How Cities Can Prepare for the New OPEB Accounting Requirements

The new Government Accounting Standards Board changes described in this posting have implications for all cities. Here are some suggestions for cities that offer retiree healthcare benefits and sponsor those benefits themselves.

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One way cities that focus on reducing health plan claim and administrative costs can reduce their liability without cutting benefits is to encourage healthy behaviors by implementing a wellness program. (Getty Images)

Beginning in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, cities who sponsor “other postemployment benefit (OPEB)” plans (e.g., retiree healthcare) will have to recognize the unfunded liabilities of those plans on their balance sheets. OPEB plans provide benefits other than pensions in retirement: typically health coverage, but sometimes life insurance or other benefits. Cities that participate in statewide OPEB plans will soon face new accounting requirements, but will have limited ability to manage their liabilities – so this article is directed to cities that sponsor their own plans.

Unlike pensions, most employers who sponsor their own OPEB plans have not been setting aside assets in a trust to fund these benefits, which means they are already carrying an OPEB liability on their balance sheets. The disclosures under the new OPEB accounting standards, GASB 74 and 75, require a new methodology for calculating that liability, and the results may be startling to stakeholders like ratings agencies, unions, and taxpayers – with perhaps the biggest surprises coming in communities that thought their OPEB liabilities were well-defined and manageable.

Given the potential magnitude of this disclosure, it is important for municipal leaders, residents, and employees to know that the coming change in the OPEB liability calculation is due to a change in accounting rules, not any error or malfeasance. In fact, this disclosure can serve as a wake-up call that can encourage all stakeholders to take action to help build a sustainable OPEB plan. Unfunded OPEB liabilities can be reduced by lowering plan liabilities (some type of plan benefit or administration change), increasing plan assets (increased plan contributions), or a combination of the two.

It is crucial that city leaders understand the legal and collective bargaining barriers to any strategy they wish to employ to lower OPEB liabilities. Then, assuming the primary benefit under the OPEB program is retiree health coverage, consider the following:

Seize the low-hanging fruit. Because OPEB plans deliver a non-cash benefit, cities that focus on reducing health plan claim and administrative costs can reduce their liability without cutting benefits. For example:

  • When was the last time you sought competitive bids from healthcare coverage providers? If more than a couple of years ago, it may be time to seek proposals.
  • Encourage healthy behaviors by implementing a wellness program. These programs cover items such as smoking cessation and weight loss. These have been shown to lower health claims.
  • Add a new option to your health plan offerings, featuring lower premiums but a higher deductible. Encouraging consumer-driven behavior has been known to lower health plan costs.

Consider funding the OPEB plan. The act of accumulating plan assets to pay future benefits allows the plan’s actuary to use a higher discount rate to determine plan liabilities, thus lowering them. This can have a significant impact on the size of the OPEB liability. It makes good economic sense as well, because benefits will be partly paid by investment income on plan assets, not just by current year revenues. Of course, the down side to funding is that, initially, plan cash requirements will be higher than a pay-as-you-go funding scheme.

Consider benefit reductions. There are many possible design options to be considered. For example:

  • Increase the portion of the health premium paid by the retiree. This can be done by: (i) increasing retirees’ monthly premium payments; (ii) setting a cap on the amount of the premium paid for by the employer; or, (iii) increasing plan deductibles and copayments.
  • Shorten the period of time over which the health coverage is provided. This can be done by raising retirement eligibility requirements for the health benefits or by curtailing coverage after the retiree becomes eligible for Medicare.
  • Offer fewer benefits, by eliminating such items as Medicare Part B premium reimbursements, vision care, or dependent coverage.

Legal and collective bargaining barriers are especially important when considering benefit reductions such as these. In some cases, it may be necessary to apply these changes only to future retirees, or even only to new employees going forward.

When considering any of these strategies, it is important to consult with your legal and actuarial advisors. However, when applied thoughtfully, one or more of these actions can mitigate the impact of GASB’s new OPEB accounting standards on your balance sheet, and can help you take better control of your OPEB plan’s costs.

les_richmond_125x150About the author: Les Richmond is the in-house pension actuary for Build America Mutual (BAM), which NLC’s preferred provider of municipal bond insurance and the leading insurer of municipal bonds sold by small- and mid-sized governments in the U.S. He reviews the pension risks for every issuer BAM considers for insurance, and is an expert on the impact of the new accounting rules on municipal financial statements.

