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White House, press hear NLC message; President Bush is listening.

President Bush

is listening

NLC President Glenda E. Hood told President George Bush it "is time to put cities at the top of the nations's priority list" at a key meeting between the President and NLC leaders at the White House last week. Hood urged the President to undertake a national community investment initiative and appoint a national commission to explore the underlying trends of alienation of families and children in the nation's cities and towns.

Bush told Hoold and her delegation he was there "to listen and learn" about their concerns--and for close to an hour that is just what he did. Bush promised to take the official's statements and concerns under advisement.

While he declined to make any hasty commitments, the President clearly expressed interest and concern regarding the issues put before him, particularly those regarding the status of families and children. Bush said he was impressed that a coaliltion made up of such diversity could come together with a common message for change.

The meeting came in response to an inviation from Bush to Hood to select a leadership team of the nation's cities and towns to accompany her to the White House. The President had promised such a meeting in his live teleconference address to delegates at NLC's Congress of Cities in Las Vegas last month while responding to a question from then Indianapolis Mayor William Hudnut.

Joining Hood at the White House meeting were: NLC First Vice President Don Fraser, mayor of Minneapolis; NLC Second Vice President Sharpe James, mayor of Newark; NLC Immediate Past President Sidner Barthelemy, mayor of New Orleans; NLC Past President Tom Bradley, mayor of Los Angeles; NLC Past President Cathy Reynolds, Councilmember of Denver; MLC Past President Ferd Harrison, Mayor of Scotland Neck, N.C.; NLC Past President William Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis; NLC Board Member Victor Ashe, mayor of Knoxville; and NLC Advisory Council Member Florence Shapiro, mayor of Plano, Tex.

Hood thanked the President for committing to meet with the leaders of the nation's cities. She noted that even though the nation and many communities are in a recession, municipal leaders are deeply concerned about underlying trends and problems in local communities. She told the President NLC believes that national leaders must seriously consider these trends--because the old responses have proved ineffective.

The NLC President said that while NLC does not have all of the answers, "Nevertheless, we believe that it is incumbent upon state, local and federal governments to formulate new responses that are effective and to implement those responses in a spirit of cooperation."

National Community Investment


Following President Bush's presentation to NLC in Las Vegas, Hood reported that NLC adopted five federal priorities for 1992, but said the officers felt it imperative to focus first on a National Community Investment Initiative in the form of a three-part proposal which calls for responding to alienation and family breakdowns in our communities through investment in our human infrastructure.

The initiative would call for the transfer of not less than $3 billion out of national defense into a nes community human investment initiative directly to cities and towns. It would call for the establishment of a commission of federal and local leaders to report back to the President how the funds should be allocated and the most effective ways for the funds to be targeted to meet the problems of alienation and disrupted children and families in communities. And, it would call for the President to appoint a national commission to explore the roots of problems in the nation's cities affecting children with a report and recommendations to the President and the nation.

Hood told the President that NLC had issued a report last year on the city fiscal crisis. The report demonstrated a quiet, but pervasive crisis in central cities as disparities accelerated between 1980 and 1987 to the highest levels ever recorded. She said these disparities, felt by cities through eroding revenue bases and huge increases in public needs and demands, have unfortunately exacerbated racial tensions and fears.

She indicated there is an underlying fundamental part of the system that is dysfunctional for the next generation of Americans--those most vulnerable, and those most critical to the nation's economic future:

"We have much experience--enough to know that what we have been doing is not working well enough and that we have to halt and reverse what is happening in our cities. We know enough to understand that we cannot do that alone--nor expect the federal government to do it alone. It will require coming at these problems from a new direction with a joint commitment."

She urged the President to help lay a new foundation for a new way of thinking and a new commitment to human infrastructure investment.

Eye on the Next Generation

Mayor Fraser told the President it was most important to view the underlying trend by looking toward the children and families of the next generation.

[Section] In Minneapolis, change over the past decade has been marked by an increase from 25 to 50 percent of children in the public school system born out of wedlock.

[Section] In Seattle, family violence statistics increased by an incredible 500 percent between 1980 and 1988. Teen birth rates shot up by 33 percent during the same period.

[Section] In Cleveland, the number of children living in poverty increased from 55,000 in 1980 to 100,000 by 1990.

[Section] In New Haven, where the President attended Yale University, Fraser reported that 74 percent of the public school children were on welfare.

He told the President he worried that the steady erosion in city after city would continue unrelentingly without a national commitment for change.

Fraser called these trends compelling. He said the numbers call for an immediate and strong response.

He said conventional federal programs--even those we all support and would like to see increased--probably would not really address these trends of alienation and family destruction.

Mayor Bradley told the President that while American communities come in all sizes and shapes, alienation of young people is a national problem. He said it created the potential for many of these children to drop out and be lost forever. He called the current loss of so many kids who drop out of the public school systems before fourth grade "a threat to the human infrastructure of our cities."

"We don't have the answers, but we believe by working together we can try and make a difference."

He urged the President to seize the opportunity with the end of the Cold War to cut back on defense spending and commit at least $3 billion directly to the nation's cities for this initiative: "Unless tackled in this fashion, we' ll lose much of the talent we have. It is critical to prevent these problems before they overshelm us."

