The First Amendment is Not the Last Word at Public Meetings

Managing public comments at city council meetings isn’t easy. Review this framework to be prepared for disruptions.

(Getty Images)

City meetings progress smoothly when simple guidelines for making decisions as a group are followed, such a those outlined in the widely-referenced book Robert’s Rules of Order. Here, one parliamentarian provides her input and advice on a few key issues. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Ann G. Macfarlane.

In this country today, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is the foundation of our civil liberty. The freedoms that it lists are crucial to our society. When we read accounts of how these freedoms can be abridged, limited or ignored, we react with horror. And yet it is also important to acknowledge that, in the matter of free speech, the First Amendment is not the last word.

“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech…”

These 10 words have been interpreted to allow words and actions of an extraordinary breadth and variety. In public meetings, people sometimes engage in hateful, vicious, personal and wide-ranging attacks on institutions and individuals, waving the banner of free speech. Here’s how to manage these disruptions and keep the meeting on track.

A Framework for Free Speech

We would like to offer a framework for consideration of free speech at public meetings, in the hope that it will be helpful to elected officials and local governments struggling with these First Amendment issues.

  1. A governing body has the right to establish rules for the conduct of its business. This principle is enshrined in state law (for example, see my home state of Washington’s RCW 35A.12.120), in Robert’s Rules of Order, and in common parliamentary law as affirmed by the courts.
  2. We recommend that every council, commission, or other public body establish its own rules of procedure. From our perspective, it makes sense to adopt Robert’s Rules of Order, and then add your own special additional rules that meet the requirements of your particular situation.
  3. Including a time limit on remarks is essential if a body is to conduct its business effectively.
  4. A governing body may prohibit offensive speech, personal attacks, insult, etc. by its own members.
  5. A member who breaks this rule may be reprimanded, censured, or asked to leave the meeting. Such punishment can be inflicted only by the body itself, not by the chair acting alone. Including such consequences in the rules of procedure, though it may not seem necessary when you adopt them, can prove very helpful if your situation changes.
  6. Know what your state law says about public input. In my home state of Washington, for example, the public has the right to attend meetings, but does not have the right under the state constitution or by statute to speak at them. However, most public bodies have created this right by consistently giving the public an opportunity to speak.
  7. In its rules, the body may authorize the chair to make a brief response to a speaker. The chair may state that the body will take the views into consideration during its discussion and may offer to provide information or a response later. (Of course, if you say this, be sure to follow up!)
  8. However, the right to speak and ask questions does not, in and of itself, include the right to an answer. It is important for the chair not to get involved in a back-and-forth exchange with members of the public. We all have a natural impulse to defend ourselves when attacked, but remaining calm and moving on the next item of business may be the most prudent and appropriate response. This also prevents the unfortunate situation wherein the chair makes statements that are then interpreted as the position of the whole body when perhaps they have not been adopted by the body, leading to further wrangling and recrimination.
  9. In general, in creating its rules, a council may impose restrictions pertaining to the way in which public comment is offered. It is fine to impose time limits, or to require that remarks be germane (relevant) to the subject at hand. In some states the body may confine public comment to specified topics.

Also important:

  • While the body may request that speakers refrain from profanity, personal attacks, and so on, caution should be taken before requiring the removal of an individual whose speech is not creating an actual disruption.
  • It is important to distinguish between speech and disruption. In Washington State, if members of the public who are present actually disrupt the meeting, or physical violence is threatened, they can be ordered to leave, the meeting room may be cleared, or the body itself can adjourn the meeting and reconvene in a different place, without the presence of the public but with the presence of the media (RCW 42.30.050.) If you are confronted with actions that seem questionable, your attorney can provide more details of how the courts define “disruption.”

Please note: it is important to distinguish between legal concerns and parliamentary procedure. I am not an attorney and this article does not constitute legal advice. These thoughts are offered from the point of view of parliamentary procedure, which is a part of the common law with its own special history and perspective. Taking the parliamentary view into consideration, you will want to be guided by your attorney.

Honor the First Amendment, Establish Rules, Be Prepared to Act

Angry emotions and disruptive actions can have the effect of hijacking a meeting – and sometimes that’s what protesters at public meetings want. It means, though, that those same protesters are stealing from the public. They are preventing our officials from doing the work that they were elected or appointed to do. We encourage you to be proactive and definite. Honor the First Amendment, establish rules that will protect your group to the best of your legal ability, and be prepared to act when disruption threatens. To do otherwise is to run the risk of wasting your time and the public’s resources.

