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.

Supreme Court Will Not Decide Transgender Bathroom Case

The case revolves around the interpretation of a federal regulation that bans discrimination “on the basis of sex” in schools that receive federal money. The legal question is whether it can also ban discrimination based on gender identity.

The Trump Administration’s reversal of a rule on transgender students’ rights has effectively removed the case from the Court’s docket. (Getty Images)

The Supreme Court will not decide – at least not this term – whether transgender students have a right to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity, due to changes in position on this issue from the Obama Administration to the Trump Administration.

Title IX prohibits school districts that receive federal funds from discriminating “on the basis of sex.” A Title IX regulation states that, if school districts maintain separate bathrooms (locker rooms, showers, etc.) “on the basis of sex,” they must provide comparable facilities for the other sex.

In a 2015 letter, the Department of Education (DOE) interpreted the Title IX regulation to mean that, if schools provide for separate boys’ and girls’ bathrooms, transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity. DOE and the Department of Justice reaffirmed this stance in a May 2016 “Dear Colleague” letter.

On February 22, 2017, DOE issued a “Dear Colleague” letter withdrawing the previous letters. The new “Dear Colleague” letter takes no position on whether the term “sex” in Title IX includes gender identity.

G.G. is transgender. The Gloucester County School Board prevented him from using the boy’s bathroom. He sued the district arguing that is discriminated against him in violation of Title IX.

In November 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to decide two questions in Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. First, should it defer to DOE’s letter interpreting the regulation? Second, putting the letter aside, should the Title IX regulation be interpreted as DOE suggests?

The Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of G.G. The court gave Auer deference to DOE’s letter. Per Auer v. Robbins (1997), a court generally must defer to an agency’s interpretation of its ambiguous regulations. According to the Fourth Circuit, the Title IX regulation is ambiguous because it is “susceptible to more than one plausible reading because it permits both the Board’s reading (determining maleness or femaleness with reference exclusively to genitalia) and the Department’s interpretation (determining maleness or femaleness with reference to gender identity).”

Despite the 2015 and 2016 letters being rescinded, both parties still wanted the Supreme Court to decide this case. As the parties pointed out, the second question – how to interpret the Title IX regulations regardless of DOE’s position – doesn’t depend on the views of either administration.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court has sent this case back to the Fourth Circuit to rehear it in light of the new “Dear Colleague” letter. That ruling may again to appealed to the Supreme Court.

It seems likely that sooner rather than later, and probably with the benefit of nine Justices, the Supreme Court will again be considering the question of the rights of transgender students.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

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.

Meet Your Grassroots Advocate

“With longer sessions of Congress, federal elected officials are spending more time in D.C this year. Our members realize that they need to meet Congress here.”

Advanced registration for the Congressional City Conference ends this Friday. As part of our “Meet Your City Advocate” series introducing you to NLC’s Federal Advocacy team, we sat down with Ashley Smith, senior associate for grassroots advocacy, to learn more about NLC’s grassroots advocacy efforts and to find out what’s in store for “Capitol Hill Advocacy Day” during the conference this year.

Ashley Smith.jpg

Ashley Smith is the senior associate for grassroots advocacy at the National League of Cities (NLC/Brian Egan)

Name: Ashley Smith
Area of expertise: Grassroots Advocacy
Hometown: San Antonio, Texas

Ashley, thank you for taking the time to sit down with me today. To start off, can you tell us about your background?

Well, I grew up in San Antonio. Go Spurs! I’ve been at NLC almost a year now. Our Congressional City Conference (CCC) Capitol Hill Advocacy Day will be my anniversary.

Congrats!

Thank you! I went to the University of Kansas for undergrad, and then made my way to D.C. immediately after graduating. I knew I wanted to be in D.C., so I jumped on a plane without a job.

That’s how a lot of D.C. stories seem to start.

