WHAT HAPPENED: The infectious potential of COVID-19 led to sweeping prep and response measures in virtually all sectors. Thursday evening, the League of Municipalities, the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners coordinated a crowded conference call with Gov. Roy Cooper, giving him and fellow state leaders the opportunity to discuss expectations directly with local government officials across the state, which is under a state-of-emergency declaration. WHAT IT MEANS: This Bulletin has the details to help with your planning, but the high-level report is that the state has activated its Emergency Operations Center, supports local-level state-of-emergency declarations, and will be in touch with local governments about next steps. The governor's office advises all large gatherings to be canceled or postponed. ON TAP: It's unfortunate that must include CityVision 2020, our annual conference – see details below in this bulletin about the cancelation and refunds -- but health and safety are at a new level of importance and immediacy. The League and partners are prioritizing attention to all matters at hand under the coronavirus. The governor's office has opened a hotline for timely information -- (866) 462-3821 -- and a website with updates: ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus. The League has also launched a resource page at www.nclm.org/coronavirus. THE SKINNY: Believe it or not, we do have other updates from our usual world of legislative news and policy this week (although legislative committe meetings for the near future have been canceled). But clearly we must give all practical attention to the more immediate cause of keeping our communities safe and well positioned for the future. As the governor told local government officials Thursday, "We're all in this together." Please stay safe and well informed. We'll continue releasing timely info.
League Executive Director Paul Meyer attended a briefing in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to align the White House with local-level leaders as COVID-19 cases continue spotting the United States and as preparation mounts to prevent community-level spread. Vice President Mike Pence addressed a gathering of National League of Cities board members and a subset of state leagues, including the N.C. League, with emphasis on local leaders' frontline role and the vitality of intergovernmental and intersector communication. "Community efforts are the first line against the spread of this virus, which is why the League is taking this so seriously," Meyer said. "We're in constant contact with all levels of government, from your town hall to the White House, to make sure we're all on the same page in positioning our communities for the best outcomes." While the quality of information is evolving by the hour, the League has assembled a resource page that may be helpful to cities and towns at www.nclm.org/coronavirus. A few of those resource are: -North Carolina's Response to Coronavirus (NCDHHS)-Preparing Communities for Potential Spread of COVID-19-Communications Resources Regarding Coronavirus-Up-To-Date Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The state has also established a comprehensive update page -- ncdhhs.gov/coronavirus -- as well as a hotline: (866) 462-3821. Gov. Roy Cooper shared this information directly with local government leaders across the state Thursday evening in a call coordinated by the League, the Metropolitan Mayors Coalition and the Association of County Commissioners. "The government closest to the people governs the best ... and we respect that," the governor told local leaders. He added: "We're going to be depending on you for guidance. But we're also going to be depending on you to work with us." Governor Cooper said state law is being analyzed with respect to open, public meetings, such as city council meetings. Context will vary community to community when it comes to in-person interaction. Overall, though, he emphasized that large gatherings of roughly 100 people or more should be avoided, and those planned should be canceled. (See separate article below in this Bulletin about the subsequent cancelation of CityVision 2020.) He acknowledged that may create decision-making hardships in the way of community rhythm, economics, jobs and rerouted plans that have already received so much hard work. But, he said, "We have to be guided by our science and our data.... And when you think about protecting public health, it means being cautious and also being prepared, and I think today we are being both." Basic advice includes the encouragement of telework or work-from-home scenarios where possible to minimize the contamination potential at places of work. Steady handwashing or sanitizing is vital. While state health officials aren't immediately calling for school closures, they may release guidance soon on public or government facilities, such as senior centers. The state has activated its Emergency Operations Center for 'round-the-clock attention to the virus as the governor this week declared a state of emergency by executive order. The declaration is akin to those issued for natural disasters and "will help with the cost burdens and supplies that may be difficult for providers and public health to access due to increased demand," a news release explained. Joining the governor on Thursday's call with local officials was the state's director of emergency management, Mike Sprayberry, who said local-level state-of-emergency declarations are appropriate and may help local governments better position themselves with access to resources and logistical support. "It can give you the powers for expedited procurement, make sure there's funding coming down that may require a state-of-emergency (declaration) and gives you extra authorities and powers and take more stringent actions than ones you get from the state," Sprayberry explained. Local emergency managers will know the procedure to request resources, "like any other disaster," Sprayberry said, noting also that the state's "Web EOC" (online Emergency Operations Center portal) has set COVID-19 as its default topic.Governor Cooper said the simplest changes in routine are important right now for local government officials as they engage with their communities. "I'm giving an elbow-bump to everybody. I'm not shaking any more hands," the governor told fellow leaders. "And I think it's important that we lead the way in doing that. I know it's a simple thing, but it can matter a lot."
