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National League of Cities (NLC) Conference Notes—March 2016 (Washington)

NLC’s Congressional City Conference was held in Washington DC on March 6-8 this year.  I participated representing Winston-Salem, along with two other City Council colleagues.  Our activities included a combination of substantive NLC policy workshops, briefings and advocacy committee meetings, as well as meetings with federal agency representatives on policy and funding matters of direct benefit to Winston-Salem.

As is my usual practice, I focused particularly on work related to transportation systems, policies, and funding issues of value to Winston-Salem.  At this conference, here are some of the things I did to pursue that work:

--Participated as a member of the NLC Transportation Infrastructure and Services (TIS) Federal Advocacy Committee deliberations.  At this meeting, TIS reviewed our successful advocacy last fall for new federal transportation legislation (see next point), and developed a work plan for 2016, including seminars on implementing that legislation, using federal funding effectively, working with other local governments on a regional basis, and working with the new administration after this fall’s national elections.

--Participated in a panel briefing and discussion on Implementing the New Federal Transportation Bill.  This dealt with how cities can advocate for rapid implementation of the FAST (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, and take advantage of funding opportunities for our priorities.  (The FAST Act is the comprehensive five-year reauthorization bill for federal transportation program planning and funding, passed last fall with strong support from cities.)

--Met with the director of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and his staff, to discuss Winston-Salem specific major transportation projects and funding opportunities for them, specifically including the $10 million multi-use path through central Winston-Salem.  (We also discussed Winston-Salem’s application for grant assistance for our Community Food Project, to help bring healthy food opportunities to food insecure communities here, as well as other resources we might tap to address that problem area.)

--Met with the chair of Transportation for America and staff of Smart Growth America at their offices, to discuss Winston-Salem transportation projects, funding opportunities, and resources for technical assistance.

--Conferred with the Deputy Chief of Staff for the US Department of Transportation on related policies and issues, during the NC Legislative Briefing event.

--Met with other members of the NLC Large Cities Council, including discussion on issues and policies of joint interest relating to transportation, housing, and community economic development programs.


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National League of Cities (NLC) conference notes  (Nashville, November 2015)

I helped to represent Winston-Salem at the National League of Cities (NLC) annual conference in Nashville TN in November.  During the conference, I took part in NLC leadership committees, participated in policy development meetings and substantive issue workshops, and took advantage of informal opportunities to confer on shared concerns with other city officials and staff from around the country.

Transportation Infrastructure & Services (TIS) Policy and Advocacy Committee

     This is the NLC policy development committee in the area of transportation.  It gathers information on transportation program developments, and recommends new or modified policy advocacy for the NLC as a whole.  At this meeting we received an update on the status of federal legislation to reauthorize and fund the national transportation system.  This program includes the federal financial assistance to state and local governments for highway, public transit, and other land-based transportation programs.  In addition, we received a briefing on the status of the Amtrak national passenger rail system.  (That’s relevant to Winston-Salem, both because we have a direct shuttle connection to the Amtrak station in High Point, and because we continue to press to be added to the southeastern high-speed passenger rail service now under development.)

 Following the informational segment of the meeting, the full committee reviewed and finalized our recommended transportation policy and resolutions for NLC for the coming year.  I helped to explain the recommended policy changes dealing with the federal transportation project funding criteria.  These dealt largely with the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), which provides funding that helps to develop our bike and pedestrian trails and facilities. (Our TIS committee’s policy report to the NLC membership was adopted in full at the NLC organizational business meeting later in the week.) 

NLC Advisory Council

     This committee, composed of former members of the NLC Board of Directors, studies long-term issues and makes recommendations to the NLC Board and membership.  At this meeting, we reviewed NLC’s “City of the Future” study results.  The top area of focus by the study was intermodal transportation, and how workforce and demographic changes in our cities will impact transportation needs and system designs.  Among the recommendations identified is the need to reconfigure and “optimize” bus lines to meet future needs, a process which we now have underway in Winston-Salem.  Other topics discussed by the committee included improvements in data management, and new methods for increasing citizen participation in public planning processes.

Climate Change workshop

     This was a policy training workshop which primarily examined local implications of a changing climate.  It focused on how to explain the issues to the public in order to get their informed involvement in decision-making on managing and adapting to the challenges. 

Solar Energy panel

     This workshop dealt with opportunities for increasing local development of solar energy.  It looked at measures for reducing costs, and alternatives for private and community financing of solar systems for community institutions.

Large Cities Council

     The Large Cities Council is an NLC constituency committee composed of cities over 200,000 population.  It provides information- and strategy-sharing opportunities both at the NLC conferences and between them.  This year’s meeting included presentations and discussion on innovative transportation strategies on the local and regional levels. 

State of the States panel

     This session looked at the state of state legislatures around the nation, especially common trends and issues affecting cities.  Among the topics which we need to watch at the state legislative level are minimum wage and “prevailing wage” laws, health care (especially Medicaid) programs and costs, criminal drug laws reform, and election laws.

NLC Annual Business Meeting

     I served as Winston-Salem’s voting delegate to the 2015 NLC business meeting, which elected the NLC board and officers for the coming year, and approved national municipal policy changes and resolutions for 2016.