Celebrating Sustainable Suds on National American Beer Day

Some of the most successful breweries in the hugely competitive beer industry have pursued extremely aggressive programs for environmental conservation – and they’ve proven that it pays to be green.

(photo: Hops & Grain)

The Hops & Grain brewery in Austin, Texas, uses wind power, ships its product in recyclable aluminum cans, and turns its spent grain into dog biscuits. The brewery also donates one percent of its annual revenue to local environmental nonprofit organizations. (photo: Hops & Grain)

You may not have realized it, but today, in cities across the country, people are celebrating National American Beer Day. I like beer, and I’ve also dabbled in homebrewing as a hobby for several years. But as a sustainability professional, I find the brewing industry to be particularly fascinating.

As it has rapidly grown, the brewing industry has become one of the toughest, most crowded and competitive markets in the U.S. and many other parts of the world. At the same time, some of the most successful breweries have also pursued extremely aggressive programs for environmental conservation – and they’ve proven that it pays to be green.

By now, most beer drinkers are familiar with the reputation carried by New Belgium Brewery as one of the most sustainable breweries in America. In its operations, the company measures its performance in water use, waste diversion, and emissions. The brewery admits that seemingly high diversion rates of 97 to 98 percent are easy due to the value of spent grain, but in spite of meeting its own internal recycling goals it has also gone the extra mile to consider how to reduce overall waste regardless of whether it’s trashed or recycled. When it was time to expand their distribution footprint, the brewery specifically sought out a brownfield site in a walkable location, ending up in Asheville, North Carolina, to reduce transportation costs and emissions associated with east coast distribution. The company also supports bike commuting by hosting annual ‘Tour de Fat’ celebrations in communities throughout the country in recognition of “humankind’s greatest invention.”

Another microbrewery leading in the industry’s sustainability initiatives is Schlafly Brewing Company. The company recently began labeling all of its packaging to indicate that it attained 100 percent renewable energy in operations through an on-site 23 kW solar array as well as purchased offsets. The effort was so significant that it helped the Maplewood, Missouri, community earn designation as an EPA Green Power Community. Additionally, the brewery maintains a half-acre garden to grow more than four tons of produce for local restaurants.

Brooklyn Brewery was the first company in New York City to use 100 percent wind-generated electricity. They recycle all of their paper, plastic and bottles, and they send spent grain to local farms where it’s used to feed animals. Full Sail Brewing also sends surplus grains to local farms rather than tossing them in the trash, and it managed to reduce its water consumption to 2.5 gallons for every gallon of beer produced (most breweries consume six to eight gallons to produce the same amount of beer). Brewery Vivant in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was the first LEED-certified microbrewery in the U.S, and Colorado Springs’ Trinity Brewing (which stores its brews in upcycled wine barrels) is housed in a 100 percent recycled building.

Raising the bar even further is brewing giant Heineken, which claims to have recently opened the world’s first large scale carbon-neutral brewery in Austria. A variety of energy sources, including solar, hydro, biogas and biomass, provide power to the facility. Its location also allows all of the hops and barley to be sourced from within a 100 km (60 mile) radius, and the water for the beer itself is brought in from independent wells that are separate from the larger water grid. The project is part of the company’s larger efforts to reduce emissions 40 percent by 2020.

Beer brewing will always be a resource-intensive industry, but many of its leading brands are clearly taking sustainability and stewardship seriously. We can only hope this will provide an example to cities and businesses everywhere that you can do well while doing good.

And by the way, if there’s one thing I know about the craft brewing fans out there, it’s that this article probably snubbed your own favorite sustainable brewery – so let me know who else I’ve missed, and what they’re doing, in the comments! Cheers.

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

Here’s What City Leaders Need to Know About Pension Budget Discussions

Incorporating an active policy discussion about pension funding into the budget process – even in well-funded cities – is important, because the earlier pension funding problems are confronted, the less costly they will be overall, and the less burden will be placed on future generations of taxpayers.

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Poor investment returns typically mean increased pension contribution requirements for cities, which in turn create (or worsen) budget pressures. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Les Richmond. This is the fourth post in a series on NLC’s public sector retirement initiative.

