Mayors Address Energy, Environmental Issues with Greater Substance

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

(Getty Images)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Chance for Cities to Comment on Payday Lending Rule

Payday loans have had a tremendous negative impact on the economic success of city residents – but cities can take action and make a positive impact at the federal level by showing public support for a proposed regulation.

Over the past 20 years, cities have seen more and more of their low-income residents fall prey to the debt trap associated with payday and auto-title lenders. These lenders tend to concentrate in cities’ economically distressed neighborhoods to ensure visibility among their target market population – about 10 million people annually in this $89 billion industry. (Getty Images)

Over the past 20 years, cities have seen more and more of their low-income residents fall prey to the debt trap associated with payday and auto-title lenders. These lenders tend to concentrate in cities’ economically distressed neighborhoods to ensure visibility among their target market population – about 10 million people annually in this $89 billion industry. (Getty Images)

In the United States, there are more payday lending storefronts than McDonalds and Starbucks combined. Many local leaders recognize that a high concentration of these types of businesses in a neighborhood can indicate residents may be financially insecure and lack access to less costly financial products through banks, credit unions and other mainstream financial institutions.

City leaders have worked at the local level to help protect their residents from this cycle of debt and encourage local credit unions, non-profits, and mainstream banks to get involved and increase financial stability within their communities. Local officials now have a federal ally in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), with a proposed rule which has the potential to protect low-income consumers from protracted high-interest loan terms as well as reduce the amount of fees borrowers pay.

Payday and auto title loans are marketed to consumers as a bridge to help span shortages between paychecks or in the case of an emergency. However, these loans often become an endless highway with few exit ramps.

According to research conducted by the CFPB, these types of loans have a roughly 390 percent annual rate (APR). This can create debt traps in which four in five loans are re-borrowed within a month and an original loan term of 14 days can be stretched out over several months or years, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in interest and fees. Additionally, automated loan payments through the borrower’s checking account can create overdraft or failed transaction fees.

This cycle of debt increases the cost of access to a consumer’s own money, which can leave her unable to pay for food, housing, utilities or medication due to the automated loan payment. Also, residents caught in this debt trap cannot save for an emergency or longer term goals such as homeownership or education. Those who default on auto title loans risk losing their vehicle – likely their transportation to work – dramatically increasing a household’s financial instability. High interest rates associated with these loans are a financial drain on vulnerable families as well as drain the local economy as households cut back spending. Additionally, this financial strain on families can create issues for cities such as increases in homelessness and unemployment. Financial insecurity in residents also increases dependence on public resources already strained by existing demand.

Cities Can Take Action

Some cities have passed local legislation to curb payday lending. For example, San Antonio, Texas, passed an ordinance in 2012 addressing the registration and oversight of credit access businesses (CAB) that provide payday and auto-title loans and permitted the city’s Department of Finance to administer CABs. The limits and registration of businesses in San Antonio enables the city to prosecute predatory lenders who violate the ordinance’s limits on loan amounts, installments, and consumer protections as well as location. The ordinance empowered the city to take action to protect their residents, and the 35 other Texas cities have followed suit, passing similar ordinances.

City leaders have an opportunity to make an impact at the federal level by showing public support for the CFPB’s proposed regulation. This rule would require lenders, before making a loan, to make sure their consumers have the ability to repay it. The rule would also reduce the number of times a lender can attempt to withdraw funds from a customer’s account, which prevents the bank from charging additional fees.

City leaders are well-positioned to have a major impact on how predatory payday and auto title lenders can impact the financial lives of their residents. The CFPB is very interested in hearing from you, but the deadline is Oct. 7th. Click here to read the proposed rule and submit comments. Additional information about payday lending and the proposed rule can be found in this factsheet as well as on the CFPB’s blog.

courtney_coffin_125x150About the author: Courtney Coffin is an associate for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Courtney at

SolSmart Designates First Solar-friendly Communities

Twenty-two communities throughout the U.S. have been recognized for removing barriers to solar energy and making it easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to install solar.

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Among other benefits, residential solar panels reduce dependence on a community’s power grid. Cities can promote the use of solar power by implementing policies that streamline the permitting process, provide tax incentives, and allow more people to install solar through innovative financing programs. (Getty Images)

If a home or business in your community wants to install solar panels, what would they need to do? Are there clear building codes, zoning rules, or permit processes to follow?

