City Leaders Will Fight the Cuts Because Cities Are Worth Fighting For

The president’s budget proposal represents a vision of unprecedented withdrawal of federal investment in America’s neighborhoods and communities.

Small and rural cities in particular generally lack the tax base to absorb cuts at the level the White House has proposed. (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” proposes more than $50 billion in domestic spending reductions across the board, and would outright eliminate dozens of programs important to cities and towns. For city leaders, cuts of this magnitude are not merely a question of how to do a little more with a little less. That’s a question that has already dogged local officials for years as a result of the relatively smaller annual funding cuts to city priorities resulting from sequestration. It’s also a question city leaders have had to contend with because of the growing number of state-mandated caps on local tax and revenue authority.

The president’s budget proposal not only asks cities and towns to do a lot more with a lot less, it represents a vision of unprecedented withdrawal of federal investment in America’s neighborhoods and communities and an abandonment of the role the federal government traditionally plays as a stakeholder in cities, the nation’s economic engines and centers of opportunity.

A quick scan of programs proposed for elimination revels what is at stake for all American cities, large and small:

  • Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program for Affordable Housing
  • Economic Development Administration Grants (EDA)
  • Transit New Starts for Public Transportation
  • TIGER Grants for Public Transportation Projects
  • Minority Business Development Agency
  • Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Grants
  • Low Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grants
  • State Criminal Alien Assistance Grants
  • Community Services Block Grant (CSBG)
  • Weatherization Assistance Program
  • The Clean Power Plan

NLC President Matt Zone has pointed out that the president’s budget proposal runs directly counter to his campaign promise to lift up America’s cities – and in fact, the worst impacts of the cuts will be felt in the small towns and rural communities the president promised to prioritize. That’s because small and rural cities generally lack the tax base to absorb cuts at this level, and will be forced to make tough decisions that could have drastic human consequences.

The Community Development Block Grants program is a good example. For many reasons, NLC has had to lead efforts to “Save CDBG” from significant cuts or elimination every few years. Among those reasons is the fact that, from the viewpoint of federal lawmakers, CDBG can look like a “big city” program with a level of flexibility that makes outcomes difficult to measure. In reality, when the threat to CDBG is real, small-town leaders are always at the forefront of NLC advocacy to save the program. That’s because CDBG is one of the few programs that funds infrastructure improvements, such as water towers or main street redevelopment, in small and rural communities.

NLC is calling on Congress to throw out the White House’s budget proposal and develop a new plan focused on building prosperity, expanding opportunity, and investing in our future. Whatever the outcome, we know that real-life stories from local officials on the impact of federal programs will carry the day. That’s why we’re asking city leaders from communities large and small to help us fight the cuts by showing Congress why their city is worth fighting for.

mike_wallace_125x150About the author: Michael Wallace is the Program Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

Five Issues Tackled by Youth Delegates at the Congressional City Conference

The delegates designed their own sessions focused on leadership and skill development, developed strategies to solve problems in their communities, and learned the importance of advocacy at all levels of government.

Youth delegates at the Congressional City Conference learn to lobby, advocate, and collaborate on the issues that matter most to them. (Jason Dixson/NLC)

This is the fifth post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Youth delegates from 37 cities across the nation convened this week at the 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C. In sessions with their peers and other youth allies, the delegates critically analyzed issues in their communities and developed strategies and solutions.

In one of the most engaging sessions, Lobbying and Advocacy: Making the Youth Voice Heard, delegates heard from former congressional staffers as well as current lobbyists and consultants about the importance of the youth voice in all levels of government and their power to make a difference on both a small and large scale.

As part of this session, each youth council represented at the conference identified a problem in their city, formulated a solution, and developed a plan to lobby local, state and federal leaders for change. They then encapsulated the problem, its solution and convincing messaging into a concise elevator pitch. Here are five issues discussed at the session:

Lack of youth involvement in local government: Delegates from Olathe, Kansas, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, identified the potential benefits of increased youth participation in local government, and each youth council took a different approach to this issue. Delegates from Olathe suggested creating a teen council to listen to other youth problems and presenting those problems to city councilmembers. Delegates from Fayetteville created a plan to lower the local voting age to 16 to increase voter turnout and local knowledge. Their strong argument: “Sixteen-year-olds pay taxes if they have jobs – and there should not be taxation without representation!”

Possible loss of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding: Delegates from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, identified the importance of CDBG funds in their city that help subsidize many youth programs. One delegate from Milwaukee noted that “these programs affect the longevity and success of youth in our city.”

Plastic pollution in cities: Delegates from Hillsboro, Oregon, described their plan to ban plastic bags in their city as “a way to save the community and contribute to a global movement.” They highlighted the fact that more than 50 percent of plastic bags are used just once and then thrown away.

Mental illness awareness and resources: Delegates from the cities of Brighton and Loveland in Colorado addressed the lack of mental illness awareness and resources in their schools and communities. Both youth councils emphasized reducing teen suicide rates and teaming up with mental health organizations to implement more programs.

