Four Bad Habits to Avoid at City Council Meetings

Learning these principles and avoiding these bad habits will improve your meetings — and your decision-making.

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

This is a guest post by Ann G. Macfarlane.

There are a number of “urban myths” about Robert’s Rules of Order that can get in the way of democratic process for your council. If your municipality, county council, or special district avoids these bad habits, congratulations! If these errors happen at your meetings, however, you might want to bring them to the attention of your colleagues to straighten them out – in a pleasant way, of course.

  1. Misuse of “call the question.” Many people believe that if a member says “I call the question,” discussion on the motion being considered must stop immediately. This is a widespread misunderstanding. If you say, “I call the question,” it just means that you – as a single individual – would like to stop debate and vote now. The chair must ask for a second and then take the vote by show of hands, because two-thirds of the members must agree for debate to stop. The reason is that stopping debate limits members’ rights, and in general, a two-thirds vote is needed when members’ rights are limited or extended. While it may seem odd to “vote on whether to vote,” with time, your group will get used to this and use it properly.
  1. Misuse of “friendly amendment.” If a motion has been made, seconded, and stated by the chair, it is open to discussion, debate, and amendment by the members. One common mistake occurs when a member says, “May I offer a friendly amendment?” The chair sometimes then turns to the maker and the seconder to ask if they will accept this amendment. To do this denies the basic fact that a motion belongs to all the body, not just to the one who proposed it. It gives the maker a special “proprietary” right in her motion which, in fact, she doesn’t have. Instead, the chair can say, “A friendly amendment is handled just like any other amendment – is there a second?” The group then proceeds with its discussion and votes on the amendment in the usual way.
  1. Abuse of power by the chair. The chair of a meeting is charged with ensuring a fair process and following the procedures that the group has adopted. He is not responsible for the decision that the group makes. It is the group itself that has that authority. Sometimes chairs are over-assertive in running a meeting. They refuse to recognize a legitimate motion, or to acknowledge a “point of order.” The members should know how to bring them in line by using “appeal.” When running a meeting, the chair or presider is the servant of the group, and the group is the final authority.
  1. Allowing a few members to dominate the conversation. In council, committee, commission, and board meetings, it can happen that a few members get most of the air time. This is a bad habit that weakens the effectiveness of the group’s discussion. The remedy is the “speak once” rule, which states that “No one may speak a second time until everyone who wishes to do so has spoken once.” Whether the chair keeps track of who has spoken, maintaining a little list for future speakers, or whether you use the “round robin” method of discussion, following this rule will ensure a democratic process and lessen your chances of “groupthink.”
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About the author: Ann G. Macfarlane is a professional parliamentarian who offers fresh insights into Robert’s Rules of Order at Follow Ann on Twitter @AnnGMacfarlane.

Prosperous Cities Are Healthy Cities

YEF Institute’s new grant spurs deeper city engagement in addressing key issues regarding health improvement and economic advancement.

young family on vacation

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“When you look at maps of neighboring communities and zip codes and see significant disparities in life expectancy within a couple of miles – sometimes blocks – you’re compelled to advance policies to address those gaps in a meaningful way,” said Mayor David Baker of Kenmore, Washington.

With generous support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the National League of Cities (NLC) through its Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute) is leading a national effort to build the capacity of city leaders to improve the quality of life where individuals live, learn, work and play.

“This is an opportunity to harness the leadership and political will of mayors and city leaders to improve the quality of life for all residents through cross-agency, cross-sector approaches to city policies, practices and programs,” said Clarence E. Anthony, NLC CEO and executive director.

RWJF’s vision is to advance a Culture of Health (CoH) in every community across the United States by creating a movement where health is a shared value and is an important factor in key policy decisions. In this model, a Culture of Health includes not only high quality health care, but also ensuring all residents have access to high quality early childhood programs, good schools, good jobs, affordable housing, safe and active transportation options, places to play and healthy foods. Rooted in this vison is the opportunity to work in cross-cutting ways using data to target and tailor high impact strategies and policies so that all resources are directed to improving health. Tools and guidance such as those available through the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration between RWJF and the University of Wisconsin, can support community leaders who want to make this vision of communities where all families can thrive a reality.