The National League of Cities is proud to be part of the SolSmart team, helping cities throughout the United States capitalize on a booming solar energy market and providing citizens the option of cheap, renewable energy. This week, SolSmart recognized the first 22 communities to receive designation for removing barriers to solar energy and making it easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to install solar. SolSmart honored the designees on Monday, September 26 in a special ceremony at the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) annual conference in Kansas City, Missouri.

The 14 communities awarded SolSmart Gold designation are:

Austin, Texas Boulder, Colorado Columbia, Missouri
Fremont, California Fort Collins, Colorado Gladstone, Missouri
Hartford, Connecticut Kansas City, Missouri Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Minneapolis, Minnesota San Carlos, California Santa Monica, California
Santa Rosa, California Satellite Beach, Florida

The community awarded SolSmart Silver designation is:

Boulder County, Colorado

The seven communities awarded SolSmart Bronze designation are:

Burlington, Vermont Claremont, California Denver, Colorado
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Redwood City, California Saint Paul, Minnesota
Somerville, Massachusetts

A SolSmart designation signals that a community is “open for solar business,” distinguishing these communities from their peers. In addition to this recognition, the SolSmart team provides no-cost technical assistance for any community looking to improve local solar markets.

This is just the beginning. Any city or county is eligible to join SolSmart and take advantage of no-cost technical assistance to help the community achieve designation.

To participate in the SolSmart City Challenge, pursue SolSmart designation, or learn more about the program, simply fill out this form:

About the Author: Nick Kasza is a Senior Associate with the Sustainable Cities Institute at the National League of Cities. He is part of a team that administers the SolSmart program and helps deliver technical assistance to cities pursuing SolSmart designation. His areas of expertise include solar photovoltaic project development, due diligence, and risk assessment.

This Month in Urban Affairs: A New Climate Data Tool for Cities, Tennessee’s Big Transit Plan, and California’s New Green Tech Economy

Our new monthly roundup of the latest reading materials filtered through an urban affairs lens.

Architect Fernando Romero believes that borders are obsolete and archaic given today's technology and our mutually-dependent global economy. He designed a borderless, binational city straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, which would feature special economic zones and is geographically placed around the existing inland port of Santa Teresa, New Mexico. (Fernando Romero Enterprise)

Architect Fernando Romero believes that borders are obsolete and archaic given today’s technology and our mutually-dependent global economy. He designed a borderless, binational city straddling the U.S.-Mexico border, which would feature special economic zones and is geographically placed around the existing inland port of Santa Teresa, New Mexico. (Fernando Romero Enterprise)

Michigan reports a six percent drop in homelessness. The report, published by the group Ending Homelessness in Michigan, also registered a 15 percent percent drop in veteran homelessness. These declines occurred between 2014 and 2015, during which 34,000 people previously living on the streets, in shelters and in transitional housing programs exited the “homeless service system.” The decrease is partially attributed to a shift in policy from emergency shelters and street outreach to the HUD “rapid re-housing” model.

Millennials aren’t as entrepreneurial as they think they are. Could it have something to do with their enormous student debt burden? A new survey by the Economic Innovation Group reveals that 55 percent of millennials think their generation is more entrepreneurial than any previously. But the data says differently. Measured by the rate of new business formation, millennials are in fact less entrepreneurial than generation X or the boomers. This may be in no small part due to millennials’ unprecedented student debt burden. There was an 89 percent increase in the number of student borrowers between 2004 and 2014.

A new open source platform will help cities take climate action. Last week the White House announced the Partnership for Resilience and Preparedness (PREP), a new data tool that will allow local governments, companies and investors easier access to dynamic climate data from NASA, NOAA, the Department of the Interior, and other federal sources. The platform will include data layers from the local to global scale, visualizations of social vulnerabilities to environmental hazards, and more.

The Middle Tennessee region will implement a $6 billion regional transit plan. Middle Tennessee’s Regional Transportation Authority, which includes 28 mayors and appointees from Gov. Bill Haslam, voted unanimously last week to adopt a $5.97 billion regional transit system. The region encompasses the Nashville metropolitan area, and is expected to have 1 million more people by 2040.

