headshotAbout the Author: Paul Konz is the Senior Editor at the National League of Cities.

5 Ways Cities Can Grow the Maker Movement

These are the key recommendations to help your city grow the maker movement.

MM (Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from NLC’s report, The Maker Movement. The report was created in partnership with the Department of Public Administration and Policy at American University.

The maker movement has great potential to alter the very fabric of business and manufacturing in cities across the country. The narratives in this report paint a picture of a selection of the lessons to be learned for those that wish to embrace the maker movement in their own cities.

Coordination between the government, the private sector and the community has shown to be effective. Likewise, investment in education and resource sharing will be important to the growth of the maker movement. As knowledge about this movement is lacking, continued research and development of best practices will be essential. These are the key recommendations to help your city as you move forward:

1. Share best practices

The first recommendation is straightforward: best practices should be shared. Just as makers freely share ideas and technology, building off each other’s developments to benefit from recombinant growth, policymakers should share policies that have worked.

2. Evaluate what works

Stemming naturally from this first recommendation is a second: policymakers and researchers should invest more in evaluations of what works to develop a body of evidence supporting best practices. These evaluations can take many forms, including surveys, case studies or statistical analyses. In order to properly study the maker movement, it will be helpful to more clearly define it and categorize its many different aspects, ideally using a widely accepted and standardized taxonomy. While the amorphous maker movement certainly defies easy categorization, standardizing the concepts and language surrounding the maker movement would reduce the coordination costs required to share policy information.

3. Measure the maker movement’s development

Another important step for policymakers is to identify and measure the maker movement’s development in their cities. While no single measurement is likely able to accurately capture the various components and incarnations of the maker movement in any given city, potentially useful and easy-to-gather measurements include the number of local online maker groups/events and their participants, the number and throughput of local technology incubators or accelerators, the number and size of venture capital firms, and the stock and flow of technology startups, as well as data from surveys of individuals involved in the maker movement, business people and educators.

4. Publish market analyses

Policymakers can also publish market analyses, which serve as a public good for entrepreneurial makers and businesses. Knowing on which sectors of the maker movement local businesses tend to focus can in turn help entrepreneurs focus their efforts. Identifying regional economic clusters can also help policymakers target their support to the most beneficial sectors, since developing and marketing local clusters has positive externalities through knowledge spillovers, shared access to specialized inputs and improved labor matching in thicker markets. Additionally, policymakers can support networking among entrepreneurial makers, businesses, venture capitalists and educators by convening events to facilitate information spillovers.

5. Financially support educational opportunities in science, math and technology

Policymakers should also actively pursue state and federal financial support for education in science, math and technology. Since investments in human capital are positive externalities – particularly because highly educated students often go on to relocate to other cities – local, state and federal governments are better able to internalize the externalities and thus have the incentives to invest optimally. Streamlining regulatory and administrative burdens can also significantly reduce the barriers to commercial entry for entrepreneurial makers looking to form a startup business.

Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the Author: Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Transportation Planning Is Stuck in the Past. Here’s What Needs to Be Done.

There are several critical limitations in municipal transportation planning, and in many ways, these limitations are worsening.

Atlanta-GA“Fixed-guideway systems will still be around, public streets and personal cars will still be around… Now transportation planners need to learn from the software industry and be more iterative. How can we accommodate different modes within the old networks?” (Getty Images)

This is an excerpt from City of the Future: Technology & Mobility, and the second in our “Viewpoints on the Future” blog series. Read the first one here.

Peter Torrellas has been working at the intersection of infrastructure and technology for almost twenty years, and currently serves as National Business Manager for State and Local Government at Siemens. Today, he believes there are several critical limitations in municipal transportation planning, and in many ways these limitations are worsening. “The window of opportunity to solve problems is moving faster than the planning process,” says Torrellas. “Planning, capital allocation, politics, even innovations like TIGER with the notion of ‘shovel-ready projects,’ are all built for a different time.”

So far, these limitations haven’t been too problematic. For all of the media buzz surrounding cities and the ‘disruption’ caused by transportation innovations, most people in most cities still only commute via car. But the true disruption may be right around the corner. “We’re going to have autonomous vehicles in 10-15 years. It isn’t a question.”

While denser cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Washington and New York will likely continue their trends toward multi-modalism, on-demand fleets of autonomous vehicles could be much more significant for the rest of the nation. Making trips to the store for bulk purchases, getting children to events or enabling seniors to live independently can all be accomplished without actually owning multiple personal vehicles.

Mr. Torrellas notes that “In the last 10 years, independent app developers taking advantage of public data was obvious and inevitable, but the next big thing will be centered around the automation and digitization of these systems.” Taking this step would be much more efficient and would remove significant amounts of traffic during peak hours. Particularly for freight and delivery services, “data centers will begin optimizing and directing the whole transportation network,” says Torrellas. “Algorithms make 60-70 percent of the trades on Wall St. and the same trend is happening in transportation.”