Mayors and city leaders play a pivotal role in the overall health and well-being of the cities and towns they serve. Over the course of the next three years, NLC will partner with mayors and city leaders to advance cross-cutting approaches to promote a culture of health in America’s cities and towns through four major strategies, including;

  • Creating outcomes-based policies and practices through a series of Mayor’s Institutes to make sure health is considered and woven into their work across a wide array of key policy areas;
  • Collaborating and sharing knowledge, ideas and models with peers through an ongoing communications effort that includes web forums, blogs and workshops, among other efforts;
  • Using the latest data, sustainability strategies and equity frameworks to guide informed approaches that leverage all available assets and stakeholders; and
  • Leveraging and building upon the success of initiatives like Let’s Move Cities, Towns & Counties and the long-standing efforts within NLC to ensure integrated approaches to make healthy choices easy choices.

“City leaders have a critical role to promote a Culture of Health in our communities, and we must make smart planning decisions that ensure access to safe places to walk and play. This is important because healthier kids are better able to learn, which empowers them to ultimately reach their full potential,” said NLC President Melodee Colbert-Kean, councilmember, Joplin, Missouri.

Many cities are leading the way, and each year RWJF recognizes top performing communities through their CoH Prize. The CoH Prize recognizes the impact of communities that have placed a priority on health and who are creating powerful partnerships and deep commitments that enable everyone, especially those facing the greatest challenges, the opportunity to live well. NLC member cities,  including Kansas City, Missouri; Bridgeport, Connecticut; Cambridge, Massachusetts; Everett, Massachusetts; Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans, Louisiana; Williamson, West Virginia; and Durham, North Carolina, have won the prize in previous years and continue to advance their healthy community efforts.  These cities have instituted a range of approaches to building a Culture of Health, including expanding access to early childcare, after school and summer learning programs; building partnerships between hospitals and jails to better address the health needs of repeat offenders and visitors; encouraging green jobs creation; creating safe environments and communities; and developing affordable housing.  Dr. Rose Gowen, Brownville, Texas, City Commissioner, speaks to her city’s efforts saying, “People in Brownsville want better… a better economy, education and health. We’re interested in building a community where healthy is the norm – not the anomaly.”  CoH winners are featured in short videos that highlight their successes.

For more information, check out the YEF Institute’s overview of the RWJF COH grant, or see how healthy your county is and how you can make it healthier by visiting County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.

This is the first CitiesSpeak blog post as part of our new Culture of Health series.  Look for the next post in October. If you are interested in learning more, consider joining us at CitySummit for an in-depth training on the Culture of Health; scholarships are available for a limited time. Click here to view and and complete a scholarship application.

About the Authors:

julieJulie Willems Van Dijk is the Director of County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.




3cec31aSue Pechilio Polis is the Director of Health & Wellness in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.


5 Opportunities Cities Can Pursue to Expand Shared Mobility

A new municipal tool is available to help city officials establish and expand shared modes of transport. Sharon Feigon examines several trends across a range of cities that can provide insight and guidance in this rapidly-evolving landscape.

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It’s no secret that bikesharing, carsharing and other forms of shared mobility have tended to cluster in dense urban neighborhoods, where auto ownership rates are low and incomes are relatively high. While these core areas have sustained the growth of the shared mobility industry, other markets may also have the necessary qualities to support robust shared mobility networks. (Christopher Ames/Getty Images)

This is a guest post by Sharon Feigon.

To help local leaders and stakeholders better understand transportation access in their cities and identify new opportunities beyond downtown, the Shared-Use Mobility Center has developed an opportunity analysis and mapping tool that uses data at a Census block group level to identify potential demand for shared-use resources. The tool is part of a comprehensive Shared Mobility Toolkit – which also includes an extensive policy database and benefits calculator – that cities can use to establish and expand shared modes of transport.

While each community has its own unique opportunities and challenges, an analysis comparing opportunity across a range of cities revealed several overall trends worth noting, including:

  1. Many regions can easily expand city shared mobility systems to inner-ring suburban communities

Often located just across the street from the city proper, inner-ring suburbs share many of the attributes of traditional urban neighborhoods, including relatively high levels of density, well-connected street grids, and frequent transit service. These qualities make them a natural fit for bikeshare and carshare systems that can expand outward from the city’s core.

Many of these communities also have their own vibrant downtowns, which hold a mix of uses and are typically bordered by lower-density swaths of single-family homes. When modeled, these neighborhoods indicate that they could support all shared modes, but would require some additional planning to strengthen or rebuild their orientation to transit.

Despite their transit-supportive physical attributes, many inner-ring suburbs declined economically after World War II as residents moved to more far-flung suburban communities, so the introduction of new shared-use modes, which can help cut household transportation costs and improve access to opportunity, may be especially beneficial.