Architect Fernando Romero designed a borderless, binational, walkable metropolis straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. His design is currently on display at the London Design Biennale. The city would lie between New Mexico and Texas in the U.S. and Chihuahua in Mexico. The utopian metropolis would include many business districts linked by roadways and express trains, super-connectivity fostering a steady circulation of people, goods and services within and outside it, and a highway that connects the city’s dense and walkable center to far-flung regions in the East and West Coasts of the U.S.

Climate change legislation led to a flourishing green tech economy in California. California’s landmark AB32 climate legislation signed into law in 2006 by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger spurred immense investment and expansion of clean energy technology in the state, despite concerns that the progressive legislation would chase businesses away. Today, more than 27 percent of California’s demand for electricity is being met by renewable sources. One point seven percent of new cars registered in California last year ran solely on electricity, and a new family installs a rooftop solar array every seven minutes in the service area of the state’s largest utility. The state’s emissions have fallen nearly every year since 2007.

About the Author: Justin DeWaele is a Housing Program Specialist with NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow Justin on Twitter @jdewaele1.




One Mayor’s Take: Why America Needs a New Agenda for Cities

Increased investment in infrastructure could have an enormous positive economic impact and create more vibrant, thriving cities – but federal leaders need to make the commitment.

Downtown Kansas City, Missouri. (Getty Images)

Downtown Kansas City, Missouri. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Kansas City, Missouri, Mayor Sly James. The post was originally published here, and has been reprinted with permission.

We all know the stories of crumbling roads, failing bridges and broadband access that lags behind our international peers. The last few decades have been hard on our urban centers, but Americans are falling in love with cities again. Cities all over the country are experiencing major influxes of new residents.

In fact, today, over 63 percent of the nation’s population lives in a city. That number is even higher – 70 percent – in the Midwest, where the city I lead is located. Despite this, an agenda to revitalize and restore the infrastructure of our cities has been shockingly absent from our presidential political discourse. That is, until recently.

The Democratic Party, in its Cities Agenda amendment to the 2016 platform, is now the first political party to develop a comprehensive plan on city infrastructure during this election cycle. And this week, the Republican party also made cities an issue in their campaign. Donald Trump entered the conversation with a speech in Detroit outlining an ambitious infrastructure agenda, declaring “We will build the next generation of roads, bridges, railways, tunnels, seaports and airports that our country deserves.” We look forward to seeing the details of his plan.

Indeed, public transportation, roadways, highways, bridges, electricity, and waterways are at the very core of the services our citizens need to thrive. Our infrastructure is the skeleton that supports cities and improving it lifts up local economies. It’s a major factor in where people decide to work and businesses decide to locate. From the creation of bike paths to making safe water accessible to all, infrastructure impacts public health and quality of life outcomes.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) releases an infrastructure report card every four years. The last one, published in 2013, was grim. ASCE gave the nation a cumulative grade of D+ on its infrastructure – and that was slightly higher than the results of the previous report. But another ASCE report detailed the enormous positive economic impact that is possible through an increased investment in infrastructure.

In “Failure to Act: The Impact of Current Infrastructure Investment on America’s Economic Future,” released in 2012, ASCE found that investing $157 billion in infrastructure each year until 2020 could protect 3.5 million jobs, $2.4 trillion in consumer spending, and $3.1 trillion in GDP. $94 billion in transportation investments alone would protect 877,000 jobs.  We clearly cannot afford the status quo.

Mayors are doing everything we can to maintain the integrity of these foundational services. Some have implemented innovative public-private partnerships to partially fill the resource gap the federal government’s inaction has left. But too many of us are forced to navigate a patchwork of state laws that limit our ability to allocate the resources necessary to modernize local infrastructure.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a devastating example of what can happen when local leaders are not fully empowered to maintain the infrastructure in their cities and towns. That’s why I could not agree more with the Cities Agenda’s basic premise that “local leaders are best equipped to create a better future for their residents — but need the resources and flexibility to get the job done.”

The Cities Agenda recognizes that local economic progress can only be achieved by addressing multiple, seemingly intractable, issues simultaneously. It calls for increased investment in housing and schools, jobs, transportation and health in cities across the nation. Specifically, it will build on game-changing programs like the Neighborhood Stabilization Program and the Hardest Hit Fund, which have revitalized communities overcome by blight.

