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League Bulletin

August 12, 2016

Registration is now open for the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference in Raleigh, Oct. 23-25. This year, the League is doing things a bit differently -- the Advocacy Goals Conference will be on Sunday the 23rd with cities and towns determining legislative and regulatory priorities for the 2017-2018 NCGA biennium. Attending the Advocacy Goals Conference is the best way to help us better position cities' and towns' advocacy efforts in 2017 and beyond. Make sure your voice is heard and your vote is cast at the Advocacy Goals Conference!

Moving into the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference, you will learn ways to connect success stories to your citizens, community and beyond, adapt to demographic and cultural changes, and grow a strong economic foundation in your hometown. Make one trip, and check off two important conferences on your calendar! Click here to register for both the Advocacy Goals Conference and the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference.

A federal appeals court decision this week affirms state law over local authority when it comes to municipal broadband delivery, though the case could have a future before the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday sided against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on that agency's power to preempt state laws limiting the expansion of broadband services offered by municipalities. The court case centered on such offerings from Wilson and from Chattanooga, Tenn., where municipally-run, superfast Internet has been credited as a boon to business growth and residents' access to the web. North Carolina and Tennessee have laws limiting how cities can offer that service, such as with territorial or city-border restrictions. The FCC in 2015, however, issued a ruling preempting portions of those state laws seen as barriers to broadband access and competition. The states fought back in court, leading to Wednesday's appellate decision. Overturning the FCC's ruling, the court found that federal law doesn't explicitly support such preemption of state laws. Click here to read the court's decision.

The National League of Cities in a statement called the court's decision a blow to local decision-making authority. "City leaders -- representing the most trusted level of government -- know that high-speed Internet is not a luxury, but a necessity to bring jobs, quality healthcare and education to their residents," said NLC CEO Clarence E. Anthony. "The cities of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, N.C., have thoughtfully invested in the broadband infrastructure that their communities want and need, and the FCC has championed these and other municipal efforts." The ruling against the FCC comes at a time when the improvement of digital connectivity is most needed, Anthony added.

Despite the outcome, the appellate ruling notes the benefits of Wilson's Greenlight community broadband, the city-run gigabit Internet service. "Each of the top seven employers in Wilson is a customer of the fiber network," it states. "Local schools benefit from using Greenlight, as does the City's public library." The associated free WiFi the city offers downtown "in turn frees up money" for businesses there, the ruling adds. In a summary, it notes that Wilson and Chattanooga sought expansion "because the private cable providers in their areas were unsatisfactory to the local residents and businesses." As such, the ruling notes that the cities were "concerned with more than just the 'bottom line' -- they are also concerned with benefitting the communities they serve."

The League had praised the prior FCC ruling that supported municipalities' authority with broadband. At the time, League Executive Director Paul Meyer noted that high-speed Internet in North Carolina's communities is vital to "promote educational attainment and bolster economic opportunities for all North Carolinians, whether the Last Mile provider is a municipal government or a private company. It is appropriate that individual municipalities have the tools and decision-making authority available to them to combat the vastly different challenges facing them." The City of Wilson was an intervenor in the appellate case. The League filed an amicus brief in support of the city. As of the time of this writing, it was unclear whether the FCC would petition to the Supreme Court to preserve its ruling in favor of municipalities. Click here, here, here and here for media coverage. The court decision landed around the same time as reports that Google plans to test speedy fiber Internet and "experimental transmitters" in locations across the country, including the Triangle.

Twenty-eight state legislative districts were struck down as racial gerrymanders in federal court action on Thursday, a development that requires the General Assembly to redraw the boundaries in time for the 2018 election cycle. With the current election cycle essentially on the closing arc, the three-judge panel that rendered the decision decided to let it unfold as is, to avoid disruption. The development stems from a legal challenge put forth by plaintiffs who called the district maps illegal on the basis of race, with boundaries allegedly drawn to impact the voting power of black residents and minimize the number of Democrat-held seats in the legislature. "This state’s citizens have the right to vote in districts that accord with the Constitution," U.S. Circuit Judge James Wynn wrote in the decision. Click here to read it in full.