  1. Shared mobility can help spur economic development in small city downtowns

Since downtowns in many smaller cities were established before automobile use became prevalent, they are often walkable neighborhoods featuring local retailers, public facilities such as libraries and parks, and a relatively dense urban form. Some are built around a major anchor such as a university or central thoroughfare. However, due to economic changes, many small city downtowns are no longer employment centers, with residents commuting via car from their homes to office parks on the community’s periphery.

Shared mobility — especially bikeshare — may help bring residents and visitors back downtown, providing economic benefits for local business owners and the region at large, while also addressing local congestion issues. Most of these markets can also support a full suite of shared mobility modes, which could be expanded if already present or otherwise integrated into the planning process.

  1. Moderately dense neighborhoods hold the most opportunity for cities looking to reduce car ownership

Dense urban downtowns often have the lowest car ownership rates, while car ownership remains a necessity in many outlying communities where other options are lacking. Moderately dense neighborhoods, however, tend to be relatively car dependent but can also support robust transit and shared mobility systems, making them a “sweet spot” for planners looking to shift people away from private vehicles to alternative transportation modes by scaling up shared mobility.

That is especially true of moderate-density neighborhoods adjacent to a city’s downtown or transit hubs. In some cases, these communities can have a more suburban feel, with single family homes and lower density retail and employment centers. All shared modes can be integrated into these communities, but some strategic planning and implementation of supportive policies must occur for them to fully succeed.

  1. Shared mobility can help provide first-mile/last-mile connections to transit in outlying communities

Many low-density suburban communities are located along commuter rail lines, but offer limited transit connections beyond that service. Commercial activity, meanwhile, is often restricted to strip malls located along major arterial roads, and most residents commute to the city center or to other employment centers throughout the region.

SUMC’s models indicate that such neighborhoods could support shared modes, such as microtransit, ride-hailing or vanpooling, that help provide first-mile/last-mile connections to transit networks and employment centers. Bikeshare and carshare fleets may be particularly effective when located near high-density residential clusters within these communities, such as apartment complexes and townhome developments. However, in order for shared mobility networks to succeed in these areas, they should also be coupled with strong transit investment.

  1. Many low-income neighborhoods offer ideal markets for shared mobility

SUMC’s analysis found that densely populated low-income neighborhoods, often located adjacent to core downtown areas, present a tremendous opportunity for shared mobility. While they have been often passed over, these neighborhoods have many of the key qualities — including high population density, transit access, and walkability — needed to support shared-use systems. Additionally, the opportunity to scale up shared modes in these neighborhoods is especially compelling since they stand to profit most from the benefits of shared mobility, including reduced household transportation costs and increased connectivity to jobs and opportunities outside the immediate community.

About the Author: Sharon Feigon is the executive director of the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), a national public interest organization working to foster collaboration in shared mobility and extend its benefits for all. SUMC’s Shared Mobility Toolkit is publicly available online at

How to Grow an Inclusive Economy

In this Big Ideas for Cities feature, Compton, California Mayor Aja Brown discusses what it takes to ensure the benefits of economic development reach all residents.

Most people know the City of Compton, California from NWA, but there’s a lot more to the city’s story. In this Big Ideas for Cities talk, Compton Mayor Aja Brown discusses how the city reduced its homicide rate, lowered the unemployment rate and increased economic opportunity. “Economic growth—and connecting it to disadvantaged populations—is key to a community’s success,” says Mayor Brown.

Do you have a big idea? Since 2014, the National League of Cities’ Big Ideas for Cities series has featured cities and businesses that are using “big ideas” to drive communities forward. The series has quickly become a popular platform for leaders to share their success stories and describe, in detail, the steps they’ve taken to make their communities better.

We are currently accepting speaker submissions. Leaders are invited to share the best practices and innovative solutions moving their cities forward. The series is filmed year-round and open to individuals from all sectors – public, private and nonprofit. Talks are filmed at NLC’s studio in our new building on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Program Manager for Content and Social Media at the National League of Cities. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimMudd.

Mayors Continue Emphasis on Public Safety, New Approaches Emerging

This year’s National League of Cities analysis of State of the City speeches reaffirms that while mayors across the country continue to see public safety as a top issue, they’re employing new tactics and approaching the entire arena from a different perspective.

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In their 2016 State of the City speeches, several mayors laid out visions for continued progress in community policing, or what some call guardian policing. (Getty Images)

Alongside other core priorities for city government such as infrastructure and economic development, the nation’s mayors consistently emphasized ensuring and improving public safety, as seen in the National League of Cities’ State of the Cities 2016 report. Of note this year, several mayors focused on new or revised approaches getting underway in key areas such as community policing, diversion, reentry, and youth violence prevention.