Fiscal year 2016 marked the second consecutive ugly year for investment returns on public sector pension funds. Most funds target a long-term return on assets between seven and eight percent. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2015, the median return was three to four percent, and in FY 2016 the median is anticipated to be closer to one to two percent.

Why this Matters

Poor investment returns typically mean increased pension contribution requirements for cities, which in turn create (or worsen) budget pressures. Case in point: 71 percent of cities reported in NLC’s recent City Fiscal Conditions survey that the cost of pensions increased over the past year; 30 percent reported that these costs were one of three top negative budgetary stressors. As a result, government bond rating agencies and other stakeholders will be monitoring the actions of local government leaders closely on this issue.

The policy debate has already begun in cities with well-known pension challenges, such as Houston, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida. Similarly, the FY 2018 budgeting process can provide a wealth of opportunities for actions in cities across the country that can improve, or stabilize, a city’s pension situation. Incorporating an active policy discussion about pension funding into the budget process – even in well-funded cities – is important, because the earlier pension funding problems are confronted, the less costly they will be overall, and the less burden will be placed on future generations of taxpayers.

Taking Action

City leaders will likely be called to consider a number of actions during these discussions. Here’s what they mean:

Funding policy decisions: Governments whose investment returns underperformed their expectations are likely to see their costs increase. In some cases, the investment return shortfall may even lead to a conclusion that the plan faces a “depletion date” (an actuarial projection that the pension fund assets may be completely exhausted at some point in the future), which must be disclosed in a city’s financial statements under government accounting standards.

Financial analysts prefer to see cities continue to contribute in accordance with their established funding policy, because it provides tangible evidence of the sustainability of the plan. It is also important how the additional spending is covered in the budget, with recurring revenues or sustainable cost cuts (whether from within the pension plan or elsewhere in the budget) favored. These items, which have a lasting impact, are preferred because the FY 2015 and 2016 poor asset returns will influence contribution rates for years to come.

Funding policies should amortize or pay off (like a mortgage) the city’s unfunded pension liability over a reasonable number of years (certainly no more than thirty years, with a shorter period preferred). The city should work with its actuary to determine that any changes to funding policy will not only demonstrate that the contributions will continue to sustain the plan (prevent fund depletion), but also help the plan to thrive.

Reduction of the investment return assumption: The median return assumption among public pension funds is still between seven point five and eight percent. But pressure to reduce those estimates is likely to climb, as more large, high-profile pension funds join CalPERS and the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System in reducing their return assumptions. Ratings agencies, bond insurers and other stakeholders generally view a reduction in the investment return assumption positively, because it should improve plan funding by increasing contribution requirements and perhaps stimulate less risk-taking with plan assets.

Consideration of new pension reforms: There’s probably no stronger impetus for pension reforms than an unaffordable pension contribution requirement. A thoughtful approach to pension reform can be viewed positively from the perspective of a bond holder, with a strong preference for benefit adjustments that have an immediate impact on liabilities, or enhanced contributions backed by recurring revenues. Headline-grabbing reforms that adjust benefits only for new employees are less meaningful, because they can take many years to have a material impact on unfunded liabilities.

These are just a list of options to consider in the current financial environment. There are no one-size-fits-all answers, and it is always important to consider the effects on your city’s workforce before taking action.

About the author: Les Richmond analyzes public pensions nationwide as the in-house actuary for Build America Mutual (BAM), a leading insurer of municipal bonds for cities. BAM is an NLC business partner and NLC’s preferred provider of municipal bond insurance.

A Crash Course in Urban Development

The Urban Land Institute has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects and how they’re financed.

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

How can city leaders know if they are getting the wool pulled over their eyes or if they are negotiating a mutually beneficial deal that will leverage private dollars towards a community renaissance? (Getty Images)

Community activists sometimes decry market-based urban development projects (and their managers) using words like monstrosity, Satan, and scumbucket. But any public official will tell you that it is impossible for a city to accomplish its development or redevelopment goals without private sector investment in the community.

To that end, the nonprofit Urban Land Institute (ULI), an NLC partner, has recently developed a day-long training geared specifically towards elected officials to help them better understand the nuts and bolts of municipal real estate projects. The training is called UrbanPlan, and it will be offered next month at the 2016 NLC City Summit in Pittsburgh.