Five Ways Your City Can Benefit from the “Solar in Your Community” Challenge

Offering $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance over 18 months, the Challenge supports local teams across the country in their efforts to develop programs or projects that bring solar to their communities.

There are 19 megawatts of solar installed in the city of Portland. Pictured is the Oregon Convention Center. (Jeremy Jeziorski)

This is a guest post by Odette Mucha.

In 2016, solar energy was the largest source of new generating capacity in the United States. With more than one million solar projects now operating across the country, the U.S. has over 35 gigawatts of total solar installed capacity – enough to power the equivalent of 6.5 million average American homes. This is an industry that is growing fast.

Despite this rapid growth, however, solar energy remains inaccessible to nearly half of American households and businesses, as well as many local governments and nonprofits. There are several reasons for this:

  • Nearly half of all rooftops cannot host solar due to insufficient roof space, lack of control over the roof (renters, condos), or shading.
  • While the federal Investment Tax Credit has grown the solar market, it excludes individuals and organizations with no federal tax liability, such as cities, nonprofits, low income individuals, and retirees
  • Low income populations face even greater challenges, often due to poor roof conditions, lower than average credit scores, and lack of access to affordable financing.

And yet, these communities stand to benefit the most from going solar – from stabilizing their energy costs to reducing air pollution. Cities go solar through the Solar in Your Community Challenge, a program launched by U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative to expand solar access to those who have, to date, been left out of the growing solar market.

The Solar in Your Community Challenge encourages the development of innovative financial and business models that serve low and moderate-income communities, local governments, and/or non-profits. Offering $5 million in cash prizes and technical assistance over 18 months, the Challenge supports local teams across the country in their efforts to develop programs or projects that bring solar to these segments of their communities, while proving that these business models can be widely replicated and scaled up.

Why should cities participate in the Solar in Your Community Challenge?

  1. Save Money on Municipal Electricity Bills

Local governments, which own approximately 10 percent of commercial buildings (schools, office buildings, public assembly buildings, etc.), spend approximately $14.7 billion on electricity – 12 percent of total commercial building expenditures (EIA data). Solar energy can cut cities’ monthly electricity bills and make funds available for other priorities.

  1. Create Local Jobs

The solar industry is a proven driver of job growth. As deployment has soared, so have solar jobs – there are nearly 209,000 solar workers in the U.S. today, with more than half of them in installation jobs that can’t be outsourced. Further, these workers are paid competitive wages, with installers making a median wage of $21 per hour.

  1. Help Low Income Residents

Low income households pay a large portion of their income towards electricity bills. An analysis by Groundswell found that the lowest income households spent nearly 10 percent of their income, over four times more than the average consumer. Access to low cost solar can provide price stability and bill relief to low and moderate income households.

  1. Improve Resiliency

Cities around the country are facing increased threats from natural disasters and are taking steps to plan for them. During extreme weather events, solar energy can help prevent outages, provide energy for critical facilities, and aid in recovery efforts. Solar can also provide energy to remote areas.

  1. Meet Environmental Goals

Using solar power instead of conventional forms of energy reduces the amount of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and other pollutants that are emitted into the environment. Reducing the amount of pollution translates into cleaner air, reduced water consumption, and improved health.

Cities can participate in the challenge in two ways – as part of a program team or a project team.

Program teams create new programs that enable the installation of solar for use by low income households, governmental organizations and/or nonprofits. Program Teams will be led by governments, utilities or financial institutions.

Project teams develop and install a new solar system or a portfolio of systems that benefit low income households, governmental organizations and/or nonprofits using innovative and scalable business practices. Project Teams can be led by anyone, but should include a combination of key organizations like cities, solar developers, utilities, financial institutions and community organizations.

The application deadline to participate in the Challenge is March 17, 2017. Click here to learn more about the Solar in Your Community Challenge and apply today!

odette_mucha_125x150About the author: Odette Mucha is a Technology Manager at the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative. She is the manager of the Solar in Your Community Challenge.