Dangers of invasive species: Delegates from Buckeye, Arizona, shared a unique problem in their community: the damage created by an invasive plant, the salt cedar tree. One salt cedar tree can use up to 300 gallons of water per day, meaning that 200,000 households could use the water currently being used by salt cedar trees. Their solution? Release the Salt Cedar Creek Beetle to combat the invasive species. The delegates highlighted the documented success of this strategy, which is already underway in some areas of Texas.

Feedback from the session’s panelists allowed the youth to expand on their ideas and explore ways to make their arguments more powerful. The delegates also learned about the importance of highlighting reliable data and sharing examples of best practices in similar towns and cities.

Youth delegates are sure to take their invaluable experiences at the Congressional City Conference back to their youth councils at home to spark effective change in their communities. Their enduring engagement and involvement in all of the sessions proved their dedication to the betterment of their communities.

About the author: Alessia Riccio is the 2016-2017 National League of Cities Menino Fellow in the partnership between Boston University’s Initiative on Cities and NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Videos from the 2017 Congressional City Conference

This is the fourth post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

More than 2,400 of the nation’s city officials united in Washington, D.C. this week for NLC’s annual Congressional City Conference. Whether they were first-timers or thirty-year veterans, this video provided everything they needed to know to make the most of the conference:

 

The Congressional City Conference is the perfect opportunity for city leaders to boost their leadership skills. NLC University offers thoughtfully-crafted seminars at the start of each conference in which participants learn about current resources, develop strategies, build skills, and engage in small group discussions and exercises with peers from other communities. We asked attendees what they looked forward to learning from the NLCU seminars this year:

 

City leaders came to the conference to defend Community Development Block Grants and fight the cuts to funding sources on which cities depend. We caught up with a few favorite colleagues, like NLC Immediate Past President and Joplin, Missouri, Councilmember Melodee Colbert-Kean, to hear what they had to say about the proposed cuts:

 

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

How Your City Can Boost Economic Mobility and Opportunity

Highlighting practical and accessible steps city leaders can take to help individuals and families meet their basic needs and move up the economic ladder, NLC President Matt Zone challenges every NLC member city to take action and sign a pledge to increase economic mobility and opportunity for their residents in 2017.

NLC President and Cleveland, Ohio, Councilmember Matt Zone announces his Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force at the City Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on November 21, 2016. (NLC)

This is the third post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Cities can’t wait. That’s true in so many areas where federal or state help is stymied by partisan gridlock or ideological differences. But mayors and other city leaders don’t have the option of doing nothing in the face of local challenges. They have to step up – and taking steps to expand economic mobility and opportunity is a great example of what’s possible.

At NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference this week, NLC President Matt Zone issued a bold challenge to NLC membership: he asked every one of the more than 2,000 city officials and community partners in attendance to commit to one action that will help local residents share in the nation’s prosperity. This challenge builds upon President Zone’s creation of an Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force when he assumed his NLC leadership role in November 2016.

Last fall’s elections offered a striking reminder that millions of financially strained families across America feel they are forgotten, cast aside in an economy that no longer needs their skills or contributions. Growing economic disparities highlight that families need access to well-paying jobs, affordable housing and stable incomes in their pursuit of the American Dream. These challenges are a key concern for city leaders because the financial health of every community depends on economic mobility and opportunity for its residents.

That’s why members of the Economic Mobility and Opportunity Task Force – from Atlanta Mayor and Task Force Chair Kasim Reed and Boston Mayor Martin Walsh to elected leaders from smaller cities such as Mayor Johnny DuPree of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Councilmember Deana Holiday Ingraham of East Point, Georgia – have already pledged to take action in their cities.

President Zone’s action challenge highlights practical and accessible steps city leaders can take in four key areas to help individuals and families meet their basic needs and move up the economic ladder. They include:

Boost Working Families’ Incomes — Promote and Help Residents Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit

City officials can use their “bully pulpit” and other city communication mechanisms to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) widely and inform residents about where they can obtain free tax preparation services. Most communities have a VITA (Voluntary Income Tax Assistance) program in which IRS-certified volunteers provide free tax return preparation for low- and moderate-income families at community organizations or other sites around the city. Some cities offer VITA sites directly in municipal buildings such as city hall or public libraries.

Strengthen Residents’ Financial Capability – Expand Access to Financial Education and Coaching

In many communities, financial education, coaching and counseling services are available through community organizations, credit counseling agencies, local universities, and other entities. Too often, however, city residents do not know where or how to access these services. Cities can play important roles in coordinating the efforts of local providers and using diverse communications and outreach vehicles to promote available offerings, particularly in low-income neighborhoods.

Provide New Options for Families in Debt – Implement Win-Win City Debt Collection Strategies

Cities have a unique – and often missed – opportunity to reach struggling residents by examining payment patterns of residents in debt to the city and considering payment collection strategies that financially empower families rather than impose harsh penalties for nonpayment.

The National League of Cities worked with five cities to implement Local Interventions for Financial Empowerment Through Utility Payments (LIFT-UP), a program that identified residents in debt to the cities’ water utilities and connected them to financial counseling to help them pay back the debt. In Houston, the city’s water department partnered with community organizations to train utility employees to provide financial coaching to residents with missed utility payments and work with them to develop a payment plan. The program resulted in more frequent payments and lower balances.