I made it work, though. I took a job at the Democratic Leadership Council, where I worked with state and local elected officials, and then joined a consulting firm working with nonprofits on issue advocacy campaigns. I’ve done a little bit of everything since coming here, but I love working in politics.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time working with local elected officials, so that’s what drew me to NLC. They’re just wonderful people to collaborate with, and I love empowering them to advocate for the work they do to help their residents day in and day out.

Cool. So why don’t you tell us about your job here at the National League of Cities? 

I manage our grassroots advocacy efforts, which encompasses a lot of things. Mostly, my work is to provide our members – the nation’s cities – with the tools and resources they need to effectively advocate for city priorities. I manage online and offline tools that members can use in their advocacy efforts. I also work to keep our members updated on opportunities to advocate for cities, and alert them when important legislation or city priorities are being addressed in Congress.

Most importantly, my job is making sure that members of Congress hear from local leaders directly. As you’ve heard in my colleagues’ previous interviews throughout this blog series, our lobbyists are always on the Hill advocating for city priorities – but it’s my job to make sure our members get on the Hill and in Congressional offices as well. That’s important because a Senator or Representative will listen to NLC lobbyists, but they really take note when we come into the office with a mayor or councilmember from their district. Our members are not only constituents – as local leaders, they represent other constituents, giving them a unique and powerful voice.

For sure! Can you tell us a bit about your role at the conference next week?

I’m there to engage with our members and to make sure they know of all the opportunities available to them. My biggest job though is to organize and run our Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. We’re planning to bring more than 500 members to 250 meetings on the Hill with members of both the House and Senate on March 15. I’m there to make sure everyone knows where to go and has their schedules, talking points and our great buttons.

I’m also leading two interactive workshops through our Federal Advocacy 101 training – one on Monday, the other on Tuesday. I encourage members to attend one if they are interested in learning more about how to have an effective meeting with a member of Congress – or if they just want to meet their grassroots advocate in person.

What are you most excited about for CCC?

I’m very excited by all the energy we’re seeing this year and the renewed sense of urgency for local leaders to come to D.C. Registration numbers for CCC are at their highest in years, and that is exciting.

With longer sessions of Congress, federal elected officials are spending more time in D.C. this year. Our members realize that they need to meet Congress here. We also have a new class of Congress, a new administration, and all new leadership in executive departments – and the members know that this means they need to come to D.C. to start building new local-federal partnerships.

I’m also excited to have nearly twice as many meetings available for NLC members on the Hill than last year. It’s another historic high we’ve hit.

That means you did your job well! So, last question – what is your spirit city?

That’s a hard question, but I’d say Washington, D.C.! I was one of those kids who was inspired by the West Wing, and after traveling to D.C. on a family trip when I was 13 years old, I was hooked and knew I wanted to live in D.C.

I also love living in a city comprised of people from all over the country. For all of the crazy politics that can go down here, it’s a great city with great people. I’m looking forward to welcoming our members here!

Join us at the 2017 Congressional City Conference and meet Ashley and the rest of your City Advocates. Advanced registration closes Friday, March 10!

brian-headshotAbout the author: Brian Egan is the Public Affairs Associate for NLC. Follow him on Twitter @BeegleME.

For City Administrators, Open for Business Means Open for Benefits

In this guest post, Colonial Life’s Johnny Castro shares two reasons why benefits communication should be a year-round effort for local governments.

Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. (Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Johnny Castro.

If your city government functions like most companies in America, you just completed your annual benefits enrollment. The meetings are over, the posters are down, and the enrollment forms are tidied away in their virtual filing cabinet. Even with good benefits providers on your team doing the heavy lifting, it was likely a lot of work. Thank goodness it only happens once a year – except for a few new employees you’ll probably hire over the next year, you’re good until next fall, right?

In order to truly maximize the major investment your city administrators make in its benefits program, helping city employees understand and make the best use of their benefits requires year-round effort. But it’s worth the work, and here are two great reasons: employee engagement and cost control.