The Secret to a Healthier City: Sharing Data

To be effective and strategic in their decision-making, city leaders striving to build a culture of health need diverse, usable, high-quality data sources that are integrated, timely, relevant and geographically precise.

“In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.” - Dr. Andrew Beck, pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s

“In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.” – Dr. Andrew Beck, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

This post was co-authored by Peter Eckart, Alison Rein and Nick Wallace.

Data can be a powerful tool for understanding issues, making smarter decisions, and improving results – and city leaders can help build a culture of health by supporting the collection, access and use of data to establish programs and policies that improve both economic and population health through education, transportation, housing and other critical issues.

However, collecting and using data from multiple sources and sectors is challenging, and is often hampered by the organizational, cultural, and budgetary silos that pervade municipal government. Data collected by local hospitals, the department of health, and the Mayor’s office are not often shared with one another due to real or perceived legal restrictions, turf issues, and lack of capacity. While opening access to data and allowing it to be integrated with other data types and sources is not yet the norm for city leadership, a few cities have modeled the extraordinary benefits of such efforts.

Community Health Peer Learning Program (CHP) grantee, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has embarked on an effort to identify “hot spots” where the incidence of disease, such as asthma, is especially high. Between 2009 and 2011, children from low-income areas in Hamilton County were 88 times more likely to be admitted into the hospital for emergency asthma treatment than children from high-income areas. Pinpointing the disparities at the neighborhood level has allowed the hospital to partner with the Cincinnati Health Department to more effectively link at-risk children to home inspectors that can help to identify the existence of potential health hazards. The hospital has also built a medical-legal partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati to pursue legal advocacy when dealing with noncompliant landlords. Thus, home hazards like lead, pests, and mold have been mitigated, new roofs have been installed on several buildings and new heating and air-conditioning units have been put in. The community also recently received a $29 million grant from HUD to accelerate the rehab in one at-risk neighborhood.

Dr. Andrew Beck, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s, notes, “Hospitals and social service agencies, public and private, seek to promote health and wellness among those they serve. We seek the same goal, but we generally work separately. In Cincinnati, partnerships, shared expertise, and data integration have helped us as we seek answers to complex problems. Indeed, I have come to learn that seeking consultation from a housing expert may prove just as valuable to my patients and families as would a consultation from a cardiologist or gastroenterologist.”

The example from Cincinnati makes it clear that leaders should be intentional about nurturing and encouraging a culture of data sharing across various organizations and sectors. Building these sometimes difficult but necessary data sharing relationships is core to All In: Data for Community Health, a nationwide learning collaborative that aims to help communities build capacity to address the social determinants of health through multi-sector data sharing. The two founding partners of All In, Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) and the CHP Program recently presented together on NLC’s Culture of Health Web Forum Series. The BUILD Health Challenge and the Colorado Health Foundation’s Connecting Communities and Care have also become partners in All In, which now collectively represents 50 local data sharing projects across the country.

Here are just a few lessons from the All In learning collaboration that may be useful to cities in the early stages of multi-sector data sharing:

  1. Relationships are critical to moving data integration forward: Sharing data is as much about relationships as it is about technology. Everything that we know about making collaborations work – developing a shared understanding of the problem, willingness to work together, building trust, communicating clearly, creating a shared governance – applies even more to data sharing partnerships.
  2. Effective data sharing is a considerable time investment, and requires laser-like focus on the problem statement: It can take several years to get people to the table, build meaningful relationships, learn how other sectors operate, and develop data sharing agreements. Creating an environment for data sharing that supports and sustains this commitment requires gaining buy-in from partners and key community stakeholders to ensure their dedication to the driving purpose and continued participation over the long haul.
  3. Data can be used both to identify and characterize city challenges, and to effectively target limited city resources: City officials often know they have an issue, but data are critical for determining scale and scope, and for understanding root causes. Similarly, once these challenges are better understood, interventions are often based on the knowledge that integrated data permits better targeting of city services (e.g., lead poisoning abatement, falls prevention, city planning), and more efficient use of scarce resources.

While there is no roadmap for this complex work of building multi-sector partnerships to share data, there are several resources available to city leaders who want to learn from others who have been down a similar path.