Expand Job Access and Pathways of Opportunity – Use City Hiring and Contracting Policies to Assist Residents in Distressed Neighborhoods

Cities can increase employment among residents considered “hard to employ” through strategic and equitable hiring and contracting policies. By targeting hiring for municipal jobs to residents from distressed neighborhoods or other high-need populations, cities can meet local employment goals and diversify their workforce. Local “first source” policies and community benefit agreements require companies that contract with city government to hire a certain percentage of city residents who meet established criteria. Community benefit agreements can also require developers to offer training and apprenticeship programs for unemployed residents.

Mayors, city councilmembers and other city officials can pledge here to participate in the action challenge by choosing to take at least one of the action steps listed above and completing a simple online form. Experienced staff from NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families and its Center for City Solutions are available to assist cities in implementing the policy and program changes associated with these actions.

Cities can’t wait – and neither can the struggling families who live in them. Now is the time for city leaders to act to expand economic mobility and opportunity for their residents and, in the process, strengthen the economic vitality of their communities.

Learn more about the Local Action Challenge for Economic Mobility and Opportunity.

Join NLC on the following dates for a webinar series designed to help cities kick-start their efforts to fulfill the economic mobility and opportunity pledge:

  • Friday, March 24 at 2:00 p.m. EST:  Boost Working Families’ Incomes – Promote and Help Residents Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Thursday, March 30 at 2:00 p.m. EST: Strengthen Residents’ Financial Capability – Expand Access to Financial Education and Coaching
  • Thursday, April 6 at 2:00 p.m. EST: Provide New Options for Families in Debt – Implement Win-Win City Debt Collection Strategies
  • Thursday, April 13 at 2:00 p.m. EST: Expand Job Access and Pathways of Opportunity – Use City Hiring and Contracting Policies to Assist Residents in Distressed Neighborhoods

Registration information for this webinar series will be available early next week.

About the author: Clifford Johnson is the Executive Director of NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.

Now Is the Time for City Leaders to Engage with NLC

With the recent potential for cuts to funding for cities, getting involved with NLC’s constituency groups, committees and councils gives city leaders an edge when it comes to knowing the best practices – and the right people – they need to get the job done for their constituents.

NLC’s constituency groups, committees and councils are currently meeting in Washington, D.C. at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. (Getty Images)

This is the second post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

NLC membership offers extensive networking and professional development opportunities. With the recent potential for cuts to funding for cities, getting involved with NLC’s constituency groups, committees and councils can give city leaders the edge they need when it comes to knowing the best practices – and the right people – to help get the job done for their constituents.

Our constituency groups, committees and councils have been established over the years to reflect the diverse interests and backgrounds of NLC’s membership, and they work collaboratively with NLC to contribute to leadership development, policy formulation, advocacy, and program activities. Constituency groups are caucuses within NLC membership that share common interests and concerns, and they also contribute to NLC’s leadership development, policy programs and more. Our seven federal advocacy committees cover policy areas ranging from economic development and technical policy to energy and the environment. Finally, NLC councils reflect the different types of communities our members represent, from suburbs, college towns and military communities to large cities.

At the 2017 Congressional City Conference, we reached out to NLC members and delegates to find out how participation in NLC’s various member groups has added to their arsenal of skills as city leaders.

Federal Advocacy Committee – Information Technology and Communication (ITC)

“My participation in NLC’s Information Technology and Communication federal advocacy committee is honestly my favorite part of being a NLC member. I’ve worked with public, educational and government access television for most of my career, so I’ve always been interested in telecom policy. I’d always read trade magazines about the industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and now I have the opportunity to serve as the chair for a committee that takes me to the FCC and Capitol Hill to discuss issues I’m passionate about with the leaders in this field.

ITC and other federal advocacy committees allow you to pursue your interests and advocate for real change. I would encourage any NLC member looking to get involved to check out NLC’s advocacy committees. Find that industry or policy area that fascinates you, and join a corresponding committee. For me, ITC covers such a broad swath of topics that anyone is bound to find our meetings interesting, and technology is only becoming a bigger part of life in all cities.”

-Mesa, Arizona, Vice Mayor David Luna

NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF) Council

“The city of Caldwell has greatly benefited from our association with the YEF Council and Institute over the past twenty years that I have served as mayor. We have learned strategies to assist us in creating, partnering, and implementing many of the programs and policies adopted by our city council to promote youth and families within our community as well the mentoring element for our youth who attend annual YEF functions.

Some of the programs and steps we’ve initiated in Caldwell from information and encouragement received from the YEF Council include:

  • Creation of the first Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council (MYAC) in Idaho
  • Adoption of the City Platform for Youth and Families by the Caldwell city council
  • Partnerships created with local school districts and nonprofits to develop a third grade swimming program, mentoring programs, preschool programs and out-of-school programs
  • Creation and adoption of a Youth Master Plan
  • Development of youth programs to include the Caldwell Youth Forum and Let’s Move! Caldwell
  • Development of a college savings program, Caldwell Saves 1st

In turn, we’ve promoted the same principles we have gained from our involvement in the YEF Council to other cities in Idaho and beyond. We have done this because we believe that every child matters. Because of our passion for youth and families, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in civility, community partnerships, graduation rates, reading skills, crime rates and youth engagement. We are truly appreciative of the solid guiding principles that have been offered by the YEF Council and YEF Institute over the years.”