So how can cities prepare for the future and still be responsive to these unknown changes? For most cities, it will actually be important to think small. His advice: “You can’t just throw out the old way. Fixed-guideway systems will still be around, public streets and personal cars will still be around, but it will be one of many options. Now transportation planners need to learn from the software industry and be more iterative. How can we accommodate different modes, or driverless vehicles, within the old networks? San Francisco started with bike lanes and complete streets pilots, and they scaled. The city nailed pay-for-parking because they scaled and had vision.”

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

Justice Scalia’s Impact on Local Government – And What the Future Holds for Cities

Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was generally supportive of local government, and his passing leaves many questions as to how the nation’s highest court will rule in upcoming cases affecting cities.

Supreme Court of the United States. (Getty Images)

If a Supreme Court case looks like it may result in a 4-4 decision, the Court now has two choices: wait for the ninth Justice to join the Court and rehear the case, or issue an unprecedented 4-4 decision that affirms the lower court decision. (Getty Images)

Justice Scalia’s death came at an uncertain time in our nation’s history, given the upcoming presidential election. Unsurprisingly, while some of the news coverage focused on the substance of his nearly 30-year career as a Supreme Court Justice, most news coverage discussed the challenges of replacing him.

The public knew Justice Scalia as a conservative, particularly on social issues like abortion, the death penalty and same-sex marriage. Attorneys will remember Justice Scalia as an “originalist” who believed that the Constitution should be interpreted as the founders intended and a “textualist” who interpreted laws by looking only at the words on the page. Court watchers admired Justice Scalia’s beautifully written, clear, and often colorful opinions.

But what was Justice Scalia’s impact on state and local government?

Noteworthy Cases

Justice Scalia will probably be most remembered for writing District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), in which he held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a gun for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense, within the home.

Like most conservatives, Justice Scalia was often sympathetic to states’ rights. For example, in his dissenting opinion in the same-sex marriage cases, he criticized the Court for acting as a “super” legislature. And his dissenting opinion in Arizona v. United States (2012), involving challenges to Arizona laws designed to crack down on illegal immigration, rested on state sovereignty.

Like other conservative Justices, Justice Scalia also regularly supported property owners in land use and taking cases. For example, early on the bench, he wrote the Court’s opinion in Nollan v. California Coastal Communities (1987), holding that conditioning the granting of a building permit upon the applicants’ dedication of property to the public without compensation could amount to an unconstitutional taking.

Justice Scalia generally was supportive of state and local government in qualified immunity cases. Specifically, he wrote the Court’s opinion in Scott v. Harris (2007), which held that an officer using deadly force to stop a speeding motorist was entitled to qualified immunity.

When it came to Fourth Amendment searches, Justice Scalia’s jurisprudence was notably mixed. For example, he dissented from the Court’s decision in Maryland v. King (2013), upholding warrantless DNA testing of arrestees. But he also dissented from the Court’s decision in Los Angeles v. Patel (2014), holding that hotel registry ordinances allowing police inspections without pre-compliance judicial review violate the Fourth Amendment.

Amicus Briefs

The State and Local Legal Center (SLLC) filed amicus briefs before the Supreme Court the entire time Justice Scalia was a member of the high court. Amicus brief writers, perhaps above all, hope that the Justices will care about the implications that cases will have on their clients when rendering decisions and writing opinion.

Justice Scalia wasn’t one to turn a blind eye on how a case would affect state and local government. In fact, just last term in Los Angeles v. Patel, he cited the SLLC’s amicus brief in his dissenting opinion supporting the Los Angeles ordinance, noting that such ordinances and state statutes are common.

As far as the SLLC was concerned, Justice Scalia’s work wasn’t done. Just this month the SLLC filed an amicus brief asking the Court to hear United Student Aid Funds v. Bible and overturn Auer deference to federal agencies. Justice Scalia wrote the opinion in Auer v. Robbins (1997), holding that courts must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulations. In Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Association (2015), Justice Scalia (and two other Justices) expressed skepticism about Auer.

What the Future Holds

(Wikimedia Commons)

Antonin Scalia was a Supreme Court Justice from 1986 until his death in 2016. (Wikimedia Commons)

So the million dollar question (other than who will fill Justice Scalia’s seat) is: What will happen to undecided Supreme Court cases heard or to be heard this term?

The short answer is that it depends, and in all instances isn’t entirely clear.

If a Supreme Court case looks like it will NOT result in a 4-4 decision, it will be decided as usual with only eight Justices.

If a case looks like it may result in a 4-4 decision, however, the Court now has two choices: wait for the ninth Justice to join the Court and rehear the case, or issue a non-precedential 4-4 decision that affirms the lower court decision.

SCOTUSblog publisher Tom Goldstein predicts that the Court will rehear 4-4 cases.

