Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE & LOCAL ROUNDUP: U.S. Conference of Mayors winter meeting starting in D.C.; Minnesota county bars federal immigration detainees over high costs; and new concerns over contaminated water in a Michigan city.
City hall leaders from across the nation are in Washington, D.C. this week for the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th Annual Winter Meeting, which officially kicks off Wednesday morning. Stay tuned for more coverage from Route Fifty’s editorial team, which will be reporting from the Capital Hilton in the coming days.
In the meantime, here are state and local government stories that caught Route Fifty’s eye, leading with something that’s among the biggest challenges city leaders, including those gathering for USCM, are facing: the opioid abuse epidemic.
OPIOID ABUSE | Announcing new legal action against drug companies on Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t hold back his criticism of the pharmaceutical industry amid the ongoing opioid abuse epidemic. “Big Pharma helped to fuel this epidemic by deceptively peddling these dangerous drugs and hooking millions of Americans in exchange for profit,” the progressive mayor said in the city’s announcement, noting that in 2016, more than 1,000 people died of opioid-related drug overdoses in New York City, more than were killed in homicides or car crashes. Among the companies named in the city’s legal action include Purdue, Teva, Cephalon, Johnson & Johnson and Jansesen. [N.Y.C. Mayor’s Office]
New York is one of the latest cities to take legal action against against pharmaceutical companies. Various cases brought by local governments have been moving through the courts. In December, a federal judicial panel ordered that one such lawsuit Everett, Washington against PerduePharma be joined with a handful of similar cases from Alabama, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. That case is being overseen by Cleveland-based U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster. Last year, Mayor Nan Whaley of Dayton, Ohio told Route Fifty’s Quinn Libson that she encouraged other cities to pursue their own opioid litigation: “It’s not a hard decision for cities to make … because the cost is so much for the communities. And most people who think this should be on the back of the taxpayers are those that caused the problem.” [City of Everett; The Everett Herald; Route Fifty]
In other state and local government news ...
SMART CITIES | The West End of Dallas has been used by the non-profit Dallas Innovation Alliance to test out new smart cities technologies along city streets and sidewalks, including digital information kiosks, intelligent LED street lighting and sensors to track pedestrian movement. Next up for the West End: smart irrigation systems, smart water meters and hockey-puck shaped sensors to monitor the number of available parking spaces. [The Dallas Morning News; Dallas Innovation Alliance]
Meanwhile, Kansas City, Missouri is pressing forward on its smart cities agenda. In an interview with Route Fifty’s Dave Nyczepir, KCMO Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett says: “There is a greater value to the data we maintain as a city than we anticipated.” [Route Fifty]
STATE BUDGETS | Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who remains embroiled in a sex scandal and accused of threatening to blackmail his former hairdresser, released a $28.7 billion budget proposal on Tuesday, a plan that proposes big cuts for higher education and Medicaid funding. "To have a second year of cuts this deep, it's hard to say anything is off the table," said Cliff Smart, president of Missouri State University. Greitens has faced calls to resign and during a public appearance in Jefferson City only answered one question related to the scandal. “I’ve addressed everything in the answer I just gave you and in the interviews I gave over the weekend…we’re now moving forward,” the Republican governor said. [Springfield News-Leader; KCUR-FM]
Among the losers in Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget: retired teachers. The Republican governor’s proposal calls for the elimination of state’s share of funding for retired teacher health insurance. [WFPL-FM]
Among the winners in New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal: state parks, which would see an additional $90 million in spending to dig through a lengthy maintenance backlog. [Newsday]
IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT | Ramsey County, Minnesota, which includes the city of St. Paul, informed federal immigration authorities that it will no longer hold detainees at the county’s correctional facility. “We’re losing money every time we hold somebody,” said Steve Frazer, the county sheriff’s chief deputy, noting that Immigration and Customs Enforcement only reimburses the county $80 per day for expenses that end up being $160 per day. [Pioneer Press / TwinCities.com]
HOMELESSNESS | The annual census of homelessness started Tuesday night in Los Angeles County. Last year’s count saw a 23-percent increase in people living unsheltered on the streets of L.A. County, the nation’s most populous jurisdiction. The annual count relies on volunteers to fan out across the county. This year, more than 6,200 people had signed up to help in the count. [LAHSA; KPCC / Southern California Public Radio; L.A. Daily News]
SEXUAL MISCONDUCT | A second woman has come forward to accuse Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray of sexual misconduct. Murray had been considered a frontrunner in the race to replace Gov. Matt Mead, but the Republican businessman from Cheyenne announced that he would not seek re-election or pursue higher office. [Casper Star Tribune]
MONUMENTS | In the Atlanta area, members of the DeKalb County Commission voted to move a Confederate monument out of downtown Decatur. Although Georgia state law prevents actions that relocate, cover or remove Confederate monuments, local jurisdictions are allowed to move them to another public location in order to preserve and protect them. Since the monument has been vandalized, the county attorney believes that action can be taken to move the 30-foot obelisk. [Georgia Public Broadcasting]
DRINKING WATER SAFETY | Residents in Rockford, Michigan, a city with 6,200 residents located just north of Grand Rapids, may have been drinking water contaminated with toxic chemicals called PFAS dumped by a local tannery. Before 2000, Rockford’s local water source was the Rouge River, just downstream from the tannery complex owned by Wolverine World Wide, but was later switched to a deep groundwater aquifer. "I'd be very surprised if they weren't" drinking the contaminant, said a Colorado School of Mines professor who co-authored a 2014 study on PFAS risk in water systems. [The Grand Rapids Press / MLive.com]
LOCAL GOVERNMENT MANAGEMENT | In his State of the City address Tuesday night, Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, Virginia proposed a 1.5-percent increase in the city’s meals tax in order to raise approximately $9.1 million in new revenue annually for schools construction. [Richmond Times-Dispatch]
The town manager in Jackman, Maine, whose racist views brought unwanted national attention to the remote community near the Quebec border, was fired by local selectmen on Tuesday morning. The fired town manager, Tom Kawczynski, has advocated for a new “white civil rights” movement. [Portland Press Herald]
The International City / County Management Association has released a new ebook, “18 on 2018,” asking local government leaders to look into their crystal ball to share their predictions, observations and insights on matters they’ll likely encounter this year. [ICMA]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.