Have you had to deal with disruptive members of your governing body, or of the public? We invite you to share your experiences.

About the author: Ann G. Macfarlane is a professional parliamentarian who offers fresh insights into Robert’s Rules of Order at Follow Ann on Twitter @AnnGMacfarlane.

HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program Helps End Youth Homelessness

Across the country, local, state and national initiatives are working to end youth homelessness, and many recognize the essential role of law enforcement and juvenile justice agencies in these efforts. 

young lonely homeless man sitting on bridge alone

City leaders and juvenile justice agencies should join conversations with their local Continuum of Care collaborative agencies now in advance of upcoming federal grant opportunities through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD’s Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program (YHDP) will support efforts to end youth homelessness through dedicated funding and targeted technical assistance. HUD will select 10 communities, 4 of which will be rural, for awards between $1 million and $15 million.  The application deadline for YHDP grants is Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

The primary goals of the YHDP are:

  • To support communities that are intentional in the planning and implementation of coordinated efforts to end homelessness for youth and include all the critical sectors, particularly the youth-serving systems like child welfare, juvenile justice and schools.
  • To expand communities’ array of low-barrier housing and service options for youth experiencing homelessness, and to encourage innovation to make those models work better for youth.
  • To understand the similarities and differences in how successful systems to reduce youth homelessness look in urban, suburban and rural settings.

Juvenile justice and city leaders at the table

HUD’s Notice of Funding Announcement emphasizes collaboration and encourages communities to bring together all the key stakeholders before submitting an application for YHDP. Continuum of Care (“CoC”) collaborative agencies interested in applying for YHDP should be sure to include cities’ elected leaders and juvenile justice agencies in application conversations before the Nov. 30 deadline.

City leaders and juvenile justice agencies can also reach out directly to the local CoC agency to start a conversation about YHDP grants. Even if a CoC collaborative does not apply for or doesn’t receive a YHDP grant, these conversations can strengthen local collaboration to end youth homelessness.

Other resources

To learn more about ending youth homelessness, please visit:

Collaborating for Change (an initiative of the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and National Network for Youth)

Youth Homelessness and Juvenile Justice: Opportunities for Collaboration and Impact (Issue brief)

HUD’s Youth Homelessness website and Resources for Homeless Youth Service Providers

National Network for Youth’s What Works to End Youth Homelessness and other resources

A Way Home America a national initiative to end youth homelessness

United States Interagency Council on Homelessness guidance on a coordinated community response to youth homelessness and webinar on strategies for success for responding to HUD’s YHDP NOFA.


About the Authors:

Laura FurrLaura E. Furr is the program manager for justice reform and youth engagement in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Laura on Twitter at @laura_furr and she can be reached at



lisa-pilnikLisa Pilnik is a Senior Advisor to the Coalition for Juvenile Justice where she leads CJJ’s homelessness work, and is Director of Child and Family Policy Associates, a small consulting firm.

Highlights from the 2016 City Summit: Leadership & Professional Development

A quick look at some of the sessions, workshops & seminars held at last week’s national conference that helped attendees further their skills as city leaders.


More than 150 youth delegates from cities around the country engaged in multiple sessions to build their leadership skills, develop ideas for how they can support equity and youth civic engagement, and network with each other and elected officials. (Jason Dixson)

Workshops, Sessions & Panels

Mayors’ Education Task Force – This task force came together on Friday to identify educational priorities that can be lifted up and shared with the new presidential administration. Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Minnesota, chair of the Mayors’ Education Task Force, is committed to advocating for the educational priorities of the task force and working in partnership with President-Elect Trump’s transition team as they develop their education agenda. Mayor Jeff Longwell of Wichita, Kansas, spoke about the opportunity to build on access and affordability for skills training that will provide living wage jobs for citizens of cities across the nation, a priority that may resonate with the next administration.

Taking Action on Economic Opportunity – Aligning with NLC President Matt Zone’s commitment to make economic opportunity a centerpiece of is leadership, this workshop featured four cities that have promising strategies in place to decrease economic inequities: Boston, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Tacoma. Strategies shared included comprehensive city-wide plans to address inequities, minimum wage and paid leave ordinances, community benefit agreements, equitable economic development, and housing. Each city also shared how they are trying to implement these strategies using a race equity lens to ensure that they benefit all residents.