  • Thirty cities nationwide are engaged in the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership (NNIP), a peer network of open data intermediaries. The NNIP shares lessons from local partners to help strengthen capacity for data-driven decision-making.
  • Github is an open source hub that contains many technical tools for sharing data that can be adapted by others.
  • What Works Cities is a national initiative designed to accelerate cities’ use of data and evidence to improve results for their residents.
  • DASH’s Environmental Scan provides a nationwide snapshot of the current state of multi-sector data sharing initiatives for community health. AcademyHealth will soon release a scan of the national program offices supporting these initiatives.
  • The All In Data for Community Health learning collaborative regularly shares news and resources to help guide and advance the field of multi-sector data sharing for health. Sign up for the monthly newsletter to get updates.

Not sure where to access data? Check out some useful data tools for cities, including Community Commons, County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, The National Equity Atlas, and the 500 Cities Project.

City leaders play a critical role in building lasting multi-sector partnerships that help unleash the full potential of local data. As city leaders innovate and experiment, it’s critical that they share their challenges and successes. If we are agile and open to learning from others, we can maximize data infrastructure investments to achieve greater collective impact.

About the authors:

peter_eckart_125x150Peter Eckart, M.A., is Co-Director of Data Across Sectors for Health at the Illinois Public Health Institute.

 

alison_rein_125x150Alison Rein, M.S., is Senior Director of the Community Health Peer Learning Program at AcademyHealth.

 

nick_wallace_125x150Nick Wallace is an Associate for Health and Wellness at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Top 5 Most Popular NLC Blog Posts of 2016

This year saw a number of posts that reached thousands of readers and were shared widely on social media. Here are the top five, in no particular order.

7 Ways City Leaders Can Address Racial Inequities
City leaders must step up to take the lead with their police departments and community members to address racial inequities in their respective cities and towns.

10 Innovative Ways to Attract Millennials to Your City
Philadelphia is a city that has implemented a set of successful policies aimed at attracting and retaining talent in the last decade. During that same period, the city’s population grew by 100,000.

Four Bad Habits to Avoid at City Council Meetings
Learning these principles and avoiding these bad habits will improve your meetings — and your decision-making.

5 Ways Parks Provide a Return on Investment
Parks and public spaces are an integral part of the atmosphere and culture of a city or town. More than that, though, they have a massive positive financial impact – one that is generally overlooked.

5 Things Mayors Can Do to Create Healthier Communities
NLC’s new report, Addressing Health Disparities in Cities: Lessons from the Field, provides lessons learned and examples of actions that mayors and other city leaders are taking to intentionally address childhood obesity-related health disparities.

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

New NLC Task Force to Focus on Expanding Economic Opportunity

Launched by NLC President Matt Zone, the task force will pursue a three-pronged strategy over the next year that will include municipal engagement and peer learning, documentation of promising and emerging city approaches, and education and training for city officials.

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Cities on the NLC task force are already taking action to expand economic opportunity in many ways, such as focusing on housing affordability in high poverty neighborhoods. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Courtney Coffin and Heidi Goldberg.

“Cities are where hope meets the streets.” – Mayor Kasim Reed, City of Atlanta

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed’s insightful words in his opening reflections as Chair of NLC’s new Task Force on Mobility and Opportunity last month recognize the vital role that city leaders must play to address the growing economic gaps that plague our cities.

NLC President Matt Zone, a Cleveland councilmember who has committed to making economic opportunity his key issue for his year as NLC’s chief elected officer, launched the task force comprised of 22 local elected officials from across the country in November. Under the leadership of Mayor Reed, the inaugural meeting marked NLC’s commitment to address economic disparities and the beginning of a three-pronged strategy over the next year that will include municipal engagement and peer learning, documentation of promising and emerging city approaches, and education and training for city officials.

As shown by discussions throughout the recent election process, although unemployment is at an all-time low, millions of financially strained families are desperate to find ways to increase their economic stability. Growing economic disparities in communities across the country highlight the need for access to well-paying jobs, housing and assets for families struggling to achieve the American Dream. These challenges are a key concern for city leaders as the financial health of a city depends on the economic security – and mobility – of its residents.