Build a bond with workers

Strong benefits communication does more than help your employees make better benefits choices during open enrollment – it also helps you hold onto your top talent by increasing job satisfaction and workplace loyalty. Research shows there’s a strong, direct tie between how employees feel about their benefits communication and how they feel about the place they work. In fact, employees who rate their benefits education highly are also 76 percent more likely to rate their workplaces as very good or excellent, according to a Colonial Life/Unum U.S. Worker Benefits Survey released last year.

Building a strong, long-term relationship with your employees drives up retention, morale and productivity. Think about what it costs you to replace a worker who leaves for perceived greener pastures. Now add in the resource drain of performance-managing out a disengaged employee who later then must be replaced. While great benefits communication alone isn’t going to change a slacker into a superstar, there’s a clear connection between how well you communicate and how committed your employees are to their work and your government agency.

The bottom line on the bottom line

Avoiding turnover is only part of the cost-control formula. There are hard dollar costs associated with your employees not understanding and using their benefits to protect their health and well-being. Take chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis, for example. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say they account for three-fourths of health care costs. In fact, the Arthritis Foundation says arthritis is the nation’s top cause of disability.

Yet these types of chronic conditions are among the most preventable problems. Not taking advantage of preventive care coverage such as health screenings and flu shots for fear of the doctor’s bill can lead to more serious illnesses and lost time at work that might have been avoided.

If your city offers more than one health plan option — for example, a lower-deductible, higher-premium traditional preferred provider organization plan or a high-deductible “consumer-driven” plan with lower premiums — it’s important for your employees to understand how each works so they can make the best financial and health decisions for themselves and their families. Health savings accounts and flexible spending accounts can help employees plan for and manage health care expenses — but only if they participate in them. And that won’t happen if they don’t understand them.

By the way, if you’re ready to pat yourself on the back because your benefits communication is pretty good, you might want to ask your employees if they agree. Research shows there’s a pretty big disconnect on this issue. Less than 40 percent of employers have a formal benefits communication plan (surely, you’re not one of those), yet the vast majority — 90 percent — think their approach is effective, according to LIMRA’s 2016 Help Employers Connect the Dots report. But only a third of employees in our U.S. Worker survey said they understand their benefits very well.

Keep talking

Keeping the benefits conversation going all year long doesn’t have to drain your resources. Here are some simple low- or no-cost ideas for city administrators to build benefits and health knowledge beyond enrollment season:

  • Benefit of the month — Run a series of articles on your employee intranet site explaining in plain language different benefits and how to tell if they’re a good fit. Just because you explained the difference between term and whole life six months ago doesn’t mean every employee will remember the details. Keep the articles archived where they’re easy to find.
  • Share success stories — Use email newsletters, websites or visual displays to celebrate employees who are proud to share they’ve lost weight, committed to an exercise program, or reduced their dependence on medication for high cholesterol, for example.
  • Think seasonally — Create a calendar to talk with employees about seasonal health issues such as staying in shape in the winter and safety for outdoor summer activities.
  • Promote free external resources — Websites such as Colonial Life’s WorkLife have a wealth of information on benefits and health. Or check out Colonial Life’s interactive Benefits Learning Center, which can be customized with your benefits.
  • Bring in experts — Invite your benefits providers to hold open hours or brown-bag lunch-and-learns to explain different benefits throughout the year and answer employees’ questions.

If you’d like to learn more about how to keep the benefits conversation going with your employees all year, call or email us. They say talk is cheap – but in our opinion, it’s sometimes priceless.

About the author: Johnny Castro is assistant vice president of public sector at Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company. He can be reached at JCastro@ColonialLife.com or (803) 678-6746. Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company is a market leader in providing financial protection benefits through the workplace, including disability, life, accident, dental, cancer, critical illness and hospital confinement indemnity insurance. The company’s benefit services and education, innovative enrollment technology and personal service support 85,000 businesses and organizations, representing 3.5 million American workers and their families.

Cities Should Be the Focus of Federalism

Cities accelerate the spread of ideas and drive our national economy – but they are constrained in their ability to realize their full potential for their residents and for the nation.