Addressing the Opioid Epidemic in Small Cities – This workshop focused on cities securing their own data on overdoses and overdose deaths, making use of discounts on the medication Naloxone from the U.S. Communities Government Purchasing Alliance, ending the stigma associated with the illness of substance abuse and addiction, seeking ways to offer treatment instead of incarceration, and the necessity of local officials to speak openly and lead aggressively to stem this health crisis. As keynote speaker Mayor Stephen Williams of Huntington, West Virginia, noted, “If you can name the problem, you can own the problem – and if you own the problem, you have a chance to defeat it.”

Promoting Economic Development and Public Safety through Afterschool and Summer Learning Opportunities – Mayor Jennifer Roberts of Charlotte, North Carolina, spoke passionately about the power of afterschool programs and her efforts to host an Afterschool Summit with the first 90 days of her term. Charlotte Councilmember At-Large James Mitchell, Jr., stated, “Afterschool programs not only support academic achievement, they support economic development and produce engaged citizens that our cities need.” Deputy Director Jamie Beechey from Pittsburgh Parks and Recreation and Pittsburgh Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Dara Ware Allen showcased their strong partnership to share data and improve the quality of afterschool programs throughout their city.

Law Enforcement for Today’s City – This workshop presented NLC members with three successful examples of how city leaders can achieve positive outcomes by rethinking the role of law enforcement. The cities of Tallahassee, Florida, Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Irvine, California, shared local models of early diversion and support for residents with mental health needs.

Summer Jobs for Successful Futures – This highly interactive workshop centered around a discussion about how city leaders can push the number of participants in summer jobs programs upwards. Martha Ross brought the intellectual heft of Brookings to the moderator’s chair, Desmond Brown of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau brought a focus on using summer jobs to connect young people with bank accounts, and Stefani Pashman of Pittsburgh and Ronnie Steine of Nashville addressed program scaling. The consensus recommendation: set initially approachable goals and get the right systems for recruiting, placing, training supervisors, and paying participants in place.

Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness panel – On Thursday, City Summit attendees heard about how to build on the progress seen on veteran homelessness and the future of the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. Panelists included Mayor Lovely Warren of Rochester, New York, federal partners, and leaders at the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and Community Solutions. Click here for more information on the Mayors Challenge.

SolSmart City Spotlight Session – SolSmart recognized seven new communities for making it faster, easier, and cheaper to go solar. The city of Indianapolis, Indiana, received SolSmart Silver designation. Charleston County, South Carolina; Inyo County, California; Perry, Iowa; Orlando, Florida; Pinecrest, Florida; and West Hollywood, California, each received SolSmart Bronze designation. Additionally, two communities previously designated SolSmart Bronze moved up to the SolSmart Gold designation: Claremont, California, and Redwood City, California.

NLC Solution Sessions – these sessions showcased best practices from 15 partners that cities can adopt to address the challenges their communities face. Industry experts along with city leaders discussed innovative solutions for economic development, mobility, technology, health, energy and human capital.

Seminars, Meetings, Receptions & More

Constituency Group Affinity Reception – This event brought together all five of NLC’s constituency groups for an evening of networking and celebration. Five individuals local to Pittsburgh, one nominated by each constituency group, were honored for their work as change agents who advocate every day on behalf of their communities. This year’s awardees were: Jim Jen, Executive Director & Chief Officer, AlphaLab, and Executive Director of Innovation Works; Maritza Mosquera, Artist, Educator, and Community-Transformation Partner; Bruce A. Kraus, Council President, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Alma Speed Fox, Trailblazer and Longtime Activist; and Natalia Rudiak, Councilmember, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

WIMG Leadership Award Luncheon and Roundtable Discussions – Carolyn H. Bell, Mayor Pro Tem of Savannah, Georgia, was announced as this year’s recipient of the annual WIMG Leadership Award. She has been a city government administrator for more than 30 years, serving as Mayor Pro Tem for almost five years, and has developed and implemented programs to help engage all levels of Savannah’s constituents. Mayor Pro Tem Bell initiated the “Ask an Alderman” program, partnering with each of the district’s aldermen to take the elected officials and city staff to the people to give them an opportunity to voice their concerns and file service requests for issues in their respective districts. She also helped launch the mayor’s summer internship program, Summer 500, for rising high school seniors. Through a partnership with the public, private, and nonprofit communities, Summer 500 successfully placed 300 youth in 112 businesses across the city of Savannah.