UrbanPlan is a realistic, engaging, and demanding curriculum in which elected officials learn about the fundamental forces that affect development in the United States. Participating officials will experience the challenges, private and public sector roles, trade-offs, and fundamental economics of complex urban development projects.

The workshop was originally designed for university-level economics courses, and is now taught at colleges and high schools across the country. In 2015, ULI redesigned the curriculum specifically for city officials. The Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use (an NLC program in partnership with ULI) acted as an adviser in the curriculum overhaul. The revamped workshop is offered in a single day as one of NLC University’s pre-conference seminars in Pittsburgh.

Participants in the seminar will develop proposals for a hypothetical urban neighborhood. Each attendee will take on a real-life role, such as site planner, financial analyst, or marketing director.

During the process, team members will learn firsthand the intricacies of urban renewal projects – and because profit is often a primary goal, the seminar will also include some down-to-earth lessons in financial reality. Accordingly, the proposed developments created in the seminar will need to address diverse issues such as affordable housing, transit needs, open-space beautification, historical preservation, and the district’s retail requirements. Once a project plan is hammered out, the teams will construct a preliminary model of their design – using Legos – and then go before a “city council” of volunteer land-use professionals to pitch their project. After a detailed analysis, participants will tweak their product for a final presentation.

ULI, NLC University, and the Rose Center recently held a pilot session of this seminar. Two of the participants described their experience:

“Land use decisions are among the most difficult that elected officials face. The Urban Plan Workshop illustrates that a development project can be a financial success for the developer and locality as well as meet the community’s goals for sustainability, inclusion and aesthetics. The Urban Plan Workshop is fast paced and hands-on, and elected officials will gain and retain insight into their role in finding the balance between the needs of the developer, locality and community.”

– Sandy Spang, councilmember, Toledo, Ohio

“Elected officials often hold biases, even if unintentional. But today, achieving great projects requires creativity and compromise. UrbanPlan lets you participate in that process. As someone that both serves on an elected body and has gone through the UrbanPlan workshop, I would encourage my peers to do the same.”

—Michael Wojcik, councilmember, Rochester, Minnesota

We are pleased to offer a special discounted registration rate to CitiesSpeak readers for the upcoming UrbanPlan seminar in Pittsburgh. Register here using the discount code NLCUL13 and save $100 off the registration price.

Jess Zimbabwe Headshot 150x150About the author: Jess Zimbabwe is Executive Director of the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use, a program of the National League of Cities, in partnership with the Urban Land Institute. She’s an architect, city planner and politics junkie. Follow Jess on twitter at @jzimbabwe and @theRoseCenter.

Solar-friendly Cities Challenge Winners Announced

Two U.S. cities have been recognized for removing barriers to solar energy and making it easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to install solar. Here’s how they achieved that recognition.

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

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

The National League of Cities (NLC) is delighted to announce the winners of the SolSmart Cities Challenge. In August, NLC challenged cities across the country to prove how solar-friendly their local policies are by completing a SolSmart designation scorecard. Sixteen communities accepted the challenge, but there could only be two winners.

Congratulations to the two cities with the highest points total:

Fremont, California
Kansas City, Missouri

“Receiving this first place recognition is an incredible accomplishment, but the true victory is the progress we’re making toward building a clean energy economy,” said Fremont Mayor Bill Harrison. “It has required a community-wide effort to get to where we are today. From informing our residents on the benefits of solar and encouraging them to move forward with installation, to creating a streamlined over-the-counter permitting process — it’s the little things that have really moved the needle and helped us reach our goals.”

Kansas City has implemented solar policies and processes that demonstrate the city’s commitment to clean energy development. Solar is allowed as an accessary use throughout the city if certain minimum requirements are achieved. Process improvements, such as the on-line submission, review, and approval of installation plans, help solar installers and city staff save time.

Both Fremont and Kansas City have created a local environment that is favorable for homes and businesses to install solar by removing barriers to solar deployment. They are tapping into one of the fastest-growing sectors of the economy, diversifying their energy supply to improve service reliability, and meeting goals set by the community to provide clean power.