-Caldwell, Idaho, Mayor Garret Nancolas

Young Elected Leaders Network

“As we continue to see history being made every year with the election of very young government officials, it’s important that we have an outlet in the midst of the organized chaos we call legislating. The Young Elected Leaders (YEL) Network has done an outstanding job of educating young leaders – and now NLC is doing its part to carve out a special place to connect seasoned leaders with those who are just beginning their journey.

I think, in some ways, the current generation of elected officials has been slow to share knowledge, and too sluggish to pass the baton on to future generations of passionate local leaders. I’m excited because our participation in NLC’s Young Elected Leaders Network is an opportunity for NLC to help guide young leaders out of our silos and onto a path filled with the resources and meaningful engagement only NLC can provide.”

-East Point Councilmember Alex Gothard

City officials who participate in these NLC member groups bring their voices and perspectives to the table to develop policy and advocate at the federal level on the issues that matter most to cities. To take your involvement in local government to the next level, join a constituency group, committee or council today.

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

NLC University Seminars Prepare City Leaders for an Uncertain Future

Annually, city leaders from across the nation convene in Washington, D.C. for NLC’s Congressional City Conference. Coupled with traditional conference programming, NLC University is hosting a series of pre-conference seminars designed to prepare city leaders for the road ahead.

The 2017 Congressional City Conference takes place in Washington, D.C., March 11-15. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Chris Abbott and Laura Lanford. It is the first post in a series highlighting NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Cities are at the forefront of the national economy, public safety, infrastructure and a host of other issues. But with the increased potential for cuts to funding for cities, the need for knowledgeable, connected and engaged city leaders is more critical than ever.

City leaders need to make their voices heard – and the Congressional City Conference is the perfect opportunity for local elected officials to boost their leadership skills. From introductory overviews to in-depth explorations, NLC University seminars at the Congressional City Conference offer participants a wide range of subject areas to choose and benefit from, regardless of their background, experience, region, or size of their municipality.

NLC University is a collaborative educational and professional development initiative that focuses on four key proficiency areas: leadership, management, engagement and issue expertise. The goal of NLC University is to provide municipal leaders with an interactive and engaging approach to refine existing skills and develop strategies to better govern, serve and advocate for their respective communities.

The Value Proposition

NLC University seminars provide one of the largest opportunities for local elected and appointed city officials to receive training from leading issue experts. The interactive training sessions are offered as full- or half-day sessions in which city officials are challenged with problems and concepts relevant to current city environments. The training sessions will stretch conventional thinking by applying creative, innovative solutions.

NLCU seminar participant Lydia Glaize, councilwoman from Fairburn, Georgia, had this to say after attending the Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations seminar:

“One of the best courses I’ve taken through NLC University. The presenters were knowledgeable and connected with their audience. They stated goals for the class at the beginning and wrote them down in terms of outcome-based objectives. The structure worked like a charm.”

2017 NLC University Seminar Lineup at the Congressional City Conference:

  1. Healthy Cities: Lessons Learned from Crisis Leadership
  2. Stronger Together: City Manager and City Council Relations
  3. Urban Plan for Elected Officials
  4. An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-Sector Collaboration in the Public Sector
  5. Congratulations, You Got Elected – Now What?
  6. REAL Action: Advancing Racial Equity in Local Government
  7. The Role of City Leaders in Public Sector Retirement
  8. Fostering Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship
  9. Let’s Talk Climate: Messages to Motivate
  10. The Ethical Leader: Rules and Tools
  11. Understanding Public Finance
  12. Federal Advocacy 101 (offered twice)

Featured trainers and presenters include:

  • Julie Willems Van Dijk – Associate Scientist and Director – County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Program
  • Kathryn Pettit – Senior Research Associate in the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center – Urban Institute
  • John Chesser – Enterprise Management Analyst – Mecklenburg County; Charlotte, NC
  • Janet A. Phoenix – Assistant Research Professor – George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health
  • Karen Seaver Hill – Director – Children’s Hospital Association
  • Steve Traina – Branch Manager – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Erica Bueno – Program Coordinator – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Brian Delvaux – Contracts Manager – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Blake Ratcliff – Director – Institute for Building Technology and Safety
  • Chris Fennell – Project Leader – IBTS OnHand Resource
  • Mike Conduff – President of the Elim Group and Former City Manager – The Elim Group
  • Jim Hunt – President & Founder of Amazing Cities and Past President of NLC – Amazing Cities
  • Sean Geygen – Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC
  • Sophie Lambert – Senior Director of UrbanPlan – Urban Land Institute, Washington, DC
  • Gideon Berger – Director of the Daniel Rose Fellowship Program – The National League of Cities
  • Jess Zimbabwe – Executive Director of the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership – The National League of Cities
  • Jacquelyn Wax – Communications Director – The Intersector Project
  • Neil Britto – Executive Director – The Intersector Project
  • Malcom Chapman – President – The Chapman Group
  • Simran Noor – Vice President of Policy & Programs – Center for Social Inclusion
  • Julie Nelson – Senior Vice-President – Center for Social Inclusion and Director of the Government Alliance for Race and Equity (GARE)
  • Leon Andrews – Director, Race Equity And Leadership (REAL) – National League of Cities
  • John Saeli – Vice President, Government Affairs and Market Development – ICMA-RC
  • Jeannine Markoe Raymond – Director of Federal Relations – National Association of State Retirement Administrators
  • Keith Brainard – Research director – NASRA
  • David Myers – Executive Director – Ponca City Development Authority
  • Penny Lewandowski – Senior consultant, External relations – Edward Lowe Foundation
  • Dan Barry – Director – Path to Positive Communities
  • Scott Paine – Director of Leadership Development and Education at the Florida League of Cities
  • Laura Allen – Town Administrator – Berlin, MD
  • Mike Mucha – Deputy Executive Director and Director – GFOA Research and Consulting Center
  • Ashley Smith – Senior Associate, Grassroots Advocacy – National League of Cities