(NLC)

(NLC)

In the first installment of this series, we looked at the basics of federalism and why it matters to cities. Part two focused on how affordable housing assistance has changed with the interpretation of federalism, and what that means for cities today, while part three examined federalism in the context of the American educational system. Part four focused on how local-federal partnerships support innovation and entrepreneurship, and today’s installment calls for more city-focused federalism.

Why should federalism focus on cities?

In 1932, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandéis famously wrote, “It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” This adage can be applied equally well to cities, which offer many advantages over federal and state governments.

Because of their limited geographies dense with human potential, cities accelerate the spread of ideas. They have become the drivers of our national economy. We can attribute this success to cities’ comparatively minimal bureaucracy, which allows them to respond quickly to changing technology and, in many instances, to act more pragmatically.

At the same time cities are innovating, they are providing a breadth of essential services to residents. Historian Kenneth Jackson once wrote, “Local governments in the United States have more responsibilities than municipal jurisdictions in other nations, and thus, they must themselves provide and pay for schools, policemen, fire protection, road repairs, sanitation and social services.”

Despite their role in our country, cities are faced with a lack of constitutional power. The federal government, over the last one hundred years, has embraced policies that have been notably anti-urban, including car subsidies, mortgage subsidies, substandard public housing, residential segregation and suburban land use laws. Coupled with the stifling attitude most state governments have towards localities, cities are constrained in their ability to realize their full potential for their residents and for the nation. This is why we need city-focused federalism.

What does city-focused federalism look like?

More resources. In today’s fiscal federalism – a carrot-and-stick approach to governing – money is everything. While cities generate most of their revenues from their own sources, intergovernmental aid is essential for jump-starting innovative projects and supporting necessary programs. Former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley once said, “Why should a city be mandated to do something by the federal government or state government without [being given] the money to do it?” City-focused federalism recognizes that cities need reliable funding from federal and state partners and not unfunded mandates.

Local decision-making. Cities should not have to wait on Congress to act in order to maintain highways, build transit systems, or spur new housing. Cities know which projects are critical, and will be responsible for maintaining them for years to come. City-focused federalism puts local governments in a position to set priorities and lead implementation. Federal funding formulas should reflect city priorities, or at least allow for flexibility at the local level. Passing more funding through to cities with fewer stipulations from the federal government will help catalyze this process.

Less preemption. Many state legislatures, which disproportionately represent non-urban constituents, have increased preemption of local authority on a number of issues. For example, local control over fiscal mechanisms is fundamentally important. Cities that have access to multiple revenue streams (sales, property and income) can tailor them to their local economies and preferences. However, the vast majority only have access to one or two streams of revenue. Reversing preemption and taxing limitations will only spur more innovation in cities. Moreover, granting home rule to more local governments will further enshrine the place of cities in the federal system.

A seat at the table. A strong federalist system relies on cooperation, not conflict, among the levels of government. The Obama administration set a positive precedent by placing former mayors in positions of influence and including local governments in important discussions, increasing the chances of local innovations becoming national policies. In the new administration, the voice of local governments deserves to be heard and respected. Furthermore, the creation of a national urban policy – something our country has long lacked – would go leaps and bounds towards affirming the importance of cities in America.

How do we achieve these goals?

Real change may not come without substantial shifts in politics and policy. More rights and protections for cities may need to come from a change not only in attitudes but in legislation. This is a daunting task. But the changes that city leaders create at the local level are often mirrored at the state and federal level – and by making their voices heard in statehouses and on Capitol Hill, local leaders can help change the nature of federalism in America.

To learn more about NLC’s efforts to promote more city-focused federalism – and make your voice heard at the federal level – join us at the Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., March 11-15.

Trevor Langan 125x150About the author: Trevor Langan is the Research Associate for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities.

Fighting for Local Government Priorities on Capitol Hill

NLC is laying the groundwork for Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, which takes place on March 15 during NLC’s Congressional City Conference. More than 250 meetings have been arranged for local officials to speak with their Congressional representatives about city priorities.