NLC would also like to recognize the following cities for their participation in the SolSmart Cities Challenge and their commitment to making it easier and more affordable for homes and businesses to install solar in their community:

Beaverton, Oregon
Davis, California
Franklin Park, Illinois
Goshen, Indiana
Grayslake, Illinois
Highland Park, Illinois
Indianapolis, Indiana
Lake Worth, Florida
Nappanee, Indiana
Newark, New Jersey
Park Forest, Illinois
Sacramento, California
Schaumburg, Illinois
Stafford, Texas

SolSmart, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative, nationally recognizes cities and counties that have taken key steps to address local barriers to solar energy and provides no-cost technical assistance for any community looking to improve local solar markets. A SolSmart designation signals that a community is “open for solar business,” which distinguishes these communities from their peers. The SolSmart team looks forward to working with all the participating cities to help them achieve SolSmart designation.

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

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

Do We Have to Obey the Mayor?

Clashes between the mayor and city council sometimes have a devastating impact on a city’s well-being. A few simple principles can keep the lines of authority clear.

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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.

After fifteen years in this business, it seems to me that questions of authority are some of the hardest to resolve. I often find city councils and other governing bodies struggling with the question, “Who’s in charge here, anyway?” If a group understands certain fundamental principles, it becomes much easier to resolve those tensions and move forward effectively.

A terrible example

During a recent consultation, this sentence from a set of “council rules and procedures” made my hair stand on end:

“All persons present at a meeting must obey the mayor’s orders.”

This rule is profoundly wrong. It may look legitimate, but it isn’t. The mayor, when running a meeting of the city council, is the presiding officer – not a dictator. The presiding officer runs the meeting as the servant of the members. The correct rule is similar to the one cited above, but has a subtle and essential difference:

“All persons present at a meeting must obey the legitimate orders of the presiding officer.”

Right of appeal

The legitimate orders of the presiding officer are those issued in accordance with the rules and procedures adopted by the group, to serve the group. And, according to Robert’s Rules of Order and common parliamentary law, those orders are subject to appeal by any two members of the group. For example, if the presiding officer declares that someone is speaking off topic and must stop forthwith, the member can say “I appeal.” If another member says “second,” then the group itself will vote to decide whether the member may continue.

The mayor is not the boss

Why don’t people know this? Why do councilmembers, county commissioners, directors of special districts, and nonprofit board members allow the mayor, the chair or the president to exercise unquestioned authority over the group, acting as if he or she were the final authority?

We have lost the common understanding of meeting procedure that grew up in this country when America was alive with associations, astonishing the Frenchman de Tocqueville and English authors who toured the continent. We are used to the image of the “captain of industry,” the hard-charging boss who carries everyone in her wake. We want to be nice and “get along,” and it may seem safer to keep our heads down.

The group is the final authority

But remember, elected officials, citizens appointed to commissions and committees, and volunteers: you have rights too! Yes, we have to obey the mayor when the mayor is enforcing the rules we chose – but those rules ultimately make the group the final authority.

For more information and other stories about strengthening your skills as a city leader, join NLC University's Leadership Facebook group.

For more information and discussion about how to strengthen your skills as a city leader, join NLC University’s Leadership Development Facebook group.

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.

The Inside Story of the “Keep GM” Movement

One mayor’s dynamic, collaborative management model essentially saved a U.S. manufacturing city – Lansing, Michigan – using public-private partnerships. Here’s how it was done.

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The city of Lansing, Michigan, has more than 100 years of involvement with General Motors – a give-and-take between GM and the community, and an example of competitive dynamics in play in the Lansing and Michigan areas. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post. The post was co-authored by David Closs, Tomas Hult and David Hollister.

When car-making giant General Motors decided to close its plant in Lansing, Michigan, in 1996, one person – the city’s newly elected mayor, David Hollister – stood up and said “no.” Hollister’s “no” began a five-year competitive, collaborative, strategically intricate process to keep GM in town. Not once in its century-long history had GM reversed a decision to close a plant. But Mayor Hollister quietly went to work building the “Lansing Works! Keep GM!” movement – and succeeded in defying all the odds.