City leaders can prioritize expanding economic opportunities for residents while also balancing municipal budgets. Research from the Urban Institute has found that financially healthy families are more likely to be able to contribute consistently to local government revenues and are less likely to need city supports. City revenue streams depend on utility payments, sales and property taxes generated by residents and local businesses. If the local economy isn’t thriving and residents are not financially stable, the city as a whole suffers.

The solutions for these issues are increasingly found at the city level as policy action is often stalled at the federal and state levels. In this environment, city leaders are well-poised to stabilize their cities by serving as champions for expanding economic opportunity.

Cities are already taking action. In Pittsburgh, for example, task force member Mayor Bill Peduto is working hard to ensure that all residents can participate in the city’s revitalization and newfound prosperity. Partnering with PolicyLink, the city developed a five point plan focused on housing affordability in high poverty neighborhoods, equitable economic development, expanding employment and asset building opportunities, addressing racial inequities, and working with coalitions and community organizations to build community power.

Task force member and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh is committed to addressing poverty with an agenda focused on economic equity and inclusion. His agenda includes increasing wages and employment opportunities, business development strategies for low-income residents, wealth creation strategies including financial empowerment services and children’s savings accounts, as well as strategies to build economic mobility for youth.

These strategies and many more identified during the first task force meeting will be examined during the group’s year-long tenure. The task force is charged with identifying recommendations for local action to address common economic barriers keeping many families from sharing in our country’s prosperity.

In his first speech to members as president of NLC, Councilmember Matt Zone challenged cities to make economic mobility “a pillar that supports our work for America’s cities.” He added, “Now more than ever, the economic well-being of our families is at risk, and we, as local officials, can be the key instruments of change and economic mobility. We must build a future where every one of us has economic mobility and opportunity… we must be intentional about promoting equity in all of our policies and projects.”

About the authors:

courtney_coffin_125x150 Courtney Coffin is an associate for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Contact Courtney at coffin@nlc.org.

 

heidi_goldberg_125x150Heidi Goldberg is the Director for Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Heidi on Twitter at @GoldbergHeidi.

What Cities Need to Know About the Booming eSports Industry

The world of professional, competitive video gaming is expanding at a rapid pace – and you might be surprised to learn that cities stand to benefit from its growth.

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Twitch streamers (professional competitive video gamers) gather at the White House for its first-ever competitive gaming event on Monday, December 12, 2016.

This post was co-authored by Angelina Panettieri and Courtney Bernard.

This week, more than 220,000 people tuned in to watch the first-ever White House eSports event on Twitch. For those not familiar with the video game industry, this event may prompt a few questions – namely, what are eSports and Twitch? Why is this a draw for so many people? And what could this mean for my community?

NLC staff were on-site for the event, and we’ve compiled the top things every city leader needs to know about the fast-growing industry set to generate $1 billion within the next few years.

eSports are everywhere – and the industry is expanding rapidly.

eSports – a term that refers to professional, competitive video gaming – are increasingly popular spectator events driving major investment and interest. Enthusiasts around the globe attend events in person or stream content with online platforms like Twitch, which has nearly 10 million daily active users. Spectators watch gamers play everything from multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games to strategy games.

Currently, 14 percent of Americans follow eSports. To put that into perspective, eSports spectators actually outnumber those watching the World Series or NBA Finals. And while there are hundreds of millions of people across the country that already watch eSports, even more are playing video games – 49 percent of American adults, to be exact.

The rising popularity of video games and eSports is driving major consumer brands like Coca-Cola, ESPN and American Express to invest in the industry. As the competitive gaming industry continues to evolve, analysts expect audience and revenue growth to accelerate rapidly.

eSports events could drive tourism for cities.

The widespread appeal of eSports make events and tournaments a potentially major draw for tourism, both here at home and abroad. eSports events are selling out stadiums, convention centers and other large venues around the globe. In 2015, there were 112 major eSports events, and they generated $20.6 million in ticket revenues.

In the United States, these events have become a major draw for tourism in cities like Los Angeles and New York. The projected growth trend for eSports suggests that many other cities can leverage the phenomenon to boost tourism and engage members of the community.

The eSports boom has already drawn the attention of traditional sports team owners and franchises. For example, Golden State Warriors co-owner Peter Guber and Washington Wizards majority owner Ted Leonsis recently joined forces to acquire eSports franchise Team Liquid, and the Philadelphia 76ers purchased two eSports teams as well. Partnerships and acquisitions like these could lead to huge opportunities for local eSports expansion.

eSports enthusiasts in your city need robust broadband infrastructure.

