Posts Tagged ‘local government monitoring’

Are Cities Grabbing Your State Issues?

July 16, 2014

By Heather Williams, Vice President and William Higgins, Manager, Local Government Services

blog - localgovernmentsLocal government is growing, and fast.

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.

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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.

12 Local Officials Groups You Should Not Go Without

April 1, 2014

By Heather Williams, Vice President

local government monitoring

America is well organized. Almost 90,000 county, city, township and special district governments establish policies and procedures for everything from plastic bags at the grocery store to fracking and beyond. And, the interplay between state and local governments on hot topics like data security, fair share, e-cigarettes, minimum wage, procurement changes, health care reform, chemical regulation and pharmaceutical waste makes it increasingly impossible to focus efforts only at the state capitol.

Many state government relations professionals never face (or hope they never face) local government issues. And, that is an understandable sentiment. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly difficult to look past what is happening at the local level because the issues are, in many ways, state issues. And, they are influencing what we do in state capitols.

So, what can you do?

When faced with the opportunity or need to create a multi-state or national local officials relationship strategy, there are a number of paths that can be taken. One could take the “go it alone” strategy and travel to each of the jurisdictions of interest to create a relationship with the local official of interest, although this would be a monumental task and an ineffective way to reach this goal. Another route would be to use the relationships of state and local lobbyists by working through them to their rolodex of local officials. But if you are looking for a more coordinated and practical effort, I recommend engaging the relevant local officials Groups.

Let’s start with the three Groups with which we are all most familiar: National Association of Counties (NACo), National League of Cities (NLC) and U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM). These Groups are big and their membership is increasing. This is especially true of NACo and NLC, where recent senior level staff changes have refocused the Groups’ efforts on many things including growing their membership. These policy Groups use member driven policy directives to advocate the federal government on behalf of their membership. In addition they address current issues, monitor trends and serve as an incubator for policy ideas.

If relationships with local officials are what you are looking for, I challenge you to look beyond these three and into additional local Groups engagement opportunities. Looking beyond the three local policy Groups will increase the number of access points you have to local officials. The local officials involved in these Groups, especially within leadership, tend to be the more active, influential and vocal local officials.

Local Partisan Groups

These are the 527 Groups of local officials. Each political party has had a local officials Group since McCain Feingold campaign finance reform split the 527 Groups from the national party organizations. And, in parallel with the movement of state issues onto local agendas, these Groups are experiencing a political renaissance. Community Leaders of America (CLA) represents Republican mayors and other local elected executives. Democratic Municipal Officials (DMO) is the national association of Democratic mayors, council members, and other municipal leaders. Each Group has state chapters, providing a vast network of relationships to tap into.

State Leagues and Associations

There are 49 state municipal leagues – Hawaii does not have a state municipal league as Honolulu is the only city and it is governed by a consolidated city/county government – and 53 state associations of counties – 47 states have at least one state association and Arizona, Illinois, Washington and West Virginia have multiple. Each state league or association operates independently of the national Groups (NLC or NACo). Membership within the state leagues or associations are handled on an individual basis. If your objectives require a deeper dive into an individual state or a handful of states, consider joining the league or association within a particular state.

Constituency Groups and Affiliated Associations

Local officials also join constituency groups and affiliated organizations. These operate independently of but work collaboratively with NACo and NLC. Six Constituency Groups are associated with NACo and five are associated with NLC. Examples include the National Association of Black County Officials (NABCO), National Association of Hispanic County Officials (NAHCO) and their city counterparts National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials (NBC-LEO) and Hispanic Elected Local Officials (HELO). Examples of the 25 affiliated associations that work with NACo include National Association for County Community & Economic Development (NACCED), National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and National Association of County Collectors, Treasurers & Finance Officers (NACCTFO). Membership in these Groups covers all 50 states.

There is no question that expanding to incorporate local government Groups into a government relations program requires significant resource commitment. Being more aware of the array of organizations with which you can work may make decisions easier. But, the fact remains – state issues are now local issues and that is not likely to change.

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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.

Cities’ Health Improving

October 10, 2013

By Heather Williams and Will Higgins

This morning, the National League of Cities (NLC) released its 28th annual City Fiscal Conditions report.

The news is promising. The overall health of cities is improving. Seventy-two percent of city Chief Financial Officers surveyed reported that their cities are better able to meet financial needs in 2013 than in 2012. However, a number of factors, including the lack of progress on the federal budget and debt ceiling, continue to remain a threat. As NLC executive director Clarence Anthony said “Cities are stuck between the White House and Congress”.

The improving health of our nation’s cities is a direct result of tough decisions being made by city officials. The health of city general funds suggests that revenues are picking up and ending balances have stopped declining. In order to get there, city officials have had to take action. Decisions to increase fees and cut personnel have been and continue to be made across the country.

It is important to note that cities did not immediately feel the impact of the national recession. One of the largest major revenue sources is property taxes, which causes a natural lag between what is happening to the national economy and the time the effects of the economy impact the fiscal health of cities.

Moving forward, cities are projected to see little growth. While the overall health of the cities is improving, many challenges still exist. Property tax revenue is still declining and cities are facing health and pension benefit liabilities and infrastructure demands. These issues, among others, are continuing to strain city budgets.

Unfortunately, the health of city fiscal conditions are impacted by the action taken by–or if things continue the way they are right now, the inaction of–Congress on issues such as municipal bonds and cuts to spending.

The full City Fiscal Conditions report can be found at the following link: http://www.nlc.org/Documents/Find%20City%20Solutions/Research%20Innovation/Finance/Final_CFC2013.pdf

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Heather Williams works at Stateside Associates to help clients manage state and local government issues. As Vice President at the company 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.


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