The Framework

Hollister’s collaborative problem-solving approach – the “Second Shift Model” – succeeded in bringing together state and regional politicians, economic developers, private sector firms, labor unions, educators, and residents of the region. Powerful, persuasive and well organized, this coalition implemented a strategic, six-dimensional framework to achieve the seemingly impossible. The six dimensions have been illustrated in animated form and they are:

  • Identifying: Name the challenge and its impact
  • Partnering: Develop meaningful relationships
  • Building: Construct the strategy as you go
  • Solving: Engage in constant problem solving
  • Celebrating: Mark successful milestones
  • Persevering: Adapt and endure

The “Lansing Works! Keep GM!“ movement was a victory of people over bureaucracy, of a can-do attitude over cynicism – a story rarely told in today’s complex, technological, and often dehumanizing world of big business and out-of-control government. And the best part was that, in the end, both sides came away winners. It’s proof positive that when the public and private sectors work together as equal partners, amazing things can happen.

Tom Izzo, Head Basketball Coach at Michigan State University and 2016 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee, highlighted the amazing things that happened with GM in the community: “Teamwork and rebounding win a lot of basketball games, and teamwork and rebounding helped Lansing save GM in town. Second Shift shows what true collaboration, a shared vision, and hard work can do for a community.”

Debbie Stabenow, Senior Senator from the state of Michigan, echoes mayor Hollister’s tenacity and team approach: “Second Shift captures a truly unique and uplifting story of teamwork on a whole new level. It’s a tribute to General Motors, its workers, and to leaders across the community who came together with a common purpose. Second Shift defines teamwork in a new way and is full of meaningful lessons for leaders and communities across our country.”

Lou Anna K. Simon, President of Michigan State University, captures this sentiment well: “No one can ever take what you have for granted, particularly in this very complex global marketplace. Decisions are often made by those who do not have personal knowledge of the community. Thus, every day we must continue to grow the value of our work to diverse stakeholders. Second Shift is an exceptional story of perseverance.”

The Result

The city now has two of only 18 GM plants in the U.S. (and two of the 78 assembly plants worldwide). The economic benefits are in the billions of dollars (more than $3 billion just in plants), with direct and indirect employment affecting some 77,000 people in Michigan (around 7,000 GM employees and 70,000 people working for suppliers to the two Lansing-based GM plants).

The Second Shift Model is focused on driving win-win solutions with the problem-solving framework that kept GM in Lansing. Ultimately, “true satisfaction has many stakeholders… the Second Shift Model provides a superb road map to get all stakeholders engaged,” said Claes Fornell, Founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index and Chair of the Board of Directors of CFI Group Worldwide.

And, more important than Lansing keeping GM, communities around the world can learn from the Second Shift Model to solve complex and dynamic problems of their own. Politics, competitive dynamics, and a “me first” attitude can be set aside by implementing this model.

When Hollister and colleague Ray Tadgerson started the “Lansing Works! Keep GM!” process, they noted that “Lansing is a great place to invest, live, work, recreate and raise a family.” This rings true more than ever. As a Lansing-born, 35-year second-generation veteran of GM stated, “Lansing needs GM, and GM needs Lansing.”

About the authors: David Hollister was mayor of Lansing, Michigan from 1994 to 2003. Ray Tadgerson is former CEO and president of architectural engineering firm C2AE. David Closs is Professor and McConnell Endowed Chair of Supply Chain Management at Michigan State University. Tomas Hult is Professor and Byington Endowed Chair of International Business at Michigan State University. They are the authors of Second Shift: The Inside Story of the Keep GM Movement. The story has also been made into a 54-minute documentary film.

Cities Should Let the Sharing Economy Thrive

In too many cities across the country, sharing economy platforms face outdated rules that prevent competition in favor of incumbent industries. Ultimately, public policy that stifles competition, limits innovation, or hinders sharing economy platforms is bad for local economies.

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It is estimated that more than one million people use ridesharing apps every day. There are specific steps cities can take to make ridesharing and other facets of the sharing economy integrate effectively into the municipal landscape. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Dusty Brighton.

“Be your own boss.” Traditionally, when people hear that phrase, they think of a tiny sliver of the population fortunate enough to enjoy the flexibility and independence of working for themselves. Yet, over the past few years, a surge in independent entrepreneurship has enabled millions of Americans in cities and towns across the country to define the hours and terms of their work.