Afterschool Policy Advisors’ Network (APAN) Luncheon – APAN is one of the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) peer networks for local elected officials and senior municipal staff who are committed to afterschool programs or are interested in learning how to provide quality afterschool and/or summer learning opportunities for children and youth. At this event, Bela Shah Spooner, NLC’s Program Manager for Expanded Learning, shared new research with the audience on the changing future workforce, the range of skills that employers predict will be in high demand a decade from now, and how these skills can be taught in afterschool and summer learning programs to support workforce development. NLC First Vice President and Little Rock, Arkansas, Mayor Mark Stodola reiterated his strong support for afterschool programs in his city – Little Rock has a dedicated tax and funding stream that invests $5.5 million in this arena – as well as his support for the NLC’s YEF Institute. Leaders from the Wallace Foundation and the National Summer Learning Association shared information on summer learning, summer jobs, and ideas on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. Participants engaged in a rich discussion about how to reach the neediest youth, ensure programs meet their needs and interests, partner with schools and counties, engage business, and how to get started overall. Audrey M. Hutchinson, NLC’s Education and Expanded Learning Director, said “The number of cities coordinating afterschool and summer efforts across the country continues to grow. Action happens at the local level and municpal leaders are uniquely poised to address the afterschool access gap.” NLC member cities can join APAN anytime at no cost by emailing

NLCU Seminar: UrbanPlan – UrbanPlan is a realistic, engaging exercise in which participants learn about the fundamental forces that affect real estate development in our communities. Participants experienced the challenging issues, private and public sector roles, complex trade-offs, and fundamental economics in play when proposing realistic land use solutions to vexing growth challenges. NLC members learned from experts recruited by the Urban Land Institute, including developers, planners, and designers.

Rose Fellowship Retreat – Mayors Ethan Berkowitz of Anchorage, Rosalynn Bliss of Grand Rapids, Sam Liccardo of San Jose, and Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C., led teams from their cities in this year’s Rose Fellowship, which will receive technical assistance on a local land use challenge from NLC, the Urban Land Institute, and their peers from the other fellowship cities. The four city teams convened for an all-day retreat where they heard from the outgoing class of team leaders from Birmingham, Denver, Long Beach, and Rochester about the work they have accomplished on land use challenges in their cities during the year-long Rose Fellowship.

Prosperity Playbook Meeting – Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro led a discussion among three mayors about successes and barriers in their cities and regions: Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed. Following the mayors panel, leaders from 15 cities across the country discussed the need for cities to lead and share strategies to further fair housing, promote access to economic opportunity, and develop regional approaches to address these challenges, especially to keep these topics front-and-center with a new administration at HUD.

NLC Member Benefits – Attendees who missed any information provided at the NLC Showcase Theater or the Savings and Solutions booth can review all programs and savings available to NLC members here. You can also check out NLC’s newest member benefit, Grant Access, a database which allows NLC members to access more than 5,800 federal, state and local grant opportunities, search grant categories by funder type or funder name, and set up personalized grant alerts.

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

Building Trust Between Police and the Communities They Serve

This resource, presented to city leaders at NLC’s City Summit in Pittsburgh, offers a wealth of information to help municipal officials build stronger police-community relationships.

(Getty Images)

Led by Chief Cameron McLay, police in the city of Pittsburgh are mirroring efforts in other cities around the country to build trust with the communities they serve. (Sean Pavone/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Jack Calhoun.

Municipal leaders can choose what kind of policing they will seek to provide to their constituents. In recent years, more have been choosing to place greater emphasis on police-community partnerships and the co-production of safety, which necessitates a strong focus on equity, transparency, accountability, shared information, and changes in how police are trained, evaluated and promoted.