Such approaches continue to illustrate the contributions that city governments can make to greater effectiveness and fairness in broad public safety and criminal justice efforts, in ways that complement actions by courts, county jail administrators and state corrections departments.

With police departments a primary means for cities to ensure safety – and in the context of continued tragic events and simmering or exposed tensions – several mayors laid out visions for continued progress in community policing, or what some call guardian policing. Some pointed to specific strategies to build or restore trust between police departments and residents, including Mayor John King of Covina, California, and Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, Massachusetts.  Columbus, Ohio, Mayor Andrew Ginther noted: “Bike patrols, walking crews, community liaison officers, school resource officers, social media outreach, our Diversity Recruiting Council, listening tours – these are just some of the many ways our police make every effort to engage with the communities they serve, keeping communication lines open and building trust and goodwill.”

Mayors highlighted investments in diversion and reentry programming that yield both short- and long-term payoffs, picking up on themes consistent with the NLC Institute for Youth, Education, and Families’ (YEF Institute) resources in use by dozens of cities pursuing strategies to reduce arrest and incarceration for youth and young adults. For instance, pointing to adoption of an increasingly common tactic to reduce overuse of jails, Mayor John Tecklenburg of Charleston, South Carolina, explained that the police department “is now testing a new citation and release pilot program, designed to reduce the number of citizens incarcerated for minor offenses.”

Mayors in cities of vastly different sizes – including  Mayor Adrian Mapp of Plainfield, New Jersey; Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston; and Mayor Muriel Bowser of Washington, D.C. – focused on providing better supports and services upon reentry from prisons and jails, such as access to drug-free housing, job training programs and mental health services.

Mayor Ginther of Columbus explained that city’s comprehensive reentry approach, which spans services, supports, and jobs: “We will continue to invest in Restoration Academy, which offers a second chance to restored citizens who are ready to contribute to their communities and support their families. And this year, I am pleased to announce that we will offer two classes of Restoration Academy, with one class specifically for 18- to 23-year-olds. The City of Columbus alone has hired 40 graduates to date.”

Informed by NLC’s longstanding support for the California Gang Prevention Network and successor initiative the National Forum for Youth Violence Prevention, a number of cities continue to launch, expand and improve strategies to steer young people into productive pursuits and away from gangs and guns. Mayors in cities including Baltimore; Evanston, Illinois; Jersey City, New Jersey; Seattle; and Nashville, Tennessee, referred to city adoption of a variety of methods. These included fielding outreach workers, development of comprehensive violence prevention plans, and hospital-based violence intervention programs to reduce retribution. Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee summed up a common view when he said, “Our emphasis will be on youth development and preventing youth violence because we need to ensure that every young person can achieve their goals and build a successful future.”

This post is part of a series expanding on NLC’s 2016 State of the Cities report. Check back next week as we delve deeper into what mayors had to say about data and technology.

Andrew Moore About the Author: Andrew Moore is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewOMoore.

Supreme Court Review for Local Governments – Fall 2016

NLC’s Lisa Soronen provides a complete review of the 2015-2016 cases that affect local governments, and offers a glimpse at three new cases of interest to be decided in the Court’s 2016-2017 term.

photo - Supreme Court in Spring with FountainLast term, the Supreme Court decided six (arguably, seven) “big” cases. Five of those big cases impacted local governments in some way. In some of these cases, being down a Justice made all the difference — and in at least two cases, it made no difference at all. The Court also decided a number of “bread and butter” issues affecting local governments, such as qualified immunity, public employment, and Fourth Amendment searches. (markphariss/Getty Images)

The Big Cases

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, the Supreme Court issued a 4-4 opinion affirming the lower court’s decision to not overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977).

In Abood, the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment does not prevent “agency shop” arrangements – where public employees who do not join the union are still required to pay their “fair share” of union dues for collective bargaining, contract administration, and grievance-adjustment.

In two recent cases in 5-4 opinions written by Justice Alito and joined by the other conservative Justices (including Justice Scalia and Justice Kennedy), the Court was very critical of Abood. The Court heard oral argument in Friedrichs in January before Justice Scalia died, and the five more conservative Justices seemed poised to overrule Abood. Justice Scalia, who ultimately didn’t participate in this case, likely would have voted to overrule Abood.

