Looking Back, Leaning Forward: Highlights from the 2013 NBC-LEO Summer Conference

August 12, 2013

By Myron Lowery

Recently, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) held its Summer Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in partnership with the World Conference of Mayors. The theme of the meeting was “Looking Back, Leaning Forward,” and the workshops focused on sharing best practices and successes.

An economic development mobile workshop provided a bus tour where participants saw several revitalized business districts, major infrastructure improvements and unique housing development projects. In the workshop ‘Reconnecting to Communities’ workshop, Steve Mahan, director of Milwaukee’s CDBG Administration, discussed the projects that participants toured as part of the mobile economic development workshop. For example, in the past nine years low-income tax credits have been used to build 4,800 new residential units, and many of these were constructed in renovated buildings. 

A panel entitled “Congressional Issues and NBC-LEO Policy Issues - The Fiscal Impact on Local Municipalities: What’s at Stake and What Do We Do?” focused on how the loss of federal funds is affecting cities and towns. The panel also focused on the impact of the loss internet sales tax revenue on the coffers of cities and states. The passage of legislation to allow state and local governments the flexibility to collect the online taxes already owed to them is one of NLC’s legislative priorities. In addition, the redevelopment of vacant and blighted property was a focus of discussion. Las Vegas Councilmember Ricki Barlow reported that his city now requires registration of these properties, and in some cases imposes fees as high as $100 a day for those owners who refuse to clean-up their properties. 

Another workshop focused on efforts to promote black male achievement. Three years ago, NLC launched a program to strengthen city leaders’ ability to improve outcomes for young black males in the areas of education, work and family. Every 24 hours, 14 young black men and boys are shot on the streets in cities. Several strategies were shared on how cities can reduce and ultimately stop this cycle of violence. Ted Green, a councilman from East Orange, N.J. discussed his city’s achievement in reducing crime by 76 percent. One reason is the effective use of high-tech cameras on city streets, which are used to identify individuals or groups suspected of engaging in potential illegal activity. In Oakland, Calif., there are 11 gunshot events every day, with three rounds per incident. Ralph Clark discussed how his company, SST ShotSpotter, is helping law enforcement solve crimes through technology that identifies the location of gunshots. Finally, NBC-LEO President-elect and Rochester, N.Y. Councilman Adam McFadden discussed the ongoing crisis in his city: only 15 percent of African-American eighth-graders read at their grade level, and merely nine percent of African-American high school students receive a high school diploma. McFadden reported that at the current rate, it will take 50 years to close the education gap between white and black students in Rochester. 

Each year, the NBC-LEO Foundation selects two newly elected municipal officials and provides them with an experienced official who serves as a mentor for a year. NBC-LEO President Jacqueline Johnson, Councilwoman, East Orange, N.J., conducted a graduation ceremony for the 2013 Foundation Fellows: Jamal Miller, Commissioner of District Heights, Md. and Karen Johnson, Councilwoman, Nashville, Tenn. In addition, the organization welcomed its 2014 Fellows: Jasmine Gore, Vice Mayor, Hopewell, Va. and Seyram Selase, Councilmember, Anniston, Ala.  

Milwaukee Alderman Joe Davis and Mayor Tom Barrett hosted the group in a reception at City Hall. Special guests included the President of the National League of Cities, Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, Avondale, Ariz. and James Walls, Mayor, District Heights, Md. and CEO of the World Conference of Mayors. NLC Executive Director Clarence Anthony also participated via Skype in a session focusing on rebuilding the National League of Cities. His presentation included implementation plans for NLC’s top tier goals as well as new approaches to help improve the organization’s effectiveness. 

Finally, the NBC-LEO executive leadership team announced the establishment of an annual distinguished service award in honor of long-time NLC employee Mary F. Gordon. The award, which provides a $1,000 donation to a non-profit organization, was given to Myron Lowery, Councilmember, Memphis, Tenn. 

Next year, NBC-LEO will host its Summer Conference in Rochester, New York. See you there!

Myron Lowery is a councilmember from Memphis, Tennessee and an active member of NBC-LEO.