There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens. In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans. While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies. Many officers who do not share this common heritage often struggle to comprehend the reasons behind this historic mistrust. As a result, they are often unable to bridge this gap and connect with some segments of their communities… The first step in this process is for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color. – Terrence M. Cunningham, President, The International Association of Chiefs of Police

In the wake of recent and highly-publicized shootings of both residents of color and police officers, many mayors and other city leaders are wrestling with these choices. In some communities, the resulting changes are sweeping and dramatic. For example, in the Watts section of Los Angeles, a neighborhood with mostly Black and Latino residents, new policies include a five-year residency requirement for sworn officers, co-screening of police by community members, and evaluation and promotion criteria based in large part on the quality and frequency of their community contacts and crime reduction in the neighborhoods they serve. In cities like New Orleans and Tacoma, Washington, community conversations with law enforcement and residents of color are providing space for racial healing by acknowledging the historical role of policing in the creation of racial inequities. In other cities, elected officials are taking more incremental but still hopeful steps to strengthen ties between police and the community.

Enforcement is not the core of our work. Harm reduction, sustaining healthy communities and work with youth lie at our heart. We must co-produce safety with the community…we need training on the rightful role of police and training for mayors on hiring police chiefs, as public safety is their most important job and the chief of police is their most important hire. – Jim Bueermann, President, The Police Foundation

Too little research has been done on the effectiveness of these efforts to know with certainty the most effective ways to build police-community trust. Nonetheless, a wealth of ideas and city examples give municipal officials many ways to get started. Five areas seem particularly promising for local action: engaging the community in planning and oversight; improving police training; promoting youth development; connecting residents to resources; and building personal relationships between police officers and residents. Here are a number of examples from each area:

Engaging the Community in Planning and Oversight

  • Community conversations about race and police-community relations (many cities)
  • Police and community working together to develop comprehensive violence prevention plans (many cities)
  • MOUs that enhance data sharing and prevention planning
  • “Micro-Community Policing Plans” (neighborhood safety plans developed with local residents in Seattle)
  • Citizen Police Academies (many cities)
  • “Community of Trust Committee” (Fairfax County, Virginia)
  • Police/Clergy Advisory Boards (many cities)
  • Police meeting with faith community following officer-involved shooting (Long Beach, California)
  • Establishing success indicators to measure the progress of strategies to increase trust between law enforcement and the community
  • Sharing plans with trusted community partners (e.g., local chapters of the NAACP and National Council of La Raza, the faith community)

Improving Training and Support for Police Officers

  • Implicit bias training
  • De-escalation of force training
  • Cultural competency training
  • Changing how officers are evaluated and promoted (Watts, California; Camden, New Jersey)
  • Community service in Police Academy training (e.g., mentoring youth throughout academy training)
  • “Transparency” policies
  • Training police officers to police one another (New Orleans)
  • Recruitment and hiring of minority and bilingual, bi-cultural law enforcement officers
  • “Adopt a Cop” (e.g., churches praying for, caring for individual officers in San Jose, California)

Promoting and Supporting Youth Development

  • Mentoring (“Youth Pride” in Providence; “Ambassadors Program” in Saint Paul)
  • Tutoring (Santa Rosa, California; “OK” program in Oakland, California; PACER in Camden)
  • Coaching football/basketball; police-athletic leagues (PAL in many cities)
  • Chief’s Youth Advisory Board (Louisville, Kentucky)
  • Police Cadet Program (Los Angeles)
  • Police Academy (Washington, D.C.)
  • Explorer Scouts (many cities)
  • “Challenges and Choices” taught by police in public schools (Los Angeles)
  • “Officer Friendly” programs in schools
  • Safety camps for youth (New Orleans)
  • Youth/police dialogues (New Orleans, Seattle)
  • Youth and Police Initiatives (Spokane; several sites in Massachusetts via Northeast Family Institute)

Connecting Residents to Community Resources

  • Mental health clinicians riding with officers (Oakland); mental health officers (Madison, Wisconsin)
  • Making citizens aware of essential services (e.g., homeless shelters, addiction treatment, housing and code enforcement)
  • Social workers stationed in police departments (Boston)
  • “Quality of Life Officers” (New Orleans)
  • Community Policing Officers spotting and responding to non-enforcement problems such as poor lighting, absence of stop signs, local parks in disarray, problem bars (many cities)
  • Diversion from arrest (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion in many cities)
  • Police/Human Services/School partnership to divert low-level offenders to services, which include school retention strategies (Philadelphia)
  • Citation and release (Charleston, South Carolina)
  • Officers linking caregivers to child protection agencies following arrest of a parent
  • Police Departments supporting “Peacemaker or Street Worker” (Cure Violence) initiatives, most of which are staffed by ex-offenders

