Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | California announces major illegal fireworks bust; Minneapolis’ public records challenge … Iowa’s honeybees make comeback … and Portland’s recycling struggles.
Here are some state and local government news stories that caught Route Fifty’s attention this weekend.
- Boston, Massachusetts: During opening remarks at the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual summer meeting this weekend, Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Steve Benjamin, the organization’s new president discussed some of the reasons why he’s a mayor, touching on many of the challenges city hall leaders currently face. “I am a mayor because all people want the opportunity to earn a good living and they are relying on us to do that. I recognize you cannot pull yourself up by your bootstraps if you have no boots at all. Poverty is real, still. Income volatility is real,” Benjamin said. “We the people who lead America’s cities are in this moment for such a time as this to rise to meet the challenges of the 21st century head on.” [USCM via YouTube; Route Fifty]
- Sacramento, California: With the July Fourth holiday not too far away, CalFire officials late last week announced the arrests of seven people connected to an illegal fireworks ring and the seizure of 50,000 pounds of fireworks after an investigation that lasted three years and involved “significant surveillance.” Fireworks are a major cause of wildfires in the Golden State. "On average each year, fireworks in California start 18,500 fires. These fires, on average, cause three deaths, 40 civilian injuries, and $43 million in direct property damage," according to CalFire’s announcement. [CalFire]
- Minneapolis, Minnesota: The city clerk’s office has been struggling to keep up with the number of public records requests it receives. Assistant City Clerk Christian Rummelhoff told city council members on Thursday that so far this year, the city received 743 data requests, 320 more than at this point last year and “nearly double the requests for all of 2015.” Those requests don’t include the Minneapolis Police Department. In September, the clerk’s office is supposed to release a report on its efforts to improve how it processes records requests since a 2015 audit found that “the city lagged behind national standards.” [Star Tribune]
- Lansing Michigan: One of the states that have seen a sharp increase in suicides has been Michigan. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of suicides in Michigan jumped by 33 percent from 1999 to 2016, higher than the 30 percent increase nationally. North Dakota saw a 60 percent increase in suicides during the same period. Steve Windom, the Michigan area director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said that there’s a lack of education about mental illness, which often go untreated. "We've found that these people were displaying significant signs and symptoms of a mental illness, mainly depression, anxiety, bipolar or personality disorder, those major ones that really creep up, but their loved ones didn't know, and that also speaks to the ability to mask this," Windom said. [WLNS; WUOM / Michigan Radio]
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The first part of the transformed former Reading Railroad viaduct will open to the public on June 14, creating a quarter-mile-long linear park that’s similar to the famous High Line in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. The Rail Park project is a work in progress, but it’s anticipated that the new park will spur revitalization in adjacent neighborhoods, like Callowhill. “The stone structure supporting the new park has been spruced up and stabilized. Yet walking next to the rest of the viaduct means passing mounds of trash, waist-high weeds, homeless encampments in cave-like underpasses, and wedge-shaped lots used for surface parking.” [PlanPhilly]
- Savannah, Georgia: A tiny house cluster for homeless veterans is currently being assembled on the city’s east side, and while homeless advocates are excited about the shelters that will house 24 people, “innovative measures can only go so far against an ongoing shortage of affordable housing and needed cultural changes that are both difficult and expensive.” [Savannah Morning News]
- Fayetteville, Arkansas: The Arkansas-Missouri Interstate 49 Connector Project will remain unconnected. While the Northwest Arkansas Planning Commission’s application for federal Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant funding was considered “a long-shot at best,” the Arkansas Department of Transportation said that no projects in the state made the cut. The current gap in the interstate is near Bella Vista, Arkansas, located near the state border in Missouri. Arkansas opened a bypass of Bella Vista that will carry the future interstate highway, but it currently ends a few miles short of the Missouri border and many miles more short of Pineville, where Interstate 49 starts up again in Missouri. Both states have been building Interstate 49 along the corridor of U.S. 71, an upgraded corridor linking Bentonville and Fayetteville in Arkansas and Kansas City, Missouri. Arkansas transportation officials are looking to fill a much larger gap in Interstate 49 to the south, between Fort Smith and Texarkana, where I-49 continues into Louisiana. But there’s no funding currently available beyond smaller segments. “We still don’t have any money for this, but there’s enough of I-49 that has been completed where it’s reasonable to take a look at it again,” an Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department public information officer said in April. [Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette; TB&P]
- Des Moines, Iowa: After a harsh winter in 2014 that killed 60 percent of Iowa’s honeybees, there’s reason to be more upbeat about the state of pollination. State Apiarist Andrew Joseph says that the population of honeybees has made a good comeback. “I’m happy to say that things are going pretty well right now in this blink in time. There are a lot of bees out there that are building up quite nicely through this spring and there are a lot of plants that are coming into bloom for them,” according to Joseph. [Radio Iowa]
- Portland, Oregon: Recycling enjoys strong support among the residents of Oregon’s largest city—in fact, the average Rose City resident deposits 614 pounds of recycling in blue bins last year. That’s a point of pride for many. “Just one problem. A large percentage of what Portlanders throw in their bins is actually garbage.” [Willamette Week]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.