No, we’re not referring to the number of newly chartered cities or the nearly ninety-thousand city, county, township and special district governments that establish codes and regulations. Rather, we are noting the rapid growth of Groups in the local space and the implications they are already having on public policy. In the last two years we have seen two major local political Groups, Community Leaders of America (CLA) and Democratic Municipal Officials (DMO) begin to flourish; and with the creation of the American City County Exchange (ACCE), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) becomes the newest Group to enter into the local space.
ACCE was created to advance limited government, free-market and federalist principles in local government. It achieves this through model policies, conferences and online collaboration, operating within the organizational structure of ALEC. ACCE’s Director Jon Russell, who also currently serves as a Town Council Member in Culpepper, Virginia, summed up the need for a Group such as ACCE stating “As a conservative, as somebody who believes in more of a limited government and free-market solutions to some of the problems that exist in government, I found myself frustrated in my council experience because there weren’t resources available to me.”
The establishment of ACCE, along with the interest both CLA and DMO have in creating platforms to share policy ideas across their memberships is a significant development. As local officials continue to address a broad range of issues, knowing and understanding how they are sharing policy ideas, and what engagement opportunities exist becomes increasingly important.
ALEC’s entry into the local Groups space is just one more indicator that state issues are becoming local issues.
What’s the connection? Until ALEC’s entry into local Groups, most policy directives approved by local Groups were directed at the Federal Government. National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC) and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) do not create model policies or create policies intended to be used by local governments. Unlike the aforementioned Groups, ACCE’s membership of local elected officials will draft, approve, and share policies, which are intended to be used as models. ACCE will also provide new engagement opportunities for private sector members with an interest in local government policy.
We monitor hundreds of issues for our clients across thousands of local jurisdictions, and we see firsthand the increasing impact that local government is having. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for industry to look past the content of local government agendas and minutes, and the issues being discussed at local Groups meetings.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray had this to say about the need for local government to action: “The people who work for a living have basically seen no increase in their incomes since the 1970s. With the federal government fairly stuck, and as we see states more and more adopting that same dysfunction, cities are the place to lead right now.”
Local officials like Murray and Russell continue to express their frustration for the lack of progress being made within both federal and state governments. While there are examples of this happening all over the country, here are a few examples of the issues that local governments and the Groups of local officials are acting on.
The City of Boulder, Colorado, is currently in the process of forcefully acquiring Xcel Energy’s local distribution network through ballot measures and eminent domain. Boulder’s government wishes to create a municipalized utility specifically for the purpose of reducing the community’s carbon footprint.
In 2014, Beverly Hills became the first city in California to ban fracking outright, and Los Angeles became the largest city in the country to prohibit fracking via a moratorium.
Despite the lawsuits facing the 2012 Alameda County Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance and the 2013 Kauai County bill 2491, relating to pesticides and genetically modified organisms, localities across the country continue to discuss and take action on these issues either directly or indirectly. On June 24, the Santa Cruz, California Board of Supervisors approved the adoption of an ordinance requiring the establishment of a sharps waste management program. Most recently, on July 10, Berkeley, California’s Community Health Commission discussed the creation of a local GMO labeling ordinance.
A recent example of activity at the Groups level occurred at the USCM Annual Meeting, which took place June 20-23. USCM President Sacramento, California Mayor Kevin Johnson and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Cities Opportunity Task Force, which will bring together mayors from across the nation to leverage the power of municipal governments to advance a national, common equity agenda. Additionally, at NACo’s Annual Conference which took place July 11-14, a proposed resolution was considered and approved amid much controversy asking Congress to address the minimum wage. And, at the upcoming NLC Summer Policy Forum, taking place July 24-26 in St. Paul, Minnesota a joint NLC/NACo briefing on U.S. EPA Waters of the US Proposed Rule will take place.
Local officials are looking for platforms to share policy ideas with like-minded peers and the Groups are responding, and there is no doubt that we will see an increase in an already wide array of issues. Now more than ever, it is important that we as state government relations professionals arm ourselves with the resources necessary to remain aware of the discussions taking place in local governments, and take advantage of all opportunities to engage local officials on policy issues.
Heather Williams is Vice President at Stateside Associates. She works to help clients manage state and local government issues. She also manages client relationships with key Groups, including her “alma mater,” the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC), where she served as National Finance Director.
Will Higgins is Manager, Local Government Services at Stateside Associates. Prior to joining Stateside Associates as a Legislative Associate, Mr. Higgins worked for the Florida House of Representatives, as well as for a United States Senator. He also worked for several public affairs and communications firms supporting campaigns at the local, state and national levels.