Building Personal Relationships between Officers and Residents

  • Pop Up Barbeques (Camden)
  • Bike Patrols (Minneapolis, Minnesota; Covina, California)
  • Operation Hoodsie (ice cream) Cup (Boston)
  • Police/Youth Chats (Louisville)
  • Coffee with a Cop, Coke with a Cop, Shop with a Cop (several cities)
  • “Open Up” (police delivering food to people experiencing poverty in Knoxville, Tennessee)
  • Police attending community meetings (many cities)
  • Police worshipping in local churches/singing in choirs, attending local sport events & funerals
  • Peace Walks with community groups (Long Beach; Boston; Richmond, California; Seattle)
  • Help giving away food; planting trees (New Orleans)
  • “Trust Talks” (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)
  • Clergy (Baltimore) and citizen “Ride-Alongs” (many cities)
  • Acknowledge need for reconciliation and for vehicles that promote trust
  • Use of communication vehicles to share police programs, policies, practice

More Resources

  • National League of Cities (“Policing in the 21st Century”)
  • President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (recommendations derived from national hearings)
  • The Police Foundation (evidence-based approaches to improve policing)
  • The Police Executive Research Forum (program and policy research, TA provider, author of “Guiding Principles on Use of Force”)
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police (providing research, education on exemplary practice to its worldwide association of police professionals)
  • S. Conference of Mayors (“Strengthening Police-Community Relations in America,” a report by a working group of mayors and police chiefs)
  • National Conference of State Legislators (policy actions states can take)
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (policing and the mentally ill)
  • Campaign Zero (10 recommendations to reduce police violence from the community perspective)
  • Vera Institute of Justice (“How to Support Trust Building in Your Agency”)
  • John Jay College, National Institute for Building Trust (initiative in six cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Gary, Indiana; Minneapolis; Pittsburgh; Stockton, California)
  • National Association of Counties (reports on various criminal justice issues)

For more information on building police-community trust, contact Leon T. Andrews, Jr., the director of NLC’s Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative, at

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 is the 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. His new book, Policy Walking: Lighting Paths to Safer Communities, Stronger Families & Thriving Youth, is available now.

Why Engaging with NLC Helps Your City

Getting involved with an NLC committee, council or constituency group gives city leaders an edge when it comes to knowing the best practices – and the right people – they need to get the job done for their constituents.


Our constituency groups have been established over the years to reflect the diverse interests and backgrounds of NLC’s membership, and they work collaboratively with NLC to contribute to leadership development, policy formulation, advocacy, and program activities.

This is a guest post by Melodee Colbert-Kean.

I often hear from both new and long-term NLC members about the value of “finding a home” within NLC – whether that home is a federal advocacy committee, a member council, or a constituency group. NLC membership offers extensive networking opportunities, and getting involved with one of these groups gives city leaders an edge when it comes to knowing the best practices – and the right people – they need to get the job done for their constituents.

NLC’s federal advocacy committees in particular are charged with developing our policy positions, and they serve as lead advocates in support of our legislative priorities. Given the challenges that cities faced this year, and the challenges that lie ahead, it’s important that we have strong city leaders, strong advocates, and strong NLC members. This year, the federal advocacy committees served as our lead advocates on many of the issues that matter most to cities. Here’s a quick breakdown of what each committee accomplished.

Finance, Administration and Intergovernmental Relations (FAIR) – Darius Brown, Councilmember, Wilmington, Delaware

The FAIR Committee addressed the many fiscal and infrastructure issues that might pose challenges in the next year. The committee reaffirmed its support for preserving the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds, noting their importance in making Main Street infrastructure improvements. This work builds the foundation of our engagement with the next administration and a new Congress as tax reform and infrastructure are at the forefront of their agendas. Passing e-Fairness legislation was another advocacy priority for NLC, and this year the committee worked hard to put online and Main Street retailers on a level playing field.

Energy, Environment and Natural Resources (EENR) – Ron Nirenberg, Councilmember, San Antonio, Texas

The EENR Committee continued its advocacy efforts on climate change and water infrastructure, focusing on the intersection of the issues as well as financing mechanisms for new and existing infrastructure and integrated planning and affordability issues for communities. NLC continues to urge Congress to resolve the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan. On climate, building on NLC’s participation in and support for the U.N. Climate Agreement, NLC and cities across the country advocated support for the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions.