With a new president and Congress, now is the time to raise the voice of cities and make their priorities heard. (Getty Images)

With a new president and Congress, now is the time to raise the voice of cities and make their priorities heard. (Getty Images)

This post was co-authored by Michael Wallace and Ashley Smith.

Thousands of local officials will soon arrive in Washington, D.C. for NLC’s 2017 Congressional City Conference. Among the members of Congress scheduled to meet with conference attendees are seven new senators, 55 new representatives, and 91 former local elected officials. To lay the groundwork for successful meetings, NLC lobbyists have met in advance with these offices, alongside top leadership, over the last two months.

From January 3, when the new Congress was gaveled into being, to now, NLC lobbyists have taken 135 Congressional meetings with 120 members of Congress and their staff; and 11 meetings with Congressional committee staff from nine House and Senate committees. Among outcomes related to specific policy issues, these meetings served to educate Congressional offices on cities’ bipartisan priorities and reinforce NLC as the voice of America’s cities on Capitol Hill.

The Congressional City Conference takes place March 11-15. While in Washington for the conference, you’ll learn from political and issue experts on how federal action may impact your city in the months and years ahead, and have the opportunity to speak up for cities during meetings with your Congressional delegation.

Start your conference experience by attending NLC’s Federal Advocacy Committee meetings on Sunday, March 12 to learn more about our policy development process and how the committees are leading NLC’s advocacy efforts. Federal Advocacy Committee meetings are not just for committee members – they are open to every local official registered to attend the conference. And during workshops on March 13 and 14, you’ll hear about the most pressing topics facing cities and learn about federal plans and proposals. Topics include:

  • Infrastructure plans and funding
  • Possible changes to the Affordable Care Act and impacts to cities
  • New technologies and strategies for your police force
  • Considerations when pursuing public private partnerships
  • How to effectively advocate for your city in Washington

During the general sessions, you’ll hear from political analyst and former White House Director of Communications Nicolle Wallace and bestselling author J.D. Vance. Finally, on March 15, join city leaders from across the country as we advocate for city priorities during NLC’s Capitol Hill Advocacy Day. Register today to join us and learn more about the conference here.

We look forward to seeing you and city leaders from around the country in our nation’s capital!

You can get to know more about NLC’s advocacy team of lobbyists and grassroots professionals through the “Meet Your City Advocate” blog series and by attending one of NLC’s seven Federal Advocacy Committee meetings at the conference.

About the authors:

mike_wallace_125x150Michael Wallace is the Interim Director of Federal Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @MikeWallaceII.

 

Ashley Smith is the Senior Associate for Grassroots Advocacy at the National League of Cities. Follow Ashley @AshleyN_Smith.

The Trump Administration and Waters of the U.S.

President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order aimed at rolling back the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) rule, an Obama-era rule designed to protect the streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources. What will happen to current WOTUS litigation following the president’s recent executive order?

(Getty Images)

Per the Clean Water Act, “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) are parcels of land, such as the wetlands pictured above, which are federally regulated by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. (Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s executive order Restoring the Rule of Law, Federalism, and Economic Growth by Reviewing the “Waters of the United States” Rule calls for the “rescinding or revising” of the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) definitional rule published in the summer of 2015. Many state and local governments objected to the broad nature of these regulations, in particular to the expansive definition of ditches and the ambiguous definition of tributaries.

“The EPA so-called Waters of the United States rule is one of the worst examples of federal regulation, and it has truly run amok, and is one of the rules most strongly opposed by farmers, ranchers and agricultural workers all across our land,” said President Trump on Tuesday.

The executive order acknowledges that rewriting the WOTUS definitional regulations will require going through the lengthy and complicated process under the Administrative Procedures Act which the 2015 final regulations endured. This process involves proposing a new rule, receiving and responding to (likely thousands) of comments, and issuing a final rule.