In Reynold v. Sims (1964), the Supreme Court established the principle of “one-person, one-vote” requiring state legislative districts to be apportioned equally.

The question in Evenwel v. Abbott was what population is relevant — total population or voter-eligible population.

The maximum total-population deviation between Texas Senate districts was about 8 percent; the maximum voter-eligible population deviation between districts exceeded 40 percent.

The Court’s unanimous opinion concluded Texas may redistrict using total population “based on constitutional history, this Court’s decisions, and longstanding practice.”

Over the last 25 years the Supreme Court refused to decide this issue at least three times (all the previous cases involved local governments).

The Supreme Court split 4-4 in United States v. Texas on whether the President’s deferred action immigration program violates federal law.

As a result, the Fifth Circuit’s nationwide temporary stay of the program remains in effect.

The Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program allows certain undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for five years, and either came here as children or already have children who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, to lawfully stay and work temporarily in the United States.

The National League of Cities and the U.S. Conference of Mayors joined an amicus brief in this case supporting the United States.

In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Court ruled 4-3 that the University of Texas at Austin’s race-conscious admissions program is constitutional.

Per Texas’s Top Ten Percent Plan, the top ten percent of Texas high school graduates are automatically admitted to UT Austin, filling up to 75 percent of the class. Other students are admitted based on a combination of their grades, test scores, and “personal achievement index.” Race is considered as one factor in one of the two components of an applicant’s “personal achievement index.”

The Court rejected Abigail Fisher’s argument that the university’s use of race is unnecessary. This is the first time an education institution has won an affirmative action case since Grutter v. Bollinger (2003).

In McDonnell v. United States, the Court unanimously reversed former Virginia Governor Robert McDonnell’s federal bribery conviction.

While in office McDonnell accepted more than $175,000 in loans, gifts, and other benefits from Jonnie Williams. Williams wanted a Virginia state university to test a dietary supplement, Anatabloc, his company had developed.

The federal government claimed McDonnell committed at least five “official acts” of bribery, including arranging for Williams to meet with Virginia government officials and hosting and attending events at the Governor’s mansion designed to encourage Virginia university researchers to study Anatabloc.

The Court held that setting up meetings, calling other public officials, and hosting events do not alone qualify as “official acts.”

The lower court will decide whether charges against McDonnell should be dismissed based on its new definition of “official acts” or whether McDonnell should receive a new trial.

Bread and Butter Cases

Local government officials can be sued for money damages in their individual capacity if they violate a person’s constitutional rights. Qualified immunity protects government officials from such lawsuits where the law they violated isn’t “clearly established.”

In Mullenix v. Luna, Israel Leija Jr. led officers on an 18-minute chase at speeds between 85 and 110 miles an hour after officers tried to arrest him. Leija called police twice saying he had a gun and would shoot police officers if they did not abandon their pursuit. While officers set up spike strips under an overpass, Officer Mullenix decided to shoot at Leija’s car to disable it.

Officer Mullenix killed Leija but not disabling his vehicle. Leija’s estate sued Officer Mullenix claiming that he violated the Fourth Amendment by using excessive force.

The Court concluded Officer Mullenix should be granted qualified immunity, stating: “Given Leija’s conduct, we cannot say that only someone ‘plainly incompetent’ or who ‘knowingly violate[s] the law’ would have perceived a sufficient threat and acted as Mullenix did.”

In Heffernan v. City of Paterson, New Jersey,* the Court held 6-2 that a public employer violates the First Amendment when it acts on a mistaken belief that an employee engaged in First Amendment protected political activity.

Police officer Jeffery Heffernan worked in the office of the police chief. The mayor was running for reelection against a friend of Heffernan’s, Lawrence Spagnola. Heffernan was demoted after another member of the police force saw Heffernan picking up a Spagnola yard sign and talking to the Spagnola campaign manager and staff. Heffernan was picking up the sign for his bedridden mother.

The Court agreed that Heffernan has a First Amendment claim even though he engaged in no political activity protected by the First Amendment, because the City’s motive was to retaliate against him for political activity.

A police officer stopped Edward Streiff after he left a suspected drug house. The officer discovered Streiff had an outstanding warrant, searched him (legally), and discovered he was carrying illegal drugs.

The Court held 5-3 in Utah v. Strieff that even though the initial stop was illegal, the drug evidence could be admissible against Streiff in a trial.

The Court first concluded that the discovery of a valid, pre-existing, untainted arrest warrant triggered the attenuation doctrine, which is an exception to the exclusionary rule. The Court then concluded that the discovery of the warrant “was [a] sufficient intervening [attenuating] event to break the causal chain” between the unlawful stop and the discovery of drugs.

