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League Bulletin

September 2, 2016

Durham Chief Information Officer Kerry Goode (second from left in group) accepts a Municipal Innovator award for the city's partnership with Durham County in developing an open data portal. Photo credit: Ben Brown

Five North Carolina municipalities won statewide recognition this week for publicly minded use of technology. Government Technology (GovTech) magazine in collaboration with the N.C. Department of Information Technology and the League of Municipalities presented Benson, Raleigh, Charlotte, Asheville and Durham with "Municipal Innovator" awards in light of their efforts with smart systems and data-based approaches that have helped improve municipal service.

"I think there's a lot of innovation happening in North Carolina," Eric Ellis, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer for the state, told a crowd of hundreds gathered for GovTech's two-day North Carolina Digital Government Summit on Wednesday in Raleigh. It was the annual event's first time presenting awards to local government.

The City of Asheville, for one, received honors for its open data portal that connects the public to an array of downloadable datasets about the city's functions, traits and patterns -- useful information to builders, reporters, researchers and homebuyers, for instance. The Town of Benson was recognized for its conversion of electric and water meters to a two-way smartgrid system that catches problems quickly and saves taxpayers money. Raleigh, for another, has put focus on "smart city" technology like sensors that collect data -- from traffic trips to when sidewalk trash cans fill up -- and improve the prioritization of resources, like manpower and money. Click here for a video of the awards ceremony and here for a press release from the state.

These are not isolated examples. The five award recipients are among scores of municipalities in North Carolina leveraging advancements in tech for the public good. The League recognizes and applauds all members exercising or expressing curiosity in innovation and new means of delivery.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will not pursue change to the recent court action limiting municipalities' ability to expand their own superfast Internet services. Spokesman for the agency Mark Wigfield said challenging the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals' Aug. 10 decision, which upended a FCC ruling in favor of municipalities' authority to grow broadband access, "would not be the best use of Commission resources," publications including GovTech reported this week.

The case centered on municipal broadband services offered in Wilson and in Chattanooga, Tenn., which have been credited for business growth and residents' essential access to online resources. That's as North Carolina and Tennesse have laws limiting how cities can offer or expand those services -- territorially, for instance. The appellate court struck down a prior FCC ruling that had favored municipalities by pre-empting portions of state laws seen as hindrances to broadband access and competition.

National media including the New York Times brought focus and background to the case this week. "In Wilson, officials said cable and telecom companies rejected requests to team up with them and upgrade aging networks, which led the city to start its own broadband network called Greenlight in 2008," the Times reported. "The service provides speeds of one gigabit per second, which lets people download big video files in seconds or minutes instead of several hours with DSL or basic cable broadband."

That type of service has helped to fill the digital divide, though the prevailing state laws favored by the appellate court have analysts wondering where it's going. A group of U.S. mayors writing in support of Wilson and Chattanooga said they were "concerned about the detrimental impact overturning the (FCC's) 2015 ruling will have on community members’ ability to access fast, affordable broadband internet access, and how it will prevent the expansion of your cities' broadband networks to neighboring underserved communities, as well as what it could mean in communities nationwide." High-speed Internet is increasingly seen as essential to economic development, and critics of laws like North Carolina's warn they could damage the business prospects of small towns and cities. According to Ars Technica, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has suggested an ongoing push for municipal broadband and "would consider both legal and policy options in response to the court ruling."

Census Director John W. Thompson, third from left. Photo credit: Sarah Collins

U.S. Census Bureau Director John H. Thompson spoke to North Carolina state and local government representatives and other partners on Wednesday about plans for the 2020 Census. Among other initiatives, Thompson and his staff spoke about partnering with local governments to make sure the census is as accurate as possible, noting their local "complete count" committees and the Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) program. The LUCA program will provide an opportunity for designated representatives of local and state governments to review addresses contained in the Census Bureau's database. Information will be sent to local officials in July 2017. The League will continue to inform its members of opportunities to help in ensuring an accurate census.

The latest episode of Municipal Equation, the League's growing podcast on the issues orbiting municipalities, is an all-public-safety conversation that starts with a look at how police are working to restore trust with communities they serve. Click here to listen. Taking inspiration from the recent, newsmaking forum that the League arranged with the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus to begin a new discussion about police-public interaction, this episode highlights frank and head-on remarks from North Carolina law enforcement officials about trust, training, recruitment efforts and what agencies are able to do with existing resources.

Then, we move on to a discussion about body-worn cameras and the search for best-practices before a segment with League Public Safety Risk Management Consultant Tom Anderson on human behavior in active shooter situations. We also check in with the Burlington Police Department, which is one of the latest to establish a "transaction zone" for safer exchange of goods or money between strangers. Haven't listened to Municipal Equation yet? Start today. Get in on the conversation. It's all about the challenges, solutions, new concepts and celebrations at hand in municipalities. Click here for all past episodes and here for a free iTunes subscription.

Rep. John Bell

House Republicans have picked Goldsboro Rep. John Bell to serve as the chamber's majority leader following this month's departure of Mike Hager of Rutherfordton, who filled the role in the last biennium. The Insider State Government News Service reported that the vote for Bell took place at the party's state headquarters in Raleigh on Tuesday and included remarks from House Speaker Tim Moore that the "caucus is very much united." Bell's new place as majority leader is valid until the caucus names 2017-18 leaders in December. Bell could maintain the role. He works in business development for North Carolina Community Federal Credit Union, according to the Insider. His District 10 includes parts of Craven, Greene, Lenoir and Wayne counties. The caucus on Tuesday also elected Rep. Dean Arp of Monroe as majority whip (Bell's former role) and Rep. Pat McElraft of Emerald Isle as deputy whip. Click here for more news coverage.

Don't wait! Registration is underway for the CityVision 2016 Annual Conference in Raleigh, Oct. 23-25. As you might have heard, the League is doing things a bit differently this year -- 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.

Registration is open for the next joint meeting between League members and Duke Energy to discuss issues surrounding the modernization of municipal street lighting. The meeting will take place on Sept. 26, 10 a.m.  to 2 p.m., at Duke Energy in the O.J. Miller Auditorium (526 S. Church St., Charlotte). This meeting will serve as a continuation of discussions that began after the League, in 2013, intervened in the Duke Energy Carolinas rate case before the N.C. Utilities Commission. It's an opportunity for Duke to check in with municipal customers to discuss outdoor lighting strategies, updates and sustainability efforts. The discussion will include updates on LED modernization, new products, industry news, and more. Contact: Sarah Collins

Federal "e-fairness" legislation could receive attention in Congress this month, according to the National League of Cities. NLC has pushed for the passage of a law that would close the online sales tax loophole, restore marketplace fairness for competing brick-and-mortar businesses and create new revenue for state and local governments. In response, the House Judiciary Committee released a draft bill this week that points to a hybrid-origin approach to the sales tax collection, in which the seller’s state would determine what goods are taxed while the buyer’s state would determine the tax rate. The seller would remit collections to a clearinghouse that would distribute the revenue to the destination states, according to a NLC analysis. The draft would also limit audits of a seller’s remote sales to the origin state and would limit the destination-state’s rate for remote sales to a single statewide rate, NLC explained.

This proposal creates a complicated tax collection and remittance system that does not ensure local governments would receive locally levied sales taxes. In contrast, lawmakers introduced a separate, NLC-supported e-fairness bill last year, HR2775 Remote Transactions Parity Act, in which state and local governments could oblige retailers to collect taxes on remote sales on a buyer-location basis. NLC is working with congressional leaders including House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office in the effort. Congress’ September window is expected to be brief as members work to wrap up meaningful work before the November elections.