Connecting state and local government leaders
WEEKEND NEWS ROUNDUP: Baltimore mayor fires police chief; student loan forgiveness for volunteer firefighters; regional flu variations; and mixed reviews for Sunday liquor sales in Minnesota.
Hello from Route Fifty’s Seattle bureau. This week, city hall leaders from across the nation will be gathering in the other Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors 86th Winter Meeting at the Capital Hilton hotel near the White House. Stay tuned for complete coverage of the proceedings and policy discussions from Route Fifty’s team in the nation’s capital.
With so much going on in the world of state and local government—including the ongoing federal government shutdown—there is plenty of news to track.
Here are stories that caught Route Fifty’s eye this weekend and late last week …
MUNICIPAL MANAGEMENT | The mayor of Grantsville, Utah, located about 35 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, is facing accusations of using physical intimidation and aggression during disagreements at city hall. “He grabbed my shoulders and he pushed me and made me sit down,” the city’s former recorder, Rachel Wright, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “He pushed me into one of the chairs and told me that I wasn’t leaving.” Wright is one of the six people, including two local elected officials, who have have told the Tribune of the difficult workplace environment under Mayor Brent Marshall, who in a written statement released by the city attorney said: “I have never intentionally belittled anyone and my door is always open for civil and respectful dialogue.” [The Salt Lake Tribune]
LAW ENFORCEMENT | After a particularly deadly 2017 in Baltimore, where 343 people were killed, Mayor Catherine Pugh fired Police Commissioner Kevin Davis on Friday and replaced him with Deputy Commissioner Darryl DeSousa. [Baltimore Brew]
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck announced early-retirement plans and will exit his position this summer. "One of the secrets of bull riding is knowing when to get off the bull," he said. [Los Angeles Times]
Newly released documents show that the former assistant police chief in Prospect, Kentucky, a suburb of Louisville, told a police recruit via Facebook that he should shoot juveniles smoking marijuana if they’re black. [WDRB-TV]
TRANSPORTATION SAFETY | Critics of Florida Brightline, the privately built and operated diesel-electric 110-mph passenger rail line that will eventually connect the Miami area with Orlando, are saying their “fears and concerns with respect to Brightline passenger trains are being validated” after four people were recently killed by trains while trying to cross the tracks, which run at-grade through communities along Florida’s Atlantic coast. In one incident, a bicyclist pedaling around safety barricades at a crossing in Boynton Beach was killed in an attempt to beat an oncoming train. Last week, U.S. Rep. Brian Mast called for the suspension of Brightline’s operations. His Republican colleague, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, has called on U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to launch a new federal review of safety along the rail corridor. Many of Brightline’s opponents say that the rail corridor should be grade-separated. Brightline service currently operates between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. [TC Palm; @RepBrianMast; Miami Herald]
MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION | In Vermont, Republican Gov. Phil Scott was anticipated to sign a marijuana legalization bill behind closed doors at some point before Monday. “It won’t be a public signing, but I will be signing it,” Scott said. “I have choices. I could let it go into law without my signature, and I’m not going to go that route. I’m going to sign it, but it won’t be a public affair,” the governor said. [VTDigger]
POLITICAL SCANDALS | Rumors suggested that embattled Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who is facing a sex scandal and, reportedly, new scrutiny from the FBI, would resign on Friday did not pan out. “The resignation rumors are 100 percent false." But what’s true? The Republican governor late last week laid out his plan for “the boldest state tax reform in America” in the form of a 300-word news release. [CNN; Fox4 Kansas City; The Daily Beast]
PUBLIC HEALTH | This year’s strong flu season has not hit all areas of the nation with the same force, at least not yet. While strains of the influenza virus have certainly hit Nevada hard, it’s nowhere as bad as it’s been next door in California, where there have been at least 74 deaths. In Nevada’s two most-populous counties, there have been at least 21 deaths this flu season. Within states, there are regional variations in the intensity of the flu. In Massachusetts, areas northeast and southeast of Boston have been hit particularly hard, while others parts of the commonwealth have seen relatively minimal flu activity. [The Nevada Independent; San Francisco Chronicle / SF Gate; Worcester Telegram]
Meanwhile in Arizona, proposed legislation supported by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey aimed at strengthening rules regarding the prescription of opioids includes a provision that allows for “drug manufacturers who falsely promote their opioids to be charged with crimes and having their executives subject to incarceration.” [Capitol Media Services via Daily Courier]
PUBLIC DEFENDERS | A district attorney in New Mexico says that local public defenders complaining about being overworked are blowing a crisis situation out of proportion. “The public defender system has never been better funded than it currently is,” according to 12th Judicial District Attorney John Sugg. “They’ve never had the resources in Lincoln County that they do now.” The problem? The state’s entire judicial system is underfunded and is on “life support,” New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Charles Daniels said last year. [Albuquerque Journal]
PUBLIC WORKS | There’s a problem in Missouri this winter: Not enough people trained to operate snow plows. [Route Fifty]
ALCOHOL REGULATIONS | Six months after Minnesota officials OK’d Sunday liquor sales, something that had long been prohibited, stores selling booze on Sunday aren’t necessarily seeing much benefit. “We generate hardly any new sales,” one store owner in Rochester said. “It definitely costs us money.” The state is, however, seeing an uptick in sales tax revenue from beer, wine and spirits. [Star Tribune]
FIREFIGHTING | Legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. John Tester that would make volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel eligible for federal student loan forgiveness programs sounds could help struggling fire and rescue squads across the nation. “Any benefit we can offer volunteer firefighters, particularly young adults, will help maintain or increase our staffing levels which have steadily declined over the years,” according to Kevin Catalano, a spokesman for the volunteer fire department in Monroe, Connecticut. [Connecticut Post]
SMALL-CELL CONNECTIVITY | After a decade of successfully deploying small-cell solutions to boost cellphone connectivity and reliability in canyon dead-zones and ski towns in Colorado, like Vail, Houston-based Crown Castle is gearing up to bring more SCS expansion in the Denver area. [Route Fifty]
ANIMALS | After city council members failed to repeal a pit bull ban in Minot, North Dakota last week, opponents of the breed-specific prohibition are now circulating petitions for a local ballot initiative on the matter. [Minot Daily News]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.