In Birchfield v. North Dakota,* the Court held 5-3 that states may criminalize an arrestee’s refusal to take a warrantless breath test. If states criminalize the refusal to take a blood test, police must obtain a warrant.

Per the search-incident-to-arrest exception to the Fourth Amendment, police officers are allowed to search an arrestee’s person, without first obtaining a warrant, to protect officer safety or evidence. To determine if this exception applies, the Court weighed the degree to which the search “intrudes upon an individual’s privacy” with the need to promote “legitimate government interests.”

The Court concluded the privacy intrusion of breath tests was minimal but the privacy intrusion of blood tests was not.

What’s Next?

The Supreme Court has accepted three cases of interest to local governments to be decided in its 2016-2017 term.

The issue in Wells Fargo v. City of Miami and Bank of America v. City of Miami is whether cities have standing to sue banks under the Fair Housing Act over loses cities have experienced caused by discriminatory lending practices. In Manuel v. City of Joliet the Court will decide whether it is possible to bring malicious prosecution claims under the Fourth Amendment possible. Finally, the question in Murr v. Wisconsin is whether merger provisions in state law and local ordinances, where nonconforming, adjacent lots under common ownership are combined for zoning purposes, may result in the unconstitutional taking of property.

Lisa Soronen bio photoAbout the Author: Lisa Soronen is the Executive Director of the State and Local Legal Center and a regular contributor to CitiesSpeak.

From “Half and Half-Not” to a True Summer Youth Jobs Agenda

Statistics from July, 2016, paint a picture of “half and half-not” for young people in the U.S. when it comes to summer employment.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20.5 million American youth aged 16 to 24 worked this summer — only 53 percent of the members of this age group, a number virtually unchanged from 2015. This means that roughly 18 million young people missed out on the positive effects of a first job.

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Despite the best efforts of mayors across the country, private and nonprofit employers, workforce boards, philanthropists and banks, youth job training organizations, and youth and their families themselves, the labor-force participation rate for young adults remains significantly below its height at 77.5 percent in July 1989. If anything, recent declines have accelerated.

Nonetheless, municipal leaders, researchers, and youth advocates continue to bring forward new ideas and set ambitious goals for summer youth employment.  A fresh and extensive report from the Brookings Institution released in July, Youth Summer Jobs Programs: Aligning Ends and Means, tallies those ideas and goals, and provides a strong platform for discussions leading to action in Summer 2017 and beyond.

The report will surely stimulate action planning during upcoming policy discussions —  most notably the Oct. 18-19 Annual Forum of the National Youth Employment Coalition; the Heartland Institute’s Oct. 25-27 National Conference on Ending Chronic Unemployment & Poverty; the Nov. 16-19 National League of Cities’ CItySummit in Pittsburgh; and the September meeting of the US Conference of Mayors’ Workforce Development Council – all with an eye to building consensus around next steps for 2017.

Recommendations in the report suggest valuable topics for discussion, namely:

  • What goals to set for summer jobs programs, including and going beyond the number of youth who participate, and how to measure progress toward those goals;
  • How best to build knowledge about the short- and long-term effects of summer jobs for teens, as well as the most promising operational and staffing practices within programs;
  • Ways to deepen and extend services to young people – during and beyond the summer — and to employers; and
  • Opportunities to stabilize, diversify, and expand the funding that goes to staffing formal programs, ensuring quality of job placement, and in many cases subsidizing youth wages.

Regarding this final recommendation, report authors Martha Ross and Richard Kazis even suggest “developing a large-scale competitive program for demonstrations and planning grants.” In view of the benefits of summer employment documented by the U.S. Department of Labor, one clear option involves having the federal government recommit to support summer youth employment. Decades have passed since the federal government made a dedicated, multi-year investment in this area, during which time a number of cities have experimented in both the scope and scale of their summer jobs programs. Cities like Chicago have experimented with using cognitive behavioral therapy to address the full range of barriers that may prevent young people from benefiting from employment, and cities like Washington, D.C., have provided summer employment for all interested youth.  Which members of Congress, senators or presidential candidates will step forward to lead a federal recommitment to these programs?

While advocates push for a renewed federal commitment to summer jobs programs, mayors, workforce leaders, and employers can undertake a parallel effort to increase publicly-organized summer employment rates.  Coordinated technical assistance and sharing of models by federal agencies and national organizations can support local leaders’ efforts.