League Executive Director Paul Meyer releases the following statement to members: Like many of you, we have been following the COVID-19 virus closely. Earlier this week, several state league directors and I met with Vice President Mike Pence for a briefing about the virus and our role in this public health crisis. His message was clear—he recognized your leadership value and credibility among citizens and directed local government to be leaders in the mitigation efforts related to COVID-19. To support our collective efforts, NCLM staff has been in regular contact with the governor’s office and other state health officials. Following Gov. Roy Cooper's recommended precautions—including canceling large group gatherings—detailed on yesterday’s NCLM-hosted conference call with 900+ local leaders, we have decided to cancel CityVision 2020. All registered attendees will receive a full refund as described below: -Online Credit Card Payments: We will begin processing all cancelations this week. If you paid by credit card, your registration will automatically be refunded to the credit card you used to register.-Registration paid by check: If you paid by check, NCLM will send a check to each municipality for their registration cancelation. We will begin the process this week.-If you had a balance due: If you had a balance due, NCLM will cancel the registration and NO funds will be due. Planning has begun for holding a virtual Annual Business Meeting as an alternative to the in-person meeting associated with the conference. This will allow us to fulfill NCLM’s constitutional requirements, including the election of our 2020-2021 Board of Directors. More information will be shared as the plans and logistics next week. Please know we did not come to this decision lightly. CityVision is our premier event, where members look forward to learning about the latest topics and spending time with colleagues from across the state. Our priority is our members’ health and safety, along with the health and safety of all residents. We must do our part to support the federal government’s and the governor’s public health strategies and limit the spread of the virus, and we appreciate your assistance in this endeavor. NCLM will continue to update our website with the latest information and resources about COVID-19. If you have CityVision registration questions, please email email@example.com or please feel free to call Diane Godwin at (919) 733-2635 or Athena Banks at (919) 715-2908. Thank you for your understanding and your leadership as this issue continues to evolve.
“Disconnected,” a documentary examining North Carolina’s digital divide, will be airing and then available for viewing on demand later this week. It’s a project that the League has been working on with WRAL-TV in Raleigh for several months, and represents a critical look at how the gap in broadband access is affecting school students and their parents, health care providers and patients and business owners. The 30-minute segment will air on Thursday, March 19 at 7 p.m. on WRAL-TV and WILM-TV, as well as wraldocumentary.com and WRAL channels on Amazon Fire, Apple TV and Roku. WRAZ-TV Fox50 will air the documentary on Saturday, March 21 at 1 p.m. To make the case, WRAL focuses on the Town of Enfield in northeastern North Carolina as a case study of a community that could enjoy more opportunity with better internet access. The documentary also explores why the digital divide exists and looks at the FIBER NC Act, legislation better enabling public-private partnerships that could help address the access gap. In addition to the League’s assistance, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Minneapolis, and Google Fiber helped to underwrite the project. Please tune in and let us know what you think.
Lawmakers took no action this week on ideas discussed last month regarding an overhaul of sales tax distribution formulas. Further, members of the interim legislative Revenue Laws Committee did not even ask questions of staff, nor did they engage in any discussion of the issue, when given the opportunity at the committee’s meeting Wednesday. The opportunity for more discussion and debate came after this same committee heard a proposal last month on potential ways to update the formula the state currently uses to determine how sales taxes are distributed to each county. Read more about that discussion in this prior Bulletin report.