Today, anyone with free time or spare space can offer their services on a platform such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, HomeAway, Handy, Task Rabbit, DoorDash or Upwork and earn a premium wage. Thanks to these platforms, free time, a free room, a second home or an idle car can now lead to additional income and new opportunities without the strict commitments required by traditional employment. This flexibility has become a hallmark benefit for participants in the sharing economy – and, increasingly, our cities’ economies.

Many city leaders, like their constituents, understand and champion the immense opportunities for economic empowerment and growth provided by the sharing economy. And for good reason.

The growth of the sharing economy has created a new kind of safety net for individuals who need it. Rather than being limited by lack of opportunity and strict schedules in traditional job markets, the sharing economy allows people to tap into their skills, effort, and assets to earn more money. The only limit is how much an individual is willing to put into it. This means that anyone, from the college student paying for school to the single parent trying to make ends meet, has the ability to boost and diversify their income to fit their needs and lifestyles.

Beyond flexibility, those participating in the sharing economy are able to better support themselves and their families, bringing more value back into their communities. A national survey by Burson-Marstellar found that on-demand workers average three different income streams, with the average gross income from on-demand work accounting for 22 percent of household income. A majority of the workers polled in the Burson-Marstellar survey stated that they are better off financially than a year ago, and expect to be even better off in the future.

In a similar vein, short-term rentals – through platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway – allow residents to stay in their homes while generating income. Better yet, the money coming into communities through short-term rentals typically stays there. This means that the benefits are distributed beyond the renter to local restaurants and stores that would otherwise not be exposed to traditional tourism.

Allowing the sharing economy to thrive in our cities also means more freedom for consumers. This freedom does not come just in the form of more services – it embodies a wider variety of choice. Consumers do not choose to use Uber or Lyft because they are just another taxi company; they use ride-sharing platforms because they offer an innovative option that provides higher quality and safer service at a lower cost.

Americans want to live in cities that allow new services to innovate and make their lives better, not protect the interests of politically connected incumbents. Rather than passing laws that limit the sharing economy, every community should take steps to support increased competition and allow these platforms to compete and thrive. Ultimately, public policy that stifles competition, limits innovation, or hinders sharing economy platforms is bad for local economies.

In too many cities across the country, sharing economy platforms face outdated rules that prevent competition in favor of incumbent industries. For communities to thrive and prosper, the sharing economy must be allowed to compete on a level playing field. Sharing economy platforms hold the potential to provide better, safer services at lower costs – a win-win by any measure. But only if we let them.

As part of our engagement, the Internet Association is working to expand its outreach to local governments across the U.S. We continue to work on the ground with city officials and staff to reach policy goals that satisfy regulatory concerns while allowing innovative internet-enabled competition to thrive. The Internet Association also offers educational outreach to cities looking to learn more about our member companies and foster collaborative partnerships on local issues like economic development.

About the author: Dusty Brighton is the Vice President of State Government Affairs for the Internet Association. The Internet Association’s mission is to foster innovation, promote economic growth, and empower people through the free and open internet.

How Cities Can Implement Successful CSA Programs for Local Families

Children’s Savings Accounts (CSAs) are emerging in as a way cities can help even the most low-income children and families save for college and potentially disrupt cycles of multi-generational poverty.

Research shows that when a child has a savings account – even if that account holds less than $500 – she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. (Getty Images)

Research shows that when a child has a savings account – even if that account holds less than $500 – she is three times more likely to enroll in college and four times more likely to graduate. (Getty Images)

When higher education becomes an expectation as early as kindergarten, parents save and children know that college is an attainable goal. CSAs often include an initial deposit into a savings account for young children, incentives for children and their parents to save, and opportunities to engage parents and children through financial education and other activities. After seeing pioneer cities that were part of an National League of Cities’ (NLC) Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) peer network launch CSA programs over the past year, a new group of cities is exploring how some of the lessons learned apply in diverse environments: urban and rural, large and small.

In conjunction with our partners at the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), YEF Institute staff will take part in an Oct. 28 webinar focusing on how municipalities can implement successful CSA programs for local families. All city staff are invited to join.

With support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, this peer network is thinking strategically about design and implementation of their programs, how to tie programs to postsecondary success efforts and local financial inclusion, and how to launch successfully to reach and engage residents. Participating cities include Louisville, Kentucky; Durham, North Carolina; Oakland, California; Garden City, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Boston; Chelsea, Massachusetts; St. Louis, Missouri; and San Francisco.

