by Michael Karpman and Stacey Levitt
Last week, municipal leaders from cities across the country gathered in Nashville for both the NLC Summer Policy Forum and a meeting of NLC’s Council on Youth, Education and Families (YEF Council).
In hosting and welcoming the nearly 200 NLC leaders, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and Councilmember-at-Large Ronnie Steine, co-chairs of the 2012 YEF Council, showcased many of the accomplishments that flow from strong municipal leadership and vision.
During a keynote address to members of the YEF Council and all seven of the NLC Policy and Advocacy Steering Committees, Dean reviewed his three top priorities for the city – education, public safety, and economic development – and described in detail the ways in which they are interconnected. Even though he has no control over Nashville’s public schools, he stressed that progress in education is the top priority and a key driver for success in reducing crime or violence and attracting companies or retaining business in the city.
“If you’re producing students who succeed in school, go on to get college degrees and are work-ready, you’re going to have a city that thrives,” said Dean.
Carefully planned tours also enabled participants to learn about a broader set of local achievements. The Summer Policy Forum, a gathering of the seven policy and advocacy steering committees, kicked off with two mobile tours of various sites across Nashville. Stops included the construction site at the city's new Music City Center, a convention and tourism space set to open in 2013; the Nashville neighborhood of Rolling Mill Hill, which features affordable housing for artists and historic landmarks sustainably converted into businesses and homes; the Country Music Hall of Fame; and the Omohundro Water Plant, a facility built in 1889 that became the unlikely hero during the 2010 floods.
Councilmember Steine led members of the YEF Council on a site visit to Nashville’s highly acclaimed Youth Opportunity Center, which features an impressive range of co-located services for young people who are homeless, behind in school, in need of connections to caring adults or struggling to cope with personal or family crises.
The committees joined together with their YEF Council colleagues for a dinner and reception on Thursday evening, sponsored by Mayor Dean and Councilmember Steine, the Nashville Convention and Tourism Bureau, the Tennessee Municipal League and Tennessee Municipal Bond Fund, Gaylord Entertainment and the Wildhorse Saloon.
In a series of meetings on Friday and Saturday, both the YEF Council and the Policy Committees maintained a focus on collaboration and shared knowledge and resources that all in attendance could bring home to their own communities.
The YEF Council discussed creative approaches to local collaboration, including through multi-sector partnerships that rely upon shared vision, common outcome measures and accountability mechanisms to achieve “collective impact.” Youth-adult partnerships, small-city initiatives and strategies for linking children and family efforts to other top municipal priorities also dominated the YEF Council agenda.
The Policy Forum meetings began with a joint plenary session featuring remarks from NLC President Ted Ellis, mayor, Bluffton, Ind., and a presentation entitled, “State of the Cities: Views from a Municipal Analyst,” from Natalie Cohen, Managing Director and Head of Municipal Research for Wells Fargo Securities, an NLC Capstone Corporate Partner. Cohen offered an overview of the forces that are shaping the national economy and the fiscal outlook for cities over the next 12 to 18 months. The business portion of the Forum followed the plenary, when individual and cross-committee meetings were held to discuss and develop federal policy positions that the full NLC membership will consider at the Congress of Cities in Boston in November.
The Community and Economic Development (CED) Committee, chaired by Neal Andrews, council member, Ventura, Calif., discussed emerging local economic conditions and met with Yolanda Chavez, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Housing, to consider options for strengthening support at the federal level for the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
In a joint meeting with the Finance, Administration, and Intergovernmental Affairs (FAIR) Committee, chaired by Robert Avery, council member, Gadsden, Ala., the CED Committee discussed creative ways cities are leveraging the CDBG program and other resources to help improve access to credit for small businesses in their communities.
The FAIR Committee and the Information Technology and Communications Committee (ITC) met together to continue their ongoing joint work to establish principles to inform telecommunications tax reform from a hometown perspective.
The ITC Committee, chaired by Chris Whitley, mayor pro tem, High Point, N.C., also met with the Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee (PSCP) to discuss the benefits and risks of operating a municipally-owned broadband network and the role of local governments in planning for and constructing a nationwide public safety broadband network.
Joined by representatives from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, PSCP and the Energy, Environment, and Natural Resources (EENR), and the Transportation Infrastructure and Services (TIS) Committees discussed strategies for building communities that are resilient against disasters.
The EENR Committee, chaired by Michael Sesma, council member, Gaithersburg, Md., also discussed the need to strengthen funding options for water infrastructure with Rick Farrell, Executive Director of the Council of Infrastructure Financing Authorities, and engaged with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regarding concerns that hydraulic fracturing may present to drinking water resources and public health.
The committee also met with Kerry Duggan, director of Legislative, Regulatory, and Urban Affairs at the U.S. Department of Energy for an update on the agency’s federal priorities and to share with her opportunities and challenges for cities in implementing energy efficiency and renewal energy programs.
Among other issues, the TIS Committee, chaired by Lee Dunlap, council member, Plano, Tex., discussed active transportation, and the use of technology to manage transportation. Michael Skipper, executive director of the Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), discussed the region's support for active transportation (a transportation strategy that incorporates public health considerations) through its urban investment strategy. The MPO has been proactive in adding these factors into their planning since current federal standards do not address the impact of transportation on public health.
In her presentation to the committee, Erika Young, transportation director for the National Association of Regional Councils offered perspectives from MPOs and Councils of Government on strategies for integrating public health and transportation and reviewed different options communities are implementing to do this. Young’s presentation can be viewed here: http://narc.org/wp-content/uploads/Public-Health-and-Transportation-Info-0606121.pdf. Of the Committee’s work, Dunlap said, “The committee members were able to share best practices and really learn from each other.”
The Human Development (HD) Committee, chaired by Van Johnson II, alderman and mayor-pro-tem, Savannah, Ga., discussed the impact the new health care law will have on cities and towns and strategies for urging Congress to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. “These are important programs that need to be modernized and updated,” said Johnson. “We must urge Congress to move forward with these bills.”
The committee and YEF Council meetings concluded on Saturday, setting the stage for additional discussions in the fall, as well as for NLC advocacy efforts in the months leading up to the presidential elections and beyond.
“Many thanks to Mayor Dean, Councilmember Steine, and all of the staff who made this event possible for our members.” said Mayor Ellis. “We look forward to taking many best practices back to our home communities.”