The Cities Agenda also promises to foster community vibrancy by expanding programs that leverage private sector investment to combat poverty, such as the New Markets Tax Credit and the State Small Business Credit Initiative. These programs are critical to the health and stability of our nation. The benefits are enormous and exponential.

As the president of the African American Mayors Association, which represents the over 500 black mayors in the country, I can tell you that mayors are driving this critical conversation on investments in infrastructure. Mayors have seen, first hand, the impact of federal underinvestment in cities and infrastructure for too long.

Although the Cities Agenda was initially adopted by the Democrats, there is no reason that this should be a partisan issue. Republicans entering this dialogue is good for advancing the conversation on infrastructure investment. Business leaders need to weigh in just as much as labor and community members. All of us sit in the same ditch when something breaks and repairs need to made.

Regardless of who wins the White House, or the majorities in Congress this November, we must increase the pressure on our federal leaders to fix our cities.

About the Author: Sly James is the 56th mayor of Kansas City, Missouri.

How Cities Can Share Crucial Information During Emergencies

Critical information – such as encrypted live videos, files, alerts, and other data – can be sent securely, in real time via public television broadcast spectrum to unlimited numbers of public safety recipients.

Drew Coffman / unsplash

Drew Coffman / unsplash

This is a guest post by Kate Riley and Stacey Karp.

When severe storms caused serious flooding in the City of Houston this past April, first responders relied on an expert in communications – Houston Public Media, KUHT and TV8 – for new, critical information sharing capabilities.

The Houston Fire Department and Houston Police Department used Houston Public Media datacasting technology to deliver live video of the flooding on the ground from a mobile phone in a helicopter to the Emergency Operations Center and city leaders on the ground. They used a mobile app called GoCoder, which sent live images from a mobile device to Houston Public Media’s encoder, which delivered the video to the Harris County Sheriff’s Department command vehicle and other city officials over the public television broadcast spectrum. This technology allowed first responders and emergency management agencies to communicate with each other to assess the damage to the city and determine the best response to the emergency situation.

“Datacasting made it possible in less than an hour to stream live video from a helicopter that did not have that capability, into the EOC and then into a conference room that was without a video workstation or any other connection capability,” said Jack Hanagriff, City of Houston, Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security. “This software is giving us the ability to accommodate needs and fill capability gaps in ways we never thought possible.”

What is datacasting?

Datacasting is the process of delivering internet protocol (IP) data over a traditional broadcast television signal. Critical information – such as encrypted live videos, files, alerts, and other data – can be sent securely, in real time via public television broadcast spectrum to unlimited numbers of public safety recipients to enhance preparedness and response efforts and help keep Americans safe during emergencies.

This capability essentially turns public television stations into a new wireless data network. The data is invisible to traditional television viewers. And additionally, all datacasting content is encrypted so that access is restricted to authorized users.

Television’s native one-to-many delivery architecture uses bandwidth very efficiently. The same spectrum that delivers public television service to millions of Americans every day also allows a large number of public safety users to be served with a small amount of bandwidth. One Megabit per second (1/20th of a station’s capacity) can deliver multiple live video streams, large files, alerts and other data to an unlimited number of users.

Public Television: Partners in Public Safety

For decades, public broadcasters have quietly embraced their public safety mission and their commitment to using their broadcasting spectrum for the public good. This work has been most visible in broadcasters’ efforts to keep the public informed during emergencies.

However, across the country, public television stations like Houston Public Media are partnering with local law enforcement and emergency management organizations, connecting first responders to one another and providing enhanced communications and data-sharing capabilities via the public television broadcast spectrum and datacasting. And America’s Public Television Stations have already committed 1 Mbps of their spectrum for eventual use in the federal FirstNet public safety network.

“Public Media’s mission is to serve the community,” said Joshua B. Adams, Executive Director of Operations, Houston Public Media, KUHT and TV8. “In our case, the greater Houston community. If we can leverage our technology to make the community safer… it’s our duty to do it. We consider that part of our mission focus.”

America’s Public Television Stations is working to make datacasting available to first responders across the country. To explore how your local public television station can help provide your city with datacasting capabilities contact Kate Riley at America’s Public Television Stations.