Join colleagues for one (or many) of the outstanding NLC University seminars offered at the Congressional City Conference. NLC University will also host a Leadership Summit in San Diego, California, October 2-5 as well as pre-conference sessions at the 2017 City Summit in Charlotte, North Carolina, November 15-18.

About the authors:

Chris Abbott is a Senior Associate at the National League of Cities University.

 

 

Laura Lanford is the Principal Associate for Leadership Training at the National League of Cities University.

Making Informed Choices About Public Sector Pension Plans

NLC’s latest Municipal Action Guide includes a historical look at public sector pension plans, an overview of approaches to pension reforms, and a worksheet to help local officials navigate decision-making regarding their city’s pension plan.

City leaders across the country are faced with a responsibility to ensure that the municipal workforce has secure retirement. NLC’s latest report helps identify trends, challenges and solutions to pension funding. (Getty Images)

Pensions play a critical role in the ability of local governments to attract and retain the workforce needed to meet citizen demands. The costs associated with this employee benefit, however, can be substantial. NLC’s new report, Making Informed Choices about Public Sector Pension Plans, examines the reforms that cities have made in response to funding challenges and the impact of these changes. It also offers ways that local leaders can become more active and informed decision makers, regardless of whether their city or state runs their employees’ pension plan.

Pension funding took a big hit as the Great Recession in 2008 materialized. The recession had an added component – beyond its depth and length – that previous recessions did not: a nearly decade-long period of exceptionally low interest rates. This feature of the recession resulted in lower expected returns and therefore higher pension funding requirements. In response, many cities instituted reforms, resulting in improvements to public pension funding ratios.

As part of our annual City Fiscal Conditions report, NLC surveyed city finance officers about the reforms made to their plans since the recession, regardless of whether their city or the state administers the plan. The following is an overview of their responses:

City Pension Reforms, 2009-2016

Change %
Increased employee contribution rate 33
Changed plan design 22
Reduced benefits 17
Reduced COLA 12
Increased eligibility requirements 8
Increased vesting period 7
Other

Read or download the full Municipal Action Guide, Making Informed Choices about Public Sector Pension Plans.

About the author:Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

An Inside Look at Equitable Economic Development in Charlotte

We meet one of NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellows, Holly Eskridge of Charlotte, North Carolina, and discuss her experience in the EED program, Charlotte’s equitable economic development priorities, stakeholder engagement and challenges.

Included in the city of Charlotte’s equitable economic development work are interventions that drive both short- and long-term change in order to narrow the economic mobility gap between businesses and job seekers. (Getty Images)

Holly Eskridge serves as the city of Charlotte’s entrepreneurship and small business development manager. In this role, she leads a team that executes policy and programs directly supporting startups, small businesses and high growth entrepreneurial firms.

The participants in NLC’s Equitable Economic Development (EED) Fellowship are tackling unemployment, low income levels, and workforce-related issues in their communities. This week I had the opportunity to speak with one of this year’s fellows, Holly Eskridge, who manages entrepreneurship and small business development for the city of Charlotte.

Carlos Delgado: Hi Holly, thank you so much for the time today. To start off, can you tell us a little about your background?

Holly Eskridge: I currently serve as Charlotte’s entrepreneurship and small business development manager. In this role, I lead a team that executes policy and programs directly supporting startups, small businesses and high growth entrepreneurial firms. I also provide project management support on large-scale city projects in the organization’s smart cities and transportation programs that impact distressed corridors in the city.

CD: And previous to this role? I heard you have some political staff experience? How about your academic background?

HE: Yes, previously I served as an assistant to the mayor of Charlotte and the intergovernmental affairs director in the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. I hold a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and two masters in community and organizational social work and in public administration from the University of South Carolina. On a personal note, I am a huge football fan and have an annual tradition of attending at least one game per year in a previously unexplored stadium.

CD: That’s great! Let’s talk more about your city’s project – could you tell us why an equitable economic development agenda is a priority for Charlotte?