With the examples of cities like Durham, San Francisco and St. Louis – which continue to participate in learning collaborative initiatives as they strengthen and expand their projects – cities exploring CSAs have the opportunity to learn from a variety of models. Programs vary dramatically in terms of size and savings goals, and the participating cities face challenges with very different populations.

However, the process of program design requires all cities to ask similar questions: What is the current expectation of college attainment for children in my city? Which partners do I need to bring to the table? How do we partner with local businesses, foundations, community organizations, or others who might support this program with funding or wraparound services? Should I start with one classroom, or a whole school district?

No matter how they choose to implement CSAs, cities will need to think critically about the infrastructure upon which their program is built. Exploring savings account structures, determining how accounts and financial education will fit into the school day, and investigating technological systems will help cities design programs that function smoothly from day one.

More importantly, cities are strengthening relationships with stakeholders to raise community expectations around saving for and attending college. On a recent call with cities that are part of the peer network, Phil Maurizi, vice president of Promise Indiana, a CSA initiative operating in 14 counties, emphasized the importance of community ownership of a CSA program. Without buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders, a CSA program will fall short of changing city culture. Cities don’t just need to think about the nuts and bolts of savings accounts, they must engage the members of the community and the local institutions that ensure success.

The National League of Cities’ CSA project is part of a national campaign to integrate savings into the systems that already serve children and families. Cities can still join the Campaign for Every Kid’s Future, which supports access to CSAs nationwide and is working to connect 1.4 million kids to CSAs by 2020.

Join us for the Oct. 28 webinar to learn best practices cities and counties can use to develop their own CSA programs.

Lily Roberts photoAbout the author: Lily Roberts is an Intern with the NLC YEF Institute’s Economic Opportunity and Financial Empowerment team.


Women Are Being Jailed at the Highest Rates Ever. Here’s How Cities Can Help Stem the Tide.

Recently, the national conversation about mass incarceration has turned local, focusing on county and city-run jails that act as incarceration’s front door. A missing element to that discussion, however, is the fastest growing correctional population: women.

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According to the most recent national data, 82 percent of women are in jail for nonviolent offenses, and cities are increasingly rethinking the need to use jail as a response to these crimes. (Getty Images)

As revealed in a new report – Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform – by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, the number of women incarcerated in local jails has grown 14-fold since 1970.

While incarcerated women share many of the same experiences and characteristics of incarcerated men, women can experience incarceration and its collateral consequences in unique ways. Unlike incarcerated men, women are often single parents and enter jails with higher rates of mental illness. Because women earn less and are less likely to have full-time employment before their arrest, bail, fines, and fees can be even more devastating to them. This is especially true for women of color – almost half of all single black and Latina women have zero or negative net wealth.

Once women enter the criminal justice system, they often encounter policies, programs, and services designed for the majority of the people moving through it: men. Standard practices and procedures for law enforcement and correctional staff can create or reignite traumatic experiences for these women, the majority of whom come into the justice systems having experienced high rates of violence and are at higher risk of experiencing sexual violence in custody.

Shifting attention and resources away from policing minor offenses and leveraging existing community resources and services can provide opportunities to intervene early on during anyone’s experience with the justice system and safely address her needs in the community. These approaches can especially benefit women. Some jurisdictions – including the twenty that are participating in the Safety and Justice Challenge – have been able to implement reforms at the very front end of the criminal justice process to divert individuals away from incarceration, minimizing the harm that can accompany even a short stay in jail.

Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform

Decline to arrest

According to the most recent national data, 82 percent of women are in jail for nonviolent offenses, and cities are increasingly rethinking the need to use jail as a response to these crimes. In 2007, the Baltimore Police Department adopted a policy of declining to arrest people for low-level, quality of life offenses. A report on the women held in Baltimore City’s jail found that in 2010, the number of women had declined by 15 percent as compared to 2005. Similarly, following the success of the City of Philadelphia’s decision to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana, the mayor signed a directive for officers to issue civil citations – instead of criminal violations – for certain low-level offenses, such as disorderly conduct and failure to disperse. The city projects the strategy will divert more than 10,000 cases out of the criminal system annually.