In order to leverage this booming new industry, cities need to ensure their broadband infrastructure is up to snuff. While a number of federal programs have targeted the homework gap and the need for students to have access to broadband both at school and at home, cities should not ignore a similar recreation gap for entertainment streaming services. City residents increasingly expect access to broadband at home, whether they use it for work or play. A 2015 study found that a fiber optic internet connection increases the value of a home by as much as an additional fireplace or half-bath.

Online gaming and streaming activities are driving the need for reliable, low-latency broadband service in the home. While broadband infrastructure continues to expand, the percentage of Americans choosing to purchase broadband remains near 70 percent of households. If leaders in your community – and residents – are struggling to see the value of a robust broadband infrastructure, eSports and online recreation may be the missing link.

About the authors:

Angelina Panettieri is the Principal Associate for Technology and Communication at the National League of Cities. Follower her on twitter @AngelinainDC.

 

Courtney Bernard is the Senior Communications Associate in NLC’s Center for City Solutions and Applied Research. Follow her on Twitter @cbernard916.

Arrested Development: Adolescent Development & Juvenile Justice

As part of our efforts to promote professional development among city leaders, we often feature TED Talks focused on cities, community issues or local government. This week’s talk is presented by Elizabeth Cauffman, Professor and Chancellor’s Fellow in the Department of Psychology and Social Behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

A 9th grader charged with assault for a spitball. A 12-year-old sentenced to life in prison. These are the types of cases that Elizabeth Cauffman has focused her career on. She asks the fundamental question: are adolescents different from adults in ways that require different treatment under the law? In her talk, Elizabeth discusses how we can approach this question in a matter that is fair within our society.

Research suggests that city policies using law enforcement to address offenses by youth and young adults may be doing more harm than good. To learn more about how some cities use diversion or deflection to steer young adults who offend into services and hold them accountable for their actions, connect with the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ City Leadership to Reduce the Overuse of Jails for Young Adults initiative.

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

McAllen Targets Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety with Run, Ride & Share Campaign

The city of McAllen’s awareness campaign is a story of local partnerships in action.

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The Run, Ride & Share campaign aims to significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities through community-wide education. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Veronica Whitacre.

After four tragic deaths across South Texas, leaders from the city of McAllen, Texas, partnered with community activists and concerned citizens to address safety on city streets and highways. Created in 2014, our Run, Ride & Share awareness campaign brought together runners, cyclists and motorists to establish a unified regional effort to educate the community on the importance of sharing the road in the Rio Grande Valley. The campaign has now branched out and partnered up with other surrounding cities such as Pharr, Edinburg, Weslaco and Mission.

The success of the campaign is a direct result of the partnerships built throughout the movement. As part of the campaign, we initiated Operation Clean Sweep to get local cities working together to clean the shoulders of the roads and highways for bike safety. This operation had the added benefit of bringing together city workers to communicate as a region. The broader campaign also educates youth in our local schools through their physical education classes, and Run, Ride & Share committee members host bike rodeos as well as bike safety and bike education classes for children at special events as well as the McAllen Boys and Girls Club. The city of McAllen and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley have also worked together to implement dedicated bike lanes.

Other byproducts of the Run, Ride & Share campaign that have resulted from partnerships are emergency call boxes on our hiking and bike trails, promotional materials such as lighted arm bands and bumper stickers, and educational brochures. The campaign also leads an annual event hosted in cities worldwide called the “Ride of Silence,” which brings together residents, local shops, cycling teams and city staff to honor those who have been killed or injured while bicycling and inform motorists, police and city officials that cyclists have a legal right to use public roadways.

The campaign has received attention in local newspapers and on social media, and awareness of the campaign has increased to such an extent that, once a copyright has been approved for the Run, Ride & Share logo, the Texas Department of Public Safety has offered to guide and assist the project as well as design and print additional educational materials.

As a driver, cyclist, runner and pedestrian, I believe there’s always more to do to make our streets safe – and everyone has to do their part. We believe city-wide educational campaigns like this can significantly reduce pedestrian and cyclist fatalities, and we will continue to build relationships with other cities to get the Run, Ride & Share campaign implemented in as many communities as possible. Please join us.