HE: Charlotte’s population is rapidly growing and is the nation’s seventeenth largest city with a population of over 850,000. Our healthy economy, access to highly-regarded educational opportunities, proximity to the Charlotte Douglas Airport (the 6th busiest airport in the world) and numerous quality of life attributes for all ages make it an attractive destination for newcomers and a place that native Charlotteans feel proud to call home.

In spite of the positive quality of life elements and strong economic trends, Charlotte is a city with residents and struggling small businesses that are not participants in nor beneficiaries of the city’s robust growth. There is a growing economic mobility gap in which various segments of the population are separated along racial lines, by income, family structure, educational level and geography. A 2015 Harvard University Study ranked Charlotte as 50th among 50 American cities in terms of the ability of a person in a lower income level to ascend to higher income levels during the course of his or her lifetime.

This reinforces why equitable economic development is the only responsible way to do our work. It ensures the city of Charlotte and its community partners are actively engaged in being part of the solution to address the mobility challenges many of our residents are facing. This is a critical part of accountability as a public servant.

CD: Thank you, that’s helpful framing. As you pointed out during our visit last year, your team is addressing the economic mobility gap with a set of tactical programs and larger-scale economic development policy reforms focused on small business and entrepreneurship, workforce development, and business incentives. What progress have you made since last June when the EED Fellowship kicked off?

HE: Included in our equitable economic development work are interventions that drive both short- and long-term change that build capacity and connectivity to job and business development opportunities for job seekers, small businesses and entrepreneurs in order to narrow the economic mobility gap between businesses and job seekers. Through the support of your organization’s leadership and collaboration with our community partners, we have seen significant accomplishments since June 2016.

When in comes to small business capacity-building, we started by organizing a small business stakeholder group that included business owners, BAC members, Business Resource Providers and government officials. We also established focus groups and conducted a survey of over 200 small businesses, which is currently under analysis and will be used to strengthen capacity-building efforts. In an effort to make resources and tools more accessible to small businesses, we redesigned the city’s business resource website with an interactive search tool, greater emphasis on storytelling around small business success, and an easy-to-navigate home page based on industry best practices.

On the workforce development front, we launched a new training program for adults with multiple barriers to employment called Partnership for Inclusive Employment and Career Excellence (Project PIECE) in partnership with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont and Urban League of the Central Carolinas. To get Project PIECE off the ground, corporate advisory councils convened and provided advice on curriculum design and we held several community outreach sessions for applicants. We now have approximately 200 community contacts contributing to the project, and have had 46 individuals enroll to-date. Some of our first training opportunities include trainings for careers in broadband and fiber optics, residential and commercial construction, and highway construction.

The city has also focused on increasing the availability of youth talent development programming – for example, we’ve had nearly 1,000 students from 19 high schools complete job readiness training, nearly 500 youth participate in interviewing skills training since July 2016, and received a $50,000 grant commitment from Microsoft for technology training.

And finally, policy considerations around business investment grants and business corridor revitalization have been presented to the City Council Economic Development (ED) Committee. Full city council consideration is pending.

CD: Could you expand a little more on the partnerships you have created with different stakeholders to successfully achieve your EED project outcomes?

HE: At the core of Charlotte’s success is our focus on partnerships and collaborative spirit. We approached our EED work by convening three partner groups with expertise in each element of our project scope (small business, talent development and business incentives and corridor revitalization). Each partnership team has a role in the EED work and collaboration is centered on the four Cs of commitment, compassion, collaboration and communication. Each partner has a role in the implementation of the EED Fellowship work program. These alliances are successful because they rely on the principle that the work involved in maintaining a partnership, and the benefits from the collaboration are spread equally among the organizations involved.

CD: Looks like you are doing a lot of progress and we at NLC, ULI, and PolicyLink feel extremely happy to be contributing to Charlotte’s success and progress. So far you have been the only EED Fellow to experience both peer-to-peer exchange opportunities, i.e. as a visiting EED Fellow to Houston and as an EED Hosting City Fellow during the technical assistance visit to Charlotte few weeks ago. Can you tell us about both experiences and what kind of advice did the group of visiting experts and visiting peer fellows gave to Charlotte?

HE: As a visiting EED Fellow, I was humbled to be engaged with the expert panel that provided recommendations to Houston EED project. NLC did an excellent job ensuring the visiting panel was one that both met their project scope and included professionals from both the public and private sector. The ability to learn from peers with such a wealth of knowledge was not limited to just the City of Houston. I felt like a sponge soaking up the intellect and wisdom of the other visiting fellows and I developed some string professional relationships in the process as well. This experience reinforced the need to prioritize the time to expand my professional networks.

On the hosting side, having visiting EED fellows and experts in Charlotte and gaining their insight in our work was a critical step in taking our community’s work to the next level. The attention the visiting panel paid to the experiences and ideas of our partner teams was genuine and gave tremendous credibility to the Equitable Economic Development initiative. Partners on multiple occasions have commented on the impact actively being part of the experience has had within their own organizations. The talent that was brought to Charlotte for those three days provided our community with thoughtful, realistic recommendations that are grounded in the core values of the city of Charlotte and its partners. The impact of this visit and our engagement in the EED Fellowship will last for many years to come.