To learn more about datacasting in Houston contact Joshua B. Adams at Houston Public Media.

About the Authors:

20151214 APTS_0026Kate Riley is Vice President,
Government and Public Affairs at America’s Public Television Stations (APTS). APTS is a nonprofit membership organization established in 1979 to conduct – in concert with member stations – strategic planning, research, communications, advocacy and other activities that foster a strong and financially sound public television system providing essential public services to all Americans. Kate manages congressional relations, state government liaison, the organization’s work with federal departments and agencies, communications, grassroots and grasstops advocacy, and strategic partnerships.

Stacey Karp is Director of Communications at America’s Public Television Stations (APTS). Stacey manages a wide range of communications, public relations and online media activities that advance public television’s legislative and regulatory objectives.

Leaving Mass Incarceration Behind: How Cities Are Turning to a Public Health Approach to Violence

Cities won’t solve homicides and other public safety challenges unless they identify strategies that address violence effectively.

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The United States is responsible for nearly 22 percent of the world’s prison population, yet our embrace of mass incarceration hasn’t reduced the rate of violent crime in many parts of this country. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Marc Schindler.

As the Justice Policy Institute lays out in Defining Violence: Reducing Incarceration by Rethinking America’s Approach to Violent Crime, cities need to embrace a series of policy changes that will reduce jail and prison populations and free up funds to support more effective public safety approaches. If we can reexamine our whole approach to violent crime, and not just look at it through a traditional law and order lens, we can find the dollars to build safer and healthier communities across America’s great cities.

In our roles as an elected city councilmember and a former head of Washington, D.C.’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, we both understand that our city faces challenges with violence in our neighborhoods. This fact gained more attention recently when Washington joined two dozen cities that closed out 2015 with a significant increase in homicides. But the reality is that, even though crime is down substantially from the 1990s and may end this year at lower rates, many communities in our city face unacceptable levels of violence on a regular basis.

The data show that some parts of our community have been more impacted by crime than others. Just three police districts accounted for most of the growth in homicides in the District, including Ward 5, where both of us live. Our Ward and the other parts of our city most impacted by the spike in homicides are also places where unemployment is higher, and where the city is facing greater challenges improving educational outcomes, adding jobs, and treating addiction. Combine these factors with easy access to lethal firearms and we have the perfect recipe for violent crime.

We know who is most impacted by crime – largely poor communities of color – and we know what research tells us about what works and what doesn’t work to reduce crime. That is why policymakers in this city rejected ineffective responses to crime, such as lengthening sentences and increasing incarceration.

Instead, the Council of the District of Columbia voted unanimously to take a public health approach to violence prevention. This approach, which D.C. and other cities are working to develop, would respond to violence as we respond to other national epidemics: starting by treating the causes of crime, and then by reducing the harm associated with it. We know that there are community-level solutions that can stop violence from spreading and help build safer communities.

Under the Neighborhood Engagement Achieves Results Amendment (NEAR) Act of 2016, the city would establish offices that coordinate our response to violent crime, and place specially trained staff in emergency rooms to respond to the needs of victims and to help prevent the escalation of violence. The NEAR Act allows teenagers and young adults at the highest risk for committing or being victims of violent crime to participate in a program that supports them as they engage with community workers in life planning and services designed to address the trauma associated with violence.

District policymakers face similar challenges as our colleagues in Baltimore and Chicago around bringing a public health approach to violence prevention to scale. Much of what was imagined under the NEAR Act and by city departments has not yet been fully funded. Chicago’s public health model has been impacted by various budget cuts, and the prevention continuum has been dramatically impacted by the Illinois state budget crisis. Baltimore’s public health approach was defunded by the city, only to be restored by a grant from the State of Maryland – and only through the end of the year.

Violence and crime are local challenges – and because they understand our neighborhoods and our people best, local governments must be at the forefront of developing policy solutions.

About the Authors: 

Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie is the Chairperson of the Committee on the Judiciary of the Council of the District of Columbia.


Marc Schindler is the Executive Director of the Justice Policy Institute, and a former head of the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.  



Mayors: Data & Technology Critical to City Leadership

The use of data to drive decision-making in cities is continuing to grow, and the myriad uses for these data are being further incorporated into city operations.

