Former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords with her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, at City Summit in Charlotte on Thursday. Photo credit: NLC
Roughly 4,000 city government officials from across the country, including a large contingent from North Carolina municipalities, converged in Charlotte this week for the National League of Cities' (NLC) 2017 City Summit. With general and breakout sessions along with expert speakers and activities at the Charlotte Convention Center, focuses included economic development, transportation and the what NLC CEO Clarence Anthony called the "revolution" of smart cities.
As local governments strive to better manage resources and understand local needs and behavior, they're turning to new technologies that can collect and analyze data like never before. Anthony said that's local government's cue to commit, think big and imagine the possibilities. "City leaders, this is your moment," he told a room of thousands of officials on Thursday. "This is our moment. We can't be left behind." He asked every town, no matter its size, to learn about smart-city potential.
Guest speaker Nashville, Tenn., Mayor Megan Barry addressed the nationwide problem of opioid abuse, which recently dealt her a devastating personal impact when it claimed the life of her only son. "This is an epidemic," she said, advising better use of tools like narcotic-blocking drugs and more availability of treatment beds. Other guests on Thursday included retired astronaut Mark Kelly and his wife, the former Arizona congresswoman and gun-violence survivor Gabby Giffords, who shared their own difficult stories and generated standing ovations for their words of courage.
The City Summit this week also included a League-hosted North Carolina leadership reception attended by about 200 officials from across the state, including League board members and President Michael Lazzara, the mayor pro tem of Jacksonville. The summit continues into Saturday with additional guest speakers, workshops and the release of new NLC reports, including one assessing the "maker movement" and its economic impact in cities across the U.S.
First responders in North Carolina are clear to join FirstNet, "the first nationwide broadband network specifically built for public safety agencies," says a press release from the governor's office this week. It explains that AT&T will team with FirstNet to build and run the network as part of a federal program -- 100 percent federally funded -- and will be geared for first responders to keep communication flowing during the kinds of disasters that could hamper or disable other communication channels.
Congress established FirstNet in 2012 as a post-9/11 public safety and response improvement, with states allowed to opt in to it. The League had a representative involved in the State Broadband Infrastructure Office's review team that assisted the office in the plan toward joining FirstNet, which according to the state could cover nearly all of North Carolina's population within the first five years.
"First responders deserve a state of the art communications system, and we believe this is the first step toward building that system,” State Chief Information Officer Eric Boyette said in the release. “DIT has worked with public safety and IT professionals since 2014 to make sure that the people of North Carolina get the service they deserve. Ultimately, we will all be safer once this network is in place.”
Listen to a new episode of Municipal Equation, the League's biweekly podcast about cities and towns in changing times. The rundown: Appropriate to the age of exponential innovation, the smart-cities conversation is moving quickly. Should we it slow down? Explore additional ethical questions? Evaluate our best practices and ideas? More and more people think so. On this episode, we meet a town -- Cary -- that's built a "simulated smart city" so they can try it before they buy it and experiment to better understand how it all fits together. And we talk with an author whose new book, among many other things, questions whether advances in civic technology are really taking the complexities of human beings and their various communities into account. Are we being inclusive in our efforts to collect better public data, engage with residents, and manage municipal resources? There's a lot to consider. Later in the episode, we take on a lighter topic -- a list, created by listeners, of the best fictional mayors of all time. Listen now! Or enjoy a past episode. And subscribe on iTunes. If you've liked any particular episode or moment, let us know why in a brief iTunes review. Send your thoughts and ideas about the show to host/producer Ben Brown.
Mitigating future flood risk is the focus of study work in eastern North Carolina right now as part of the state's post-Matthew recovery. Experts will be studying the dynamics of the Cashie, Lumber, Neuse and Tar river basins, and advisory councils are being established to include local leaders in areas around the Lumber, Neuse and Tar, which felt standout devastation from the October 2016 storm.
U.S. Sen. Richard Burr called the news "an important step to develop and maintain better defenses against natural disasters like Hurricane Matthew." He added: “Mitigation efforts will make it easier, faster and cheaper for North Carolina to bounce back from weather related events, especially in vulnerable areas like these four river basins. I’m pleased with this progress and look forward to working with state and local entities to begin these efforts.” The press release has complete details. The Kinston Free Press newspaper covered the announcement with local reactions.
As federal tax reform proposals steam through Congress, local government leaders are exploring the potential impacts, from the possible elimination of the federal historic tax credit to changes in tax-exempt status for bonds used to finance infrastructure. On Thursday, the U.S. House passed its version of the tax reform plan, which the National League of Cities quickly condemned. It was a focal point of NLC President Matt Zone on Thursday during the organization's City Summit in Charlotte. Zone, a member of the Cleveland City Council, encouraged the thousands of local leaders in attendance to contact their representatives in Congress and urge protection of tax programs and other resources that drive the economy via cities.
“Cities will continue to challenge any plan that threatens the tax exemption for bonds used to finance critical infrastructure, eliminates the state and local tax deduction that protects local decision-making and erases tax credits that strengthen communities," Zone said in a press release after the vote. "We thank the members of Congress who stood with cities in rejecting this flawed bill, but we will now push the Senate and conference committee to reject this bill and work on tax reform that actually moves America forward.” The U.S. House and Senate each pushed its own version of tax reform that local leaders are dissecting, which is the focus of an extensive Route Fifty piece published on Thursday.