CD: Before we conclude this very engaging conversation, I want to ask you one more question. In your opinion, what role is the EED Fellowship playing in your professional development??

HE: The professional development I have experienced as an EED Fellowship has been tremendous. First and foremost, how my team and I do our work has been transformed through the lens of equitable economic development. This intentionality in how we do our work I believe has led to significant accomplishments in our goal of increasing economic opportunity for all Charlotteans as well as strengthen the partnerships we have with community stakeholders. Having the opportunity to reframe how I do my work with the support of the resources and my peers from across the country has made me a more effective, accountable economic development professional.

EED Fellowship visit in Charlotte. From left to right: Carlos Delgado (NLC), Ann Wall (Assistant City Manager, Charlotte), Lewis Brown (PolicyLink), Julie Eislet (Councilmember, Charlotte), Mary Ellen Wiederwohl (Louisville Forward), Martha Brown (Deputy Commissioner, Milwaukee), Jason Perkins-Cohen (Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development), Matthew Haessly (Real Estate Specialist, Milwaukee), Holly Eskridge (Small Business and Entrepreneurship Manager, Charlotte), Kevin Dick (Economic Development Director, Charlotte), Vi Lyles (Mayor Pro Tem, Charlotte), Kevin Johns (Economic Development Director, Austin), Ed Driggs (Councilmember, Charlotte), Trinh Nguyen (Director, Office of Workforce Development, Boston), and Emily Robbins (NLC). Not pictured: Dana D’Orazio (NLC).

Charlotte is just one of six cities participating in this year’s EED fellowship. Later this month, we’ll share stories and experiences from other fellows.

carlos_delgado_125x150About the author: Carlos Delgado is the Senior Associate for the Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use at the National League of Cities.

When Cities and States Clash, Women and Families Suffer

Despite ongoing efforts to create more inclusive, gender-equal workplaces, many states currently prevent cities from passing laws mandating employers provide paid leave.

Tens of thousands attended the Women’s March on January 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C., to advocate for legislation and policies regarding women’s rights and a number of other human rights issues, such as gender equality in the workplace. (Wikimedia Commons)

This post was co-authored by Christiana McFarland and Brooks Rainwater.

Today, people around the globe are donning red, attending marches, and participating in walkouts in solidarity for International Women’s Day and “A Day Without a Woman.” With the social campaign #BeBoldForChange, organizers are calling on everyone to forge more inclusive, gender-equal workplaces. One way that cities are doing just that is through local paid leave policies.

The only problem? These efforts are being thwarted in nearly half the country. A new report from National League of Cities, City Rights in an Era of Preemption: A State-by-State Analysis, points to a troubling trend counteracting these local efforts – 19 states currently prevent cities from passing laws mandating employers provide paid leave. These limitations, also known as paid leave preemption laws, leave a great deal of families – and especially, women – with few options to care for themselves, a new child, or aging parents.

This trend is hardened by the fact that the federal government does not mandate paid family and medical leave at the national level. While a 1993 law, the Family Medical Leave Act, provides new parents with a guaranteed 12 weeks off after the birth of a child, it provides no remuneration, and is therefore only an option for those who can afford unpaid time off.

In the global context, most countries provide paid family and medical leave, including all countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), making the United States an extreme outlier.

As inequality rises and opportunities for those at the bottom of the income spectrum contract, support is needed to lift up rather than hold down our fellow Americans. This fact, tied together with the lack of national, state and private sector action to provide paid leave has spurred momentum forward in many cities to pass such laws.

What does paid leave encompass?

Paid leave, which includes both sick and family and medical leave, is a growing area of action for a number of cities. Paid sick leave laws specifically refer to the federal, state or local government mandating that employers provide sick time for employees that is paid either directly by the employer or through a social welfare benefit administered by the government.

Paid family and medical leave refers to the government providing monetary support to people caring for newborn children or aging parents, or addressing serious health issues. These types of laws typically provide anywhere from a percentage of full pay to 100 percent of a worker’s salary for set periods of time ranging from a few weeks to a year or more.

Which states prevent local action on paid leave?

In just the past couple of years, more than 20 municipalities have passed paid sick leave laws. From Tampa to Seattle to Washington, D.C., cities are working to empower local residents through guaranteed paid leave, which in turn creates better, healthier workforces.

However, this activity at the local level has prompted many state legislatures to stymy city control on the issue of paid leave, often on the grounds of limiting the “patchwork of regulations” for businesses operating throughout the state. But, it should be reiterated that this “patchwork” only exists, because states and the federal government have not taken action. Cities will always lead, but these preemptive measures mean that cities cannot tailor laws to meet local needs and values, and in the case of paid leave, serve to undermine the overall health and well-being of employees and limit economic growth.

(NLC)

New methods of preemption are also beginning to crop up. For example, in the absence of a state law that explicitly prohibits local paid sick leave, Arizona has threatened to withhold revenues from the city of Tempe in order to deter the possible adoption of paid sick leave measures.