Rep. David Lewis, a Republican from Dunn who helped draw the House map, tweeted that he was "disappointed" by the decision and that it "contradicts" a prior N.C. Supreme Court ruling in support of the districts as they are. "However, we are relieved for voters that the district court did not disrupt the current election that is already underway," Lewis said. Read media coverage here and here.

The General Assembly has funded a new policy center that reportedly will take a central role in efforts to revise state water pollution rules among other environmental areas. A media report this week notes a state budget provision that establishes the N.C. Policy Collaboratory at UNC-Chapel Hill to research environmental and economic factors in how natural resources are managed. The Collaboratory would also look into new technologies for improving habitats and water quality. The state's budget programs $1 million a year for the center, which according to Coastal Review Online is also meant to be a policy and research resource to state and local governments and may make recommendations to the General Assembly.
Visitation to North Carolina's state sites, attractions and museums is up, according to a press release from the governor's office this week. The state charted a 7.7 percent increase for the fiscal year that ended June 30, over the previous year, with total visitation to these natural and cultural sites up by nearly 1.8 million. "Data shows that visitors from within our state and across the country and world are flocking to North Carolina to experience our natural beauty and quality of life that is second to none," Gov. Pat McCrory said. "As our population continues to increase and more people visit our state, strategic investments in our state parks, the zoo and overall quality of life will prepare our state for future growth." The top grower was the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh, which saw a 34 percent increase in visitorship.
A five-week challenge ending Sept. 9 is underway for cities to demonstrate their solar-friendliness, with national recognition for the best. It's part of the SolSmart program that the League wrote about in April. That federally funded initiative serves to help municipalities remove barriers to solar implementation and put best-practices in play to maximize economic opportunity. "We’re challenging cities to prove how solar-friendly they are by completing a SolSmart designation scorecard," explained Nick Kasza of the National League of Cities' Sustainable Cities Institute, which is part of the team administering SolSmart. Click here for a participation form and more information on SolSmart. Prizes for the best include two complimentary passes to the National League of Cities' 2016 City Summit and a speaking role during the summit's workshop on energy policy. "Even if your city doesn't finish in the top two positions, any community that completes a designation scorecard is eligible for no-cost technical assistance to improve their solar markets," Kasza noted.
Yes, it's real -- #CityHallSelfie Day is an actual, international celebration scheduled for Monday, Aug. 15. People around the globe will be posting selfies, taken in front of their city halls, on social media channels like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat with the #CityHallSelfie hashtag so the world can see. And there are prizes involved. Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL), the national group promoting #CityHallSelfie Day, says everyone who participates will get an ELGL coozie and has a chance to win a selfie stick among other prizes. The goal: to boost interest in local government and to break the record for the number of selfies taken in front of a city halls in a single day. "What's the record? We’re not quite sure but we’ve pegged it at around nine," quips ELGL. Please encourage staffers and residents in your town to participate.

What did you think of the last episode of Municipal Equation? We got great feedback from listeners interested in the science of place attachment and what local governments should understand about the way people connect to their cities and towns. Missed it? No problem. Listen here. You'll hear a great discussion with Melody Warnick, author of the new book "This Is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live."

And be sure to check out Episode Five, coming out this Tuesday. Click here for a preview. We talk with guests including City of Raleigh Communications Director Damien Graham about how the city is using live music -- by way of a professionally produced government access television show -- to connect residents with their city's art scene and local government. Graham notes that it helps to humanize government and attract attention to Raleigh's vibrancy. That's Tuesday, Aug. 16, on Municipal Equation, a podcast created by the League to spread good ideas, discuss local-level challenges and celebrate success stories. You can subscribe for free on iTunes or find all past episodes here.