The current WOTUS regulations are subject to complicated litigation. In October 2015, the Sixth Circuit issued a temporary stay of the regulations preventing them from going into effect nationally. In February 2016, the Sixth Circuit ruled that it, rather than a federal district court, has jurisdiction to rule on whether the WOTUS rule exceeded the Clean Water Act.

In January 2017 the Supreme Court agreed to review the Sixth Circuit ruling that an appellate court – not a district court – has jurisdiction to rule on WOTUS. This case, National Association of Manufacturers v. Department of Defense, will not be heard until late 2017, meaning the Supreme Court may not issue an opinion in this case until as late as June 2018.

What will be the fate of all this WOTUS litigation over the current rule in light of the executive order? We don’t know – but the executive order directs the Attorney General to “inform any court of such review and take such measures as he deems appropriate concerning any such litigation pending the completion of further administrative proceedings related to the rule.”

The Attorney General may ask the Sixth Circuit to voluntarily vacate its decision temporarily staying the regulations, given that the new administration intends to change them. The Sixth Circuit is more likely to agree to this if none of the parties object. A number of states and environmental groups have intervened in support of the current WOTUS regulations and may object.

If the Sixth Circuit vacates the stay, the practical effect is that the current regulations would no longer be valid. Vacatur of the Sixth Circuit stay also would likely render moot the Supreme Court challenge on jurisdiction. If the Sixth Circuit refuses (or isn’t asked) to vacate the Sixth Circuit decision regarding the stay, the Supreme Court jurisdiction litigation is likely to proceed indefinitely.

Given that defining WOTUS has been so difficult and contentious, almost no matter what new definition is proposed it too will be subject to litigation.

The executive order instructs that Justice Antonin Scalia’s decision in Rapanos v. United States be “considered” in defining the term “navigable waters.” Rapanos is a 4-1-4 decision. Justice Scalia wrote the plurality opinion, defining this term more narrowly than Justice Kennedy’s solo concurring opinion. The Sixth Circuit considered Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion controlling. If the new definition of WOTUS relies on Justice Scalia’s opinion, it will almost certainly be challenged on this ground, along with many others.

Interested in more WOTUS news? Lisa Soronen contributed a previous CitiesSpeak blog post about the jurisdictional determinations issued by the Army Corps of Engineers under the Clean Water Act.

lisa_soronen_new_125x150About the author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center (SLLC), which files Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs on behalf of the Big Seven national organizations representing state and local governments. She is a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

Cross-sector Collaboration is a Critical Tool for City Leaders

The Intersector Project’s Neil Britto offers a number of resources to help local officials cope with declining budgets, a changing public-private partnership arena, and the inadequacy of a single-sector approach to problem solving.

(Wikimedia Commons)

As in the world of motorsports, collaboration in the public service arena can produce results that are impossible to achieve without the efforts of many individuals working together. (Wikimedia Commons)

This is a guest post by Neil Britto of the Intersector Project.

While cross-sector collaboration isn’t new, city leaders across the country are adopting collaborative approaches in increasing numbers. Why is collaboration in the United States more important now than ever?

Single-sector inadequacy
There seems to be consensus from leaders across sectors and issues that the critical challenges facing our communities today are unsolvable, or at least not easily solvable, by single-sector efforts. Arguably, this has always been the case – but trust in government is at a notable low, and there is increasing recognition that sectors have complementary strengths and ought to find ways to work together.

Declining public budgets
In an era of constrained public-sector budgets, the assets of other sectors need to be deployed to support public well-being. Since the Great Recession, the public sector has lost more 700,000 jobs. Discretionary spending budgets by public-sector managers have been severely cut. At the same time, citizens are demanding more, better and faster services from their government.

The evolving nature of public-private partnerships
A recent report from the Fels Institute suggests that 92 percent of the National Association of State Chief Administrators agreed that government and private organizations should develop new processes to create partnerships that were not simply transactional but relational, relying not only on contracting but shared resources, risks and decision-making processes.

Our Work

At the Intersector Project, we work to advance cross-sector collaboration by creating accessible, credible and practically valuable resources and research that are publicly available in full through our website.