Human Development (HD) – Leta Mach, Councilmember, Greenbelt, Maryland

The HD Committee continued its advocacy efforts to ensure strong, healthy and welcoming cities for all. This work focused on education and training, specifically the programs and services that can support youth as they prepare for and enter the workforce. The committee also strongly advocated for Zika funding as part of the stopgap spending package passed in September and support to cities during these times of public health crisis.

Community and Economic Development (CED) – Craig Thurmond, Mayor, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

Building off our Cities Lead work this year, the CED Committee developed a resolution supporting a federal agenda for local economic development and entrepreneurship. Economic development and local entrepreneurship remain the top issues for our nation’s cities and towns, according to a comprehensive analysis of mayoral state of the city speeches. Specifically, the resolution calls for an increase in access to capital for small businesses and entrepreneurs and development programs for cities.

Transportation Infrastructure and Services (TIS) – Patrick Wojahn, Mayor, College Park, Maryland

The TIS Committee made several policy changes to help ensure a positive federal response to a rapidly transforming transportation network. For the first time, the TIS committee passed policy addressing long-standing racial inequities both in our transportation infrastructure and in a planning process that has too often ignored communities of color and low income as well as other underserved communities. The committee also passed policy calling on the federal government to partner with cities on the rollout of automated, shared and electric vehicles, as well as policy calling for the Federal Aviation Administration and Congress to not pass any law or regulation that preempts local authority in the regulation of when, where and how drones operate within our communities. Finally, the committee passed a comprehensive resolution calling for Congress and the administration to work on increasing the gas tax and indexing it to inflation and fuel efficiency standards to ensure the long-term health of the Highway Trust Fund.

Public Safety and Crime Prevention (PSCP) – Anthony Anderson, Councilmember, SeaTac, Washington

The PSCP Committee worked on advancing local efforts to improve police-community relations through increased training in de-escalation tactics, racial and implicit bias, and the use of nonlethal force to cultivate police officers as leaders in and guardians of their communities. The committee also advocated for the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) to authorize additional funding for local governments to combat the opioid epidemic. Finally, the committee’s work focused on advancing policies to reduce gun violence and mass shootings in our communities.

Information Technology and Communications (ITC) – Sheri Capehart, Mayor Pro Tempore, Arlington, Texas

The ITC Committee handles issues relating to technology and telecommunications services, from traditional telephones and cable to broadband internet. This year, the committee focused on consumer protection, expanding access to affordable broadband internet, and opposing state preemption of municipal broadband networks. The committee also worked hard to promote the inclusion of broadband in policy debates about infrastructure and best practices in smart city technologies.

I would like to personally thank the chairs and vice chairs of the advocacy committees for their service to NLC this year and their leadership on these important issues. I also want to thank all the NLC members who served on the committees for bringing their voices and perspectives to the table to develop policy and advocate at the federal level on the issues that matter most to cities. I encourage all NLC members to join a committee, council or constituency group today so that you, too, can take your involvement in local government to the next level.

If you are interested in joining a Federal Advocacy Committee in 2017, the deadline for applying is Nov. 23, 2016. The application can be found here.

About the author: Melodee Colbert-Kean is the president of the National League of Cities and a Joplin, Missouri, councilmember.

A Prescription for Action: Ending the Opioid Crisis

A new report on the opioid epidemic issued today by the National League of Cities (NLC) and National Association of Counties (NACo) brings the knowledge and experience of city and county leaders to peers in local government and to partners at the state and federal levels.

According to the CDC, "more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled."

Cities urgently need a plan of action to combat the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, “more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled.”

Incidents of prescription drug and heroin overdoses and deaths is at epidemic levels. The number of deaths from these causes now exceeds those from automobile accidents according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the raw numbers are overwhelming in themselves, they fail to shed adequate light on the extent of the human tragedy in America’s cities and counties where local leaders confront the realities of this public health epidemic one life at a time.

In response to the growing opioid crisis, the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) today released, “A Prescription for Action: Local Resolve in Ending the Opioid Crisis.” The report brings the knowledge and experience of city and county leaders to peers in local government and to partners at the state and federal levels. Specifically, it addresses issues of leadership, prevention and education, treatment, public safety and law enforcement, as well as specialized recommendations for federal and state governments.