Although many cities and their states have antagonistic relationships in the realm of paid leave, some offer solid examples for how to work together to support outcomes for women, families and businesses. Statewide paid leave laws that allow cities to provide levels of support for employees that exceed the state’s minimum requirements is a best practice to both minimize the patchwork of regulations and maintain local control. For example, San Diego and San Francisco are among several California cities that have passed paid sick leave laws that go above and beyond state minimums.

When it comes to social policy, aggressive state action has limited the ability of city leaders to expand rights and provide opportunities to community members. Preemption that prevents cities from expanding rights, building stronger economies and promoting innovation can be counterproductive and even dangerous for cities, states and the country.

Our call for local control is a call to give cities the ability to adapt and to have the tools they need to create an inclusive society that works for everyone. As we all celebrate International Women’s Day, let’s continue to support and lift up the success of our cities on paid leave and fight back against states that would diminish the voice of people in cities. Paid leave ultimately should be a right not a choice. It is in our nation’s cities where our country’s leaders will continue to lead the way in moving the country forward—helping us all to create a more inclusive world.

About the authors:

Christiana K. McFarland is NLC’s Research Director. Follow Christy on Twitter at @ckmcfarland.

 

 

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

Four Takeaways from the California Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Summits

For local officials, now is the perfect time to convene community partners to ensure your city is utilizing all available resources that help keep children engaged and healthy when school is out.

Implementing successful meal programs – and sustaining them – takes coordination and collaboration on many levels. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Clarissa Hayes and Dawn Schluckebier. It originally ran as part of the Food Research & Action Center’s FRAC On the Move series, which follows policy and program experts as they connect with advocates across the country to explore strategies and develop solutions to end hunger.

Representatives from the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) and the National League of Cities (NLC) recently joined the California Department of Education and more than 250 California representatives from local governments, school nutrition departments, food banks, law enforcement agencies, libraries, county health departments, community-based organizations, literacy and youth development agencies at two regional afterschool and summer nutrition summits, one in Richmond and one in San Bernardino County.

Hosted by the California Summer Meal Coalition, the summits provided attendees the opportunity to learn more about federally-funded summer and afterschool meal programs and share ideas and best practices for increasing the number of children served in their communities.

The Coalition – a program of the Institute for Local Government – is a key partner in NLC and FRAC’s Cities Combating Hunger through Afterschool and Summer Meal Programs (CHAMPS) initiative. CHAMPS has provided support to more than 41 cities and 18 anti-hunger organizations across the country to develop and implement strategies to increase children’s access to healthy meals and snacks through the child nutrition programs.

This year, new CHAMPS projects are being launched in three states: Alabama, California, and Kansas. In California, NLC, FRAC and the Coalition are partnering to provide technical assistance to 11 grantee cities and a number of city agencies to increase participation in afterschool and summer meals.

Collaboration was the theme of both summits. Speakers and attendees discussed the importance of collaboration among city, county, school and community leaders to leverage limited resources. In Southern California, the summit was followed by a breakfast for elected city, county and school district leaders to highlight the critical role that elected officials can play to advance the health and well-being of their communities by supporting access to afterschool and summer meal programs.  These roles range from supporting the development of a citywide promotion campaign and participating in local community events to sponsoring and operating the Afterschool and Summer Nutrition Programs and working with county and school colleagues to identify solutions to out-of-school time barriers.

Attendees at both summits left energized and equipped with innovative strategies to try, new partners to engage, and a renewed commitment to year-round nutrition access. Four key summit takeaways:

City leaders can play a critical role in supporting meal programs.

Hayward City Councilman Mark Salinas shared an example of the important role city leaders and elected officials can play in expanding summer and afterschool meal programs. After hearing about the need in his community, and the federal funding available through the afterschool and summer nutrition programs, he engaged community stakeholders and brought partners together to better meet the nutritional needs of the children in his city.

Having a vision and setting goals is important.

Implementing successful meal programs – and sustaining them – takes coordination and collaboration on many levels. Having a vision for your city and setting goals for program growth is important. These programs take time to build, and setting realistic goals helps keep efforts on track. Find out where your state ranks in summer meals participation and where you may be able to target efforts.

No community should work in a vacuum.

To reach more children with summer and afterschool meal programs, it’s important for cities, counties and school districts to work together to ensure the well-being of kids in the community. Thinking holistically about the issue of hunger and the solutions that exist – and how to include out-of-school-time in that conversation – allows us all to think creatively about strategies and the unique strengths every organization can add.

When something works, share it.

When models work locally – whether it be a specific type of marketing campaign, a way to improve the quality and appeal of meals served, or a strategy to engage elected officials – it’s important to share them broadly so they can be scaled and tailored to other communities. FRAC and Feeding America’s Anti-Hunger Policy Conference is a great place to share and learn about successes across the country – register today!

If you are a city leader, now is the perfect time to convene community partners to ensure your city is utilizing all available resources that help keep children engaged and healthy when school is out. Reach out to the anti-hunger advocates in your state to see how you can get started today.

Learn more about CHAMPS and the work being done by the California Summer Meals Coalition.

About the Authors:

Clarissa Hayes is a Child Nutrition Policy Analyst with the Food Research & Action Center.

 

 

Dawn Schluckebier is a Principal Associate for Family Economic Success in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families. Follow Dawn on Twitter at @TheSchluck.