Pre-arrest crisis intervention for people struggling with mental illness

On average, 32 percent of women in jail have a serious mental illness – more than double the rate of men in jails and six times the rate of the general public. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, the police and other first responders can call Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services (COPES) for assistance with people experiencing mental health crises in the community. COPES provides mobile crisis intervention services and can refer people to community-based treatment when needed. Between July 2014 and June 2016, COPES received more than 10,000 calls for service. Of those calls, 3,900 were for women, and only 3 percent of those calls resulted in women being taken to jail.

These programs are examples of opportunities for stakeholders to divert women away from incarceration and allow them to remain in their communities. In addition to decreasing the harm caused by prolonged justice-system involvement, community-based programming and services can offer respite to the constant economic disadvantages in women’s lives that so often affect their children. Though establishing these strategies may take considerable effort, reducing the number of women held in jails is achievable and an essential component of creating safer communities.

About the authors:

2016_06_27_vhs_kristi_riley_0026Kristine Riley is a Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice.


2016_06_27_vhs_liz_swavola_0010Elizabeth Swavola is a Senior Program Associate at the Vera Institute of Justice.

For Local Leaders, the Water Bill in Congress is Urgent

The residents of Flint, Michigan, have been unable to use their own taps for months – and now fears of Shigellosis make the need for congressional action more pressing than ever.

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Levee construction and flood prevention infrastructure are examples of projects included in versions of the Water Bill. (Getty Images)

The recent outbreaks of bacterial illness in Flint and other Michigan cities remind the American public and local leaders that Flint’s drinking water crisis is still very much an ongoing crisis. These outbreaks also drive home the fact that Congress needs to act soon to provide financial aid to the struggling city and its residents; to bring some relief to a crisis that has lasted too long and affected too many.

Access to clean drinking water is a basic human right, and local leaders need the resources to deliver, maintain and protect that promise. For months now, the people of Flint have been unable to use their own taps – and now fears of Shigellosis make the need for congressional action all the more urgent.

While the situation may seem dire, there is some good news on the horizon for those in Flint and for local leaders around the nation.

Over the past month, as Congress prepared to adjourn until after the elections, NLC celebrated small policy victories when both the House and the Senate passed versions of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) that included provisions for Flint relief.

Attention now turns to the ‘to-be-determined’ WRDA conference committee that will try to hammer out differences between the two bills in time to send a final bill to the President’s desk before the end of the year — which is an absolute necessity.

In the House, disagreement over Flint aid was much stronger and became entangle with the negotiations for funding the federal government past Sept. 30 — the start of a new fiscal year. With NLC’s support, an eleventh hour agreement allowed for a Flint aid vote as an amendment to WRDA.

But, WRDA will provide much more than the relief for Flint. Both versions of the bill authorize restoration projects under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will improve infrastructure for flood protection, navigation, and ecosystem restoration. These projects are so important to communities and local leaders nationwide — from restoring the Florida Everglades to flood protection in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

For local elected officials, passage of a strong version of WRDA is a must. As Clarence Anthony, executive director and CEO of the National League of Cities stated, “Improved water infrastructure is essential to keeping our cities strong, our local economies vibrant and our residents healthy.”

Both bills also include funding to any state, such as Michigan, that receives an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act due to a public health threat from lead or other contaminants in a public drinking water supply system. The Senate bill goes further, with additional provisions for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure such as funding for WIFIA; grants for lead service line replacement, testing, planning, corrosion control and education; grants to address sewer overflows and assist small and disadvantaged communities in complying with the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act; and addressing integrated planning and affordability issues.

Congress must pass WRDA for the sake of Flint, but also for the cities nationwide who are in need of these proposed water infrastructure projects. NLC has been calling for and continues to fight for a strong version of WRDA that not only does the most good for nation’s water infrastructure, but also restores a basic human right to the City of Flint.

We commend both chambers of Congress for bringing us this far. And with our ongoing efforts, we urge Congress to come to a swift conference compromise that puts cities first.

Carolyn BerndtAbout the author: Carolyn Berndt is the Program Director for Infrastructure and Sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. She leads NLC’s advocacy, regulatory, and policy efforts on energy and environmental issues, including water infrastructure and financing, air and water quality, climate change, and energy efficiency. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.