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In their 2016 State of the City addresses, multiple mayors committed to leading smarter cities where classrooms, neighborhoods, and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive. (Getty Images)

Data and technology are critical components of highly functioning cities. Mayors recognize this, and seek to elevate related issues – from broadband to smart cities to data-driven government and more – in order to better serve community members and create successful cities.

Cities are also using data and technology to make themselves smarter and more effective. In our State of the Cities 2016 analysis, one in five mayors devoted significant coverage to these issues in their annual addresses.

High Speed Internet

Internet and broadband are top mayoral priorities, coming in as the highest-rated area, with 22 percent of speeches touching on broadband. One of the key messages surfacing is that equity is incredibly important and cities are working to alleviate existing challenges surrounding access.

Mayors across the country noted the importance of fast, reliable internet to community success. However, access varies city to city or even between neighborhoods. In Baltimore, where 30 percent of homes lack internet connection, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake called broadband “the great infrastructure challenge of the 21st century.”

This disconnect can put poor students at risk of falling further behind in school. It can also discourage the growth of a local technology business.

“Imagine a new commitment to building a Smart City with high-speed gigabit fiber and focused neighborhood Wi-Fi that not only gives our students access to a 21st Century education, closing the homework gap, but creates an environment for a new explosion in small business investment and high-tech, knowledge economy industry,” said Columbia, South Carolina, Mayor John Tecklenburg.

Smart cities

Multiple cities — from Nashville to Kansas City, Missouri — committed to becoming smarter cities where classrooms, neighborhoods, and businesses leverage data and technology to become better connected and more productive.

In Escondido, California, Mayor Sam Abed said, “I see a future inspired by 21st century innovation to make Escondido a smart city. I see tremendous opportunities and a better future for the city that we all love and care about.”

This year, Columbus, Ohio, became the first city to win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Columbus will receive $40 million, in addition to $100 million from private partners, to reshape its transportation system. “Smart Columbus will deliver an unprecedented multimodal transportation system that will not only benefit the people of central Ohio, but potentially all mid-sized cities,” said Mayor Andrew Ginther in a statement.

Data-driven government

“Data helps us make decisions. It’s a tool to help us make choices. And the more we know, the better decisions we can make,” said Mayor Andy Hafen of Henderson, Nevada.

Data is particularly useful for community wide public safety efforts. The Jersey City, New Jersey Open Data Portal is an example of a platform that allows the city to proactively provide the public with unfiltered and unbiased information on crime and other police activities. “We are trying to break down the informational barriers between government and residents in order to encourage honest dialogue aimed at increased public safety,” said Mayor Steven Fulop. These types of tools empower cities to share data with the public and track goals over time.

In Dallas, which suffered the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement since 9/11 this year, the city is leading on data-driven policing. “In 2015, our department’s excessive force complaints were reduced by 67 percent,” said DPD Police Chief David Brown at a press conference just a few weeks before the fatal police shooting. “And our deadly force incidents have been reduced by 45 percent. So far, this year in 2016, we’ve had four excessive force complaints. We averaged between 150 and 200 my whole 33-year career. So this is transformative.”

The use of data to drive decision-making in cities is continuing to grow, and the myriad uses for these data are being further incorporated into city operations. Furthermore, data-driven government is part and parcel of developing smart cities ready for the future.

Whether data helps city leaders make better decisions on policing, traffic management, or internal processes, the goal is to develop better services for community members. Mayors know that the broad swath of areas in cities that technology enhances grow with each passing year. In order to successfully shape this future for all of us, we can look to cities for true leadership.

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

About the authors:

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


Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

States Sue Over New Overtime Rules

Twenty-one states are suing the Department of Labor over new overtime rules which make it more likely states will have to pay more employees overtime. They are seeking an injunction which will prevent the new rules from going into effect on December 1, 2016.

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To the Department of Labor, salary level — not the type of work actually performed – “is the best single test of exempt status for white collar employees.” (Getty Images)

Per the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), “white collar” employees do not have to be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week. Per Department of Labor regulations, adopted shortly after the FLSA was adopted in 1938, employees must perform specific duties and earn a certain salary to be exempt from overtime as white collar employees.