The report comes from the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which was convened by NLC and NACo earlier this year. The members of the taskforce – city and county leaders from across the country – are intimately familiar with the devastating impact the opioid epidemic has had on local communities.

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Click to view fullsize.

Luckily, however, cities and counties are the places where creative and innovative strategies may be tested and scaled up. As in so many cases, the solutions being implemented across America by city and county governments to address the opioids epidemic are proving successful. Whether it’s the Safe Stations initiative in Manchester, N.H., drug market intervention in High Point, N.C., Recovery Coaches in Ocean County, N.J., or the Seattle-King County LEAD program, these harm-reduction efforts are changing the dynamics of the epidemic and are helping reverse the negative stigma attached to the illness of addiction.


These efforts must be reflected at the state and federal level as well. In its report, the task force recommends that state and federal officials work to expand treatment options, tighten medication prescribing practices and prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP), reform Medicaid mandates, reduce barriers to clean needle and syringe programs, and intensify efforts to stop drug trafficking.

Of course, a more extensive list of recommendations and a set of resources are directed at local leaders. We know well that it is the city and county leaders who are entrusted with preserving the health, safety, and vitality of our communities. It is those leaders who have the duty to act with urgency to break the cycle of addiction, overdose, and death that has taken hold in so many corners of our nation.

The task force report challenges city and county officials to lead. From federal and state governments, the report seeks a partnership and a shared responsibility. For all parties, the report and the website offers tools and snapshots of promising practices that can be replicated.

Although this report concludes the work of the task force, both NLC and NACo have been directed to continue their efforts in this field, especially in efforts to confront the racial disparities in access to treatment and in the operation of the criminal justice system for those suffering from addiction.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: Jim Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Pittsburgh Welcomes City Summit Attendees

In this guest post, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto personally welcomes city leaders to NLC’s 2016 City Summit.

(Getty Images)

Pittsburgh’s Gilded Age sites, including the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, speak to its history as an early-20th-century industrial capital. In the North Shore neighborhood are the modern Andy Warhol Museum, Heinz Field football stadium and PNC Park baseball stadium. (Getty Images)

On behalf of the City of Pittsburgh, I am deeply honored to welcome you to America’s “Most Livable City.” We are delighted that the National League of Cities (NLC) has selected Pittsburgh as the host city for its 2016 City Summit, and we look forward to showcasing our great city to this exceptional group of 3,500 city officials.

It’s wonderful that leaders from across the nation are meeting in Pittsburgh. During the 2016 City Summit, I know you’ll be learning through NLC University Seminars that will build your technical and leadership skills. Mobile workshops in and around Pittsburgh will also showcase collaborative solutions to issues facing local government. Finally, there will be a plethora of conference sessions spanning topics most relevant to your community, from economic development and sustainability to transportation alternatives and the impact of climate change on cities.

It’s fitting that the smartest ideas for city success will be shared here in Pittsburgh, one of America’s most innovative cities. I look forward to showcasing some of the innovative work that’s happening right here in the “City of Bridges.”

As you experience Pittsburgh, you’ll find that it is a revitalized city which has been transformed through job creation, impressive neighborhood development, and a thriving and innovative high-tech economy. Pittsburgh today is a growing city, a younger city, and an educated city. As we continue to celebrate the city’s Bicentennial, now is truly an exciting time to be in Pittsburgh!

Pittsburgh is fast becoming one of America’s most celebrated cities. Travel + Leisure named it a “best place to travel in the world.” Zagat named Pittsburgh the “number one food city in the United States.” With a vibrant arts scene, family-friendly attractions, incredible professional and collegiate sports action, and beautiful riverfront trails and development, Pittsburgh is full of unique amenities that everyone can enjoy.

While staying in our great city, I encourage you to experience the many things that make Pittsburgh so exceptional. Venture out into our friendly neighborhoods. Take a ride on the historic inclines to see the breathtaking view from Mt. Washington – ranked among the most beautiful views in America. Visit our world-class museums, and see a performance in our Cultural District, where you can enjoy spectacular shows and cutting-edge art galleries.

Once again, welcome to Pittsburgh! I hope that you are as impressed with our city as I am proud of it. Best wishes to all 2016 City Summit attendees for a great conference!

About the author: William “Bill” Peduto is the 60th mayor of Pittsburgh. He previously served as a member of the Pittsburgh City Council from 2002 until 2014.