Similarly, a proposal from the Community Service Society of New York suggests an ambitious new way of approaching the topic of universal summer employment for the teens in a city, framing it as an older-youth equivalent of many cities’ move toward universal pre-Kindergarten. Integrating employment into our shared expectations for what society – and, by extension, the government – owes to young adults, as we have for young children and early childhood education, provides a promising way of responding to the challenge of youth underemployment.

Any broad policy discussion as to “where next for summer jobs?” also needs to grapple with three commonly cited goals for such programs.  The first involves how best to understand the asserted positive relationship of summer jobs with reducing youth misbehavior – a Kerner Commission-era rationale for federal investments that began 50 years ago and lasted until the turn of the century. More detailed study of the benefits of programs such as the one being undertaken in Chicago may provide a route to greater understanding on this front. The second major item that needs to be confronted involves the disappointing findings from 1990s-era evaluations regarding labor market effects of participation in summer jobs, which contributed to severe cuts in federal support.  This relates directly to the first recommendation and discussion topic from the Brookings report:  what goals can we fairly establish for summer jobs?

A third item involves the degree to which it’s possible to meet local private-sector needs, for instance, through summer positions that place youth on the beginning of pathways to middle-skill jobs – a category that includes jobs in advanced manufacturing or health care.   Today, most publicly funded summer-jobs programs still place young people in public-sector positions. As an example, an audit of Washington, D.C.’s longstanding and extensive program shows 10 percent of placements in the 2015 program were in private-sector jobs.

For our parts, the National Youth Employment Coalition and the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families stand ready to grapple with questions about these goals – and to support localities who want to expand the number of young people who experience the benefits of a paying job.

About the Authors

Andrew MooreAndrew Moore is Director of Youth and Young Adult Connections in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families.



Thomas Showalter

Thomas Showalter is Director of the National Youth Employment Coalition.

How to Reinvent a Struggling Downtown

In this Big Ideas for Cities feature, Little Rock, Arkansas Mayor Mark Stodola discusses how creative placemaking can drive economic development in a city’s downtown.

How can a city reinvent a downtown after it’s been ‘dead’ for 30 years? In this Big Ideas for Cities talk, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola discusses what it takes to make a struggling downtown come back to life. “When the core of a downtown—when the heart a downtown—is thriving,” says Mayor Stodola, “the rest of the city is going to thrive as well.”

Do you have a big idea? Since 2014, the National League of Cities’ Big Ideas for Cities series has featured cities and businesses that are using “big ideas” to drive communities forward. The series has quickly become a popular platform for leaders to share their success stories and describe, in detail, the steps they’ve taken to make their communities better.

We are currently accepting speaker submissions. Leaders are invited to share the best practices and innovative solutions moving their cities forward. The series is filmed year-round and open to individuals from all sectors – public, private and nonprofit. Talks are filmed at NLC’s studio in our new building on North Capitol Street in Washington, D.C.

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 8.58.14 AMAbout the author: Tim Mudd is the Program Manager for Content and Social Media at the National League of Cities. Follow Tim on Twitter at @TimMudd.

Six Questions Every Elected Official Should Ask About Their City’s Retirement Benefits

NLC recently announced the Public Sector Retirement Initiative, designed to provide timely research and educational resources to help elected officials navigate the retirement landscape, solve local government retirement challenges, and help cities achieve greater fiscal sustainability. This post is the first in NLC’s Public Sector Retirement Initiative blog series.

For city leaders, navigating the waters of public sector retirement can be tricky. Nlc recently launched a new initiative to help identify trends, challenges and solutions to local government retirement issues. (Getty Images)

For city leaders, navigating the waters of public sector retirement can be tricky. NLC recently launched a new initiative to help identify trends, challenges and solutions to local government retirement issues. (Getty Images)

In 2009, the city of Atlanta pensions were only 53 percent funded, facing a $1.5 billion shortfall. Mayor Kasim Reed knew that he needed to act. Focused on an inclusive and transparent reform process, the city established a panel with representatives from unions, elected officials and local businesses leaders to find a solution. The 18-month process ended with a plan unanimously approved by the Atlanta City Council requiring existing employees to make a larger contribution out of their own payroll to the pension, and placing all new employees in a so-called “hybrid” system with a reduced defined benefit plan tied to a 401(k)-type defined contribution benefit with mandatory participation. The reform package also reduced the city’s long-term pension liabilities by over $500 million.