On May 23, 2016, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued final rules nearly doubling the previous salary level test for white collar employees from $455 per week, or $23,660 per year to $913 per week, or $47,476 per year.

DOL also raised the salary threshold for highly compensated employees (who aren’t eligible for overtime no matter their job duties) from $100,000 per year to $134,004 per year. The rules automatically update the salary level every three years for white collar and highly compensated employees.

As a practical matter, the states object to these rules because they will cost more money and states “cannot reasonably rely upon a corresponding increase in revenue, [so] they will have to reduce or eliminate some essential government services and functions.”

In its complaint, the states make five arguments for why the Texas federal district court should grant their injunction. Its first and most ambitious argument is that the Court overturn Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority (1985), where the Court held that the FLSA applies to the states.

The states also argue that DOL has exceed its authority under the FLSA in issuing these rules by ignoring the duties an employee performs and making salary a litmus test.

By automatically increasing the salary basis test, DOL is violating the FLSA’s requirement to “define and delimit from time to time” the white collar exception, the states claim.

As in almost any lawsuit objecting to federal rules, the states argue the rules are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

Finally, the states claim that Congress improperly delegated congressional legislative power by conferring “unlimited legislative authority on DOL” in the FLSA.

In addition to the lawsuit, there is also a legislative effort underway to block the rule from going into effect. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced H.R. 5813, the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act, several months ago, and it is awaiting action in the House Committee on Education and Workforce. The bill would implement a three-year phase-in of the new salary threshold and also eliminate the automatic increases. NLC supports the legislation and is considering filing an amicus brief in support of the states’ lawsuit.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

How Cities Can Help Provide Healthy Meals to Children Year-Round

As students across the country settle into the new school year, there is an opportunity for communities to provide nutritious meals and a safe space for children to gather when the school day ends, as well as contribute to their academic success.

With funding from the CHAMPS initiative, cities can serve more children healthy meals by addressing transportation challenges and getting children to meal program sites through a mobile strategy that delivers meals to city parks, churches and throughout neighborhoods. (Getty Images)

This month, the National League of Cities (NLC), in partnership with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), awarded grants to 10 cities in Alabama, California and Kansas to create or expand programs providing children with afterschool and summer meals, through the Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. This effort targets cities in states with low participation in the meal programs and encourages additional cities in these states to apply for CHAMPS funding. With support from the Walmart Foundation, NLC helped 41 cities across the country serve over 10 million meals to 100,000 children over the last five years.

With continued Walmart Foundation support, the 10 cities receiving CHAMPS grants in 2016 include: Alabaster, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuskegee in Alabama; Glendale, Riverside and Stockton in California; and Kansas City, Lawrence and Wichita in Kansas.

Alabaster Mayor Marty Handlon believes that nutrition plays a critical role in influencing a child’s growth, development and academic achievements. Out of the 6,000 students within the Alabaster City School system, 40 percent, or 2,400 students, qualify for the National School Lunch Program, yet are not being reached. With the support of the CHAMPS initiative, the city will serve more children healthy meals by addressing transportation challenges and getting children to meal program sites through a mobile strategy that delivers meals to city parks, churches and throughout neighborhoods.

Rachea Simms, principal at Meadow View Elementary School in Alabaster, said she has received positive feedback on the afterschool meals program from both students and parents.

“Alabaster City School’s vision focuses on the school and community working together to help our students succeed. By offering our meals after school, our parents and students benefit tremendously,” Simms said. “We realize that it takes the efforts of many people for this program to succeed and we are so pleased to be a part of an initiative that makes our children smile.”

Participation in the summer nutrition programs plateaued across the country last year, despite three prior years of significant growth, according to a new FRAC report.

In Alabama and California, though more children are receiving free and reduced lunch in school, many are not being reached with afterschool and summer nutrition programs. In Kansas, a state with the lowest summer meal participation rates in the nation, fewer than one in 10 low-income children participate in the summer nutrition programs.

How are local elected officials ensuring that children have access to health meals by supporting the federal Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs in your city? Contact Jamie Nash with examples from your city that can be showcased here on NLC’s CitiesSpeak blog.

For more information, about after school and summer meals program, visit, or sign up below.

Jamie Nash bio photoAbout the author: Jamie Nash is the Senior Associate for Benefit Outreach & Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.