  • We’ve developed one of the country’s leading case study libraries on cross-sector collaboration in the United States. Our 40 cases range in issue area from infrastructure to education, are written with a practitioner audience in mind, and all are freely available online.
  • We’ve also created a Toolkit – a “how-to” guide for practitioners of cross-sector collaboration in every issue area. We recommend practitioners download the Toolkit from our website, distribute to core partners in early planning stages, and use the resource to support shared understanding of key elements for their collaborative process and to create a common language for those elements.
  • Another key resource we’ve created for practitioners is our Resource Library, an online, searchable catalog of hundreds of quality resources related to cross-sector collaboration from research organizations, advisory groups, training organizations, academic centers and journals, and other sources. These resources relate to a wide variety of partnership types (from contractual public-private partnerships to community partnerships) and a broad array of issues such as transportation, education, public health and more.

The Intersector Project has made a unique commitment to connecting research to practice by maintaining active relationships with groups in both arenas and working to produce content that brings them together. For example, we publish a research brief that highlights the latest research relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and an in-depth look at one article per month through our Research to Practice series. We also invite scholars to distill their research for our practitioner audience in our Researcher Insights series.

We work to engage with a wide variety of thinkers and practitioners on this topic as well, from designers of innovative public-private partnership mechanisms at NASA to local government managers pursuing improved service delivery for their constituencies. We teach, facilitate, moderate, and lead events with leading membership organizations like the National League of Cities, the American Society for Public Administration, CEOs for Cities, the Alliance for Innovation, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association. We also work with leadership development and fellowship organizations like the Presidio Cross-Sector Leadership Fellows and Coro Leadership programs in New York, and with issue-oriented groups like the National Resources Defense Council to provide resources and expertise to personnel who work across sectors.

Throughout our work, we strive to maintain the key features that distinguish us. While many organizations focus on cross-sector collaboration in a global context, our commentary, research, and thinking focuses particularly on the United States. Our work is sector- and issue-neutral, created for practitioners from all sectors working on a range of issues across the nation. Also, because the models and methods for cross-sector collaboration are proliferating, the Intersector Project’s resources speak to the broad array of collaborative approaches that practitioners in the field are actively using to solve problems.

Our NLC University Seminar

This March, we’ll be hosting a NLC University seminar, “An Introduction to the Intersector Process: Cross-sector Collaboration in the Public Sector,” at the 2017 Congressional City Conference. The seminar is designed to introduce public-sector officials and staff to key management tactics for cross-sector collaboration through an interactive training session.

Each sector – and indeed, each entity within the sectors – has its own language, culture, and work practices, which can prove challenging to align when pursuing shared goals in a consensus-oriented environment. Our three-hour training session includes interactive activities designed to help participants deepen their awareness of these differences, commentary on trends relevant to cross-sector collaboration, and a facilitated discussion to support peer learning. It also includes an introduction to the Intersector Project Toolkit as a planning guide designed to assist practitioners in navigating differences between sectors and overcoming barriers to effective partnership.

The session also includes a simulated exercise through which stakeholders will design and negotiate a detailed partnership agreement to create an effective framework within which the partners can work and lay a foundation for sustained collaboration. In the context of a transportation and air quality collaboration comprising 48 organizations, including local, county, and state government, business, environmental interests, community groups, and more, participants will consider key design choices related to decision-making structure, resource allocation, project management and more.

In an era of rising public expectations and declining resources, our NLC University session will equip you with tools and resources to lead effective cross-sector collaborations in your community. We look forward to seeing you in March.

The Intersector Project previously published a CitiesSpeak blog post on Boston’s innovation district.

About the author: The Intersector Project is a nonprofit organization that seeks to empower practitioners in the business, government, and nonprofit sectors to collaborate to solve problems that cannot be solved by one sector alone. We present real examples of collaborations in many places and across many issues, and illuminate the tools that make them successful. Visit us at intersector.com, and follow us on Twitter @theintersector.