About the author: Veronica Whitacre is a City Commissioner for the City of McAllen, Texas. McAllen is the first city to achieve All-Star Status in first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties initiative.

The Midwest is No Longer the Rust Belt – It’s the “Production Belt”

Mayors Bill Peduto and Virg Bernero explain why now is the time to invest in America’s infrastructure and make a national commitment to advanced manufacturing.

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For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to our economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Mayor Bill Peduto and Mayor Virg Bernero.

Advanced manufacturing is the engine powering our nation’s economy and driving today’s innovation, which is why it is time for a national blueprint for manufacturing. We implore President-elect Trump and the 115th Congress to make a Marshall Plan-style commitment to advanced manufacturing, starting with rebuilding the infrastructure that makes American manufacturing possible.

As mayors and as co-chairs of the National League of Cities’ new Manufacturing Initiative, we recognize that this must be a bipartisan mission, as the success of our manufacturing sector will benefit communities from Connecticut to California.

We also endeavor to dispel several myths about manufacturing. First and foremost: the Midwest is no longer the “Rust Belt” of shuttered factories, but rather the “Production Belt” of advanced manufacturing that accounts for 10 percent of our workforce. In 2015, the manufacturing sector contributed $2.17 trillion to the U.S. economy, representing a growth of nearly one half-trillion dollars since 2009.

Another myth is that manufacturing is a relic, that we’ve become a “service” economy. The truth is, the manufacturing sector is more advanced and growing stronger than it has in decades, and it’s re-invigorating technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

America is home to the world’s most productive workers, with manufacturers accounting for 75 percent of our nation’s R&D and 90 percent of our patents. The “magic of manufacturing” is the spinoff activity that supports transportation, supply chains and more. For every $1.00 spent in manufacturing, another $1.81 is added to our economy – the highest multiplier effect of any economic sector. And, despite the myth that manufacturing jobs don’t pay well, the truth is that the compensation of the typical U.S. manufacturing worker is $81,289 annually, including pay and benefits.

Today’s manufacturing is a wholesale improvement over our grandparents’ dirty, monotonous production jobs. Today’s jobs offer a creative opportunity to innovate, using state-of-the-art equipment in diverse fields like aerospace, semi-conduction, robotics, biotechnology and engineering. Many manufacturers even offer a “learn and earn” model of apprenticeship training that pays workers to learn their trade. Yet these advanced jobs require a talent pipeline to connect them with skilled workers. Experts project that the U.S. will have over two million jobs go unfilled due to the skills gap.

The fact is, American manufacturing is also a matter of national security. Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General John Adams wrote a report detailing the ways domestic manufacturing keeps us safe. A strong domestic manufacturing base supports the Arsenal of Democracy.

Advanced manufacturing can also pave the way for a “green” industrial revolution that reduces our carbon footprint – not only by producing alternative energy products like solar panels, wind turbines and fuel cells, but also by standardizing sustainable production methods for everyday commodities.

There are several national policies that can help shape a national blueprint, including Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts to codify the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership – which has already invested $23 million to support 49 IMCP projects across 26 states. These projects will create or save more than 1,080 jobs, and generate nearly $855 million in private investment. We also support resurrecting the COMPETE Act (S. 2715) to incentivize more research and development, because R&D tax credits are really job credits. Another important win would be establishing a National Infrastructure Bank so we could fund economically-viable infrastructure projects nationwide and incentivize private investment.

The only way to reverse the overly-fragmented model of manufacturing is to establish “production ecosystems” that connect Main Street manufacturers, universities, and inventors into local networks. By strengthening these collaborations with coordinated local, state and federal policies, we can create a lasting national blueprint for advanced manufacturing.

In the international marketplace, we have an unprecedented opportunity to produce the most competitive brand of manufactured goods – those marked proudly as “Made in America.” Let’s get to work to make it happen.

About the authors: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mayor Bill Peduto and Lansing, Michigan, Mayor Virg Bernero are co-chairs of the National League of Cities Manufacturing Initiative.

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 JurassicParliament.com. Follow Ann on Twitter @AnnGMacfarlane.