City leaders across the country are faced with rising retiree-related costs, and a responsibility to ensure that the municipal workforce has secure retirement and healthcare. These priorities can at times seem conflicting, and the complexities of managing retirement and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) can be daunting. What options are available and what role can city leaders play?

NLC wants to educate municipal leaders

The National League of Cities (NLC) recently announced the Public Sector Retirement Initiative, designed to provide timely research and educational resources to help elected officials navigate these issues.

The initiative will explore questions every elected official needs to ask, including:

  1. What are the best practices for providing retirement benefits?
  2. What is my city spending to provide retirement and healthcare benefits? Is this a larger proportion of the budget than it was a few years ago?
  3. Do the benefits my municipality provides allow me to recruit and retain the workforce my city needs?
  4. How is my municipality fiscally responsible for the retirement benefits offered to employees?
  5. How will recently enacted Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) changes affect my municipality’s finances and cost of borrowing?
  6. How do employees use retiree health benefits between their retirement and Medicare eligibility?

Understanding the role of the state

The Public Sector Retirement Initiative will also explore and help city leaders understand the key elements of the city-state relationship affecting the management of retirement and OPEB. For example, many states allow or require some cities to participate in statewide pension systems; this requirement has many benefits, like reducing costs for participating cities. In some cases, state statute sets required pension contributions, limiting a city’s ability to address its liability – even when the city manages its own plans. And no matter how your plan is managed, GASB changes have made it abundantly clear that these liabilities are a part of your city’s fiscal health.

This is the first post in our new blog series on public sector retirement. In the coming weeks, we will have postings from members of NLC’s Public Sector Retirement Advisory Council, a group representing perspectives from the private sector, state municipal leagues, city leadership, academia and nonprofits to provide guidance and advice to the initiative. We hope you find this information useful as you think about your own city’s finances and workforce needs.

About the Author: Josh Hart is the Senior Fellow for Public Finance at the National League of Cities. Contact Josh at

Cities Explore Ways to Reduce Overuse of Jails for Young Adults

“There is enough data that exist that shows that recidivism is also an indicator that our current justice system is not functioning properly. We must begin with the lightest touch in our system especially with youth that focuses on treatment and education if we are going to change course in America.”

Yvette Gentry, Chief of Community Building, Office of Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, Kentucky


Cities increasingly show greater commitment to diversion at the point of arrest as an alternative to jail in order to reduce the inflow of young adults into local facilities — thus reducing long-term effects of incarceration while young. Employing the strategy often involves providing specialized training to frontline police officers and tightening links to mental and behavioral health providers.

Eight cities with a strong interest in early diversion and other jail-use reduction strategies – including Birmingham, Alabama; Enfield, Connecticut; Las Vegas; Long Beach, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Norristown, Pennsylvania; Portland, Oregon; and Seattle – recently gathered at the National League of Cities’ first City Leadership to Reduce Overuse of Jails for Young Adults Leadership Academy, in Denver. With help from expert faculty from the Vera Institute of Justice, the W. Haywood Burns Institute, and the Justice Management Institute, among others, cities developed or enhanced plans to explore policies for diverting young adults to mental health and substance abuse treatment services as an alternative to jail. The Leadership Academy also provided information on cross-system collaboration and data sharing, as well as proactive methods to reduce racial and ethnic disparities at the time of arrest.

Up to ten additional cities will participate in a second Leadership Academy that will take place October 19 – 21 in Chicago.

Leadership Academy attendees’ interest in diversion builds on successful and promising programs, as detailed by NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families (YEF Institute), from around the country that focus on police collaborations with behavioral health providers, programs targeted to the young adult population, and adult citation-in-lieu-of-arrest programs.

A few existing programs receive funding and technical assistance from the GAINS Center for Behavioral Health and Justice Transformation, a division of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration with the US Department of Health and Human Services. The GAINS Center website also serves as a repository for resources, training opportunities and funding prospects.

Many city leaders have begun to explore the Seattle LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) program model. This program, piloted in two Seattle area neighborhoods, allows police officers to divert low-level offenders directly to community services. The LEAD National Support Bureau provides strategic guidance and technical support to other local jurisdictions.

The YEF Institute is developing a Peer Learning Network on jail reduction that will provide additional resources and connections to experts on topics such as diversion, jail reentry, reducing racial and ethnic disparities and other emerging strategies. For more information, email Heidi Cooper at with the subject line “Jail Reduction Peer Learning Network.”

Heidi CooperAbout the Authors: Heidi Cooper is the Associate of Justice reform within NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.




RDHeadshotRashawn Davis is an Amelior Graduate Fellow at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service.