It is, of course, impossible to know which cases would have been 5-4 had Justice Scalia lived. But a good rule of thumb is that particularly important, controversial cases are often 5-4. Six cases this term meet just about any definition of important and controversial.

Let’s take a look at the five such cases affecting state and local government. Unsurprisingly, Justice Kennedy’s vote probably will be key in all of them.

  • Public Sector Unions

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association the Court will decide whether to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), requiring public sector employees who don’t join the union to pay their “fair share” of collective bargaining costs.

Justices Scalia and Kennedy joined two previous Justice Alito opinions criticizing Abood. Unless Justice Kennedy has a change of heart or one of the other conservative Justices has second thoughts about overturning precedent regardless of how much he dislikes it, this case is likely to be reheard.

  • Immigration

In United States v. Texas the Court will decide whether the President’s deferred action immigration program violates federal law or is unconstitutional.

The stakes are the highest if the Court is 4-4 in this case. The federal government and the Supreme Court worked hard to make sure this case got on the docket this term because a new President could scrap the program. If this case is reargued, unless the new Justice joined the Court next fall, it seems unlikely the Court could render an opinion before January 2017.

  • One-person-one-vote

The issue in Evenwel v. Abbott is whether voting population must be the metric in ensuring that state and local legislative districts comply with the “one-person one-vote.”

Evenwell is considered the most important voting rights case in decades. Using voting population as the metric tends to favor more rural, Republican areas. This case seems ripe for rehearing unless Justice Kennedy sides with the liberals.

  • Abortion

The issue in Whole Women’s Health v. Cole is whether Texas’s admitting privileges and ambulatory surgical center requirements create an undue burden on women seeking abortions.

The conventional wisdom on abortion is that only Justice Kennedy’s votes is at play. If he is willing to strike down Texas’s laws this case will not be reheard. The fact that Justice Kennedy voted to prevent these laws from going into place before the Court decided to review the case indicates he may be skeptical of the laws, making a 4-4 vote less likely.

  • Affirmative action

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin  the Court has agreed to decide whether UT-Austin’s race-conscious admissions policy is unconstitutional.

More conservatives Justices are probably as likely to win this case with or without Justice Scalia. Justice Kagan is recused and Justice Kennedy is no fan of affirmative action. But the Court heard this case once before rendering a narrow 7-1 opinion against UT-Austin. You never know with cases involving race.

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.

KCMO Closes the Digital Divide for Local Businesses

This is a recap from Big Ideas for Small Business, NLC’s national peer network helping local governments accelerate effort to support small businesses and encourage entrepreneurship. To learn more about this initiative email robbins@nlc.org.

Kansas City, Mo., well-known for its status as a “Gig City,” has the surprising challenge of a digital divide among small business owners. Local business and entrepreneurs have access to a high-speed broadband network that makes all aspects of e-commerce more accessible, such as online sales, advertising, and customer support. However, many mom-and-pops are not taking advantage of the internet to support their businesses.  And they are not alone. Almost half of small businesses nationwide do not have a website.

The digital divide among small business owners is not only an access problem, but an economic one as well.  Businesses that don’t have a website, social media presence, or an email account are limited in their ability to attract new patrons and to be responsive to customers’ needs. Over the long term, this could damage revenues and threaten viability of the business, and potentially the neighborhoods they are established. On the other hand, businesses using an online strategy can increase sales by up to 18% percent.

Rick Usher, Assistant City Manager for Entrepreneurship and Small Business in Kansas City, took action with a plan to drive broadband utilization across all industries and business types. The program, called the Small Business Growth Plan, helps businesses understand how to better use the internet to boost marketing and sales. Businesses are invited to complete a free online survey to gauge their level of internet utilization. In turn, each business receives a personalized Digital Economy Index (DEi) Scorecard calculated by the Strategic Networks Group. This scorecard provides specific feedback on how to improve their use of the internet, along with projected cost savings and revenue growth.


For example, in the sample DEi Scorecard above, the Acme Parts Supply manufacturing company received a score of 4.6 out of a possible 10 points. The average score for this industry is 6.2, which means there is room for growth in Acme’s use of online business tools. By transitioning some of their sales, advertising, and customer support services online, it is projected that Acme Parts Supply could net an extra $1.2 million annually.

In addition to helping individual businesses, the DEi scorecard provides policymakers with a monetary calculation for the return on investment gained by closing the digital divide for business owners. This information helps make the case for funding and support for high-speed broadband projects. KCMO’s experience also provides a lesson learned for other cities: You can’t just provide a tool, like citywide broadband, and expect equitable adoption. It’s critical for cities to monitor outcomes, identify gaps, and provide innovative solutions to bridging the divide.

About the Author: Emily Robbins is Principal Associate for Economic Development at NLC. Follow Emily on Twitter: @robbins617.