Bradley told the President about the 'LA Best' program--a program working with youghsters after school in Los Angeles that is showing tremendous promise and community involvement and participation, but noted that the city could afford to reach out to fewer than 20 out of more than 400 eligible schools.

Mayor Ashe told the President:

"You have the bully pulpit. Such an initiative could compliment your America 2000 program (for education reform). But it is critical it go directly to communities, because we bear the real responsibility of delivering. And if it goes to states, much like federal anti-drug funds, it runs the risk of being deferred and eaten up by state administrative costs and delays."

Hudnut strongly urged the President to appoint a Presidential commission composed of the very best, most committed, most respected leaders in America to explore the cause of the underlying trends in America' communities:

"The ability to develop a national consensus to address and confront the underlying trends requires a commission of the stature of the Kerner Commission. It would establish your deep concern to speak to these issues so central to the future of our communities."

Hudnut advised that a presidentially appointed commission like the Kerner Commission would carry such prestige that its findings and recommendations would guarantee the immediate recognition of the central importance of these issues to American economic security and opportunity--and to the importance of its charge and mission.

The President asked if there had not been a lot of commissions to look at the problems of cities.

Ashe responded that there had been no such presidentially appointed commission for more than a quarter of a century.

The President said he believed the issues raised by Mayors Fraser and Bradley were truly national and fundamental. He said they were critical to the health and prosperity of the American economy:

"I want you to know you have hit upon a fundamental issue that I think is terribly important."

Mayor James appealed to the President for his leadership and support:

"To see everyone stand and applaud your speech by teleconference in Las Vegas meant they respected you. You are our leader. Your positive response would give it the credentials for the nation to follow.

The President told the group that he was deeply impressed that a group representing such a diverse range of cities and political philosophies had made such a strong and unified statement and proposal.

Mayor Shapiro responded:

"Mr. President, if you can find this proposal as something you can deal with, the whole country will turn to you. And I hope--with all my heart--you will.

Turning to other issues and concerns of city leaders, the President asked if the NLC group was suggesting that his anti-drug funding program was not working.

Mayor Barthelemy noted that he had met with over 3,000 citizens concerned about drugs in New Orleans earlier this week. But of the 40 million in federal anti-drug dollars sent to Louisiana, hardly any are reaching the streets of New Orleans where the problems are. Ashe reported a steadily declining percentage of federal anti-drug funds going to cities in Tennessee, and an ever increasing amoung being diverted by the state into the state prison system.

Cathy Reynolds told the President that community leaders acknowledge that the federal government no longer has the "big bucks" to help local governments. She said more and more local governments are turning to their own resources. But she urged the President to work with NLC to ensure that any changes he or the Congress propose to the federal tax code will not undercut or interfere with the cost of municipalities to issue bonds to finance the construction, repair, and maintenance of critical public programs and facilities. She said that would only complicate, make more expensive, and more difficult the task elected officials to assume greater burdens.

Mayor Harrison closed by telling the President of his concern that more and more the federal and state governments look at city and town leaders as "just another special interest group" instead of public service providers. He said that leads to the ever increasing levels of unfunded mandates.

The President told Harrison:

"I'm interested in learning about the mandate issue at the local level."

At the completion of the meeting, the President said he would not provide any immediate response, but wanted time to reflect over the proposals and isses. He invited the delegation to tour his own office as he explained the very special sense of history and responsibility it carried.

Opinion survey

tells of crises

Buffeted by recession, cutbacks in aid and unrelenting problems ranging from drugs and crime to solid waste and affordable housing, the leaders of America's cities and towns think 1992 will be a year of widespread cutbacks in local services and dim prospects for local economic growth.

Nearly four out of five local officials responding to the eighth annual opinion survey by the National League of Cities said the lack of money is preventing effective action to deal with community needs.

The gap between needs and resources has reached the point where one in five local officials said overall city service levels will be reduced in 1992. Almost twice as many, 38 percent, said tax increases will be needed to aboid cutbacks. Nearly 14 percent said they had already cut service levels in the community during 1991.

"This year's NLC survey confirms and underscores what has become obvious to most Americans. Times are tough and we may not have gotten past the worst of it yet," said Donald J. Borut, NLC executive director.

Even one of the mainstays of local government, namely, public safety, if bending under the pressure. Twenty-four percent of the respondents said their community cannot keep up with its public safety needs.

Their outlook has become so pessimistic that more than one in three city leaders describe their own community's prospects as "poor" for someone hoping to find a job and begin a career.

"The attitude and conditions described in this survey are the legacy of priorities that have neglected or actually weakened the capacity of our cities and towns to respond to community needs or to invest in the community's future," said NLC President Glenda Hood, city commissioner of Orlando, Fla.

"We want our national leaders to redirect the nation's priorities and put America's future first," said Hood. "We also believe that our nation has an extraordinary opportunity to do that -- to change gears and make adjustments in the new climate of global relations."

More than l75 percent of the 397 municipal officials responding to the survey said federal budget priorities should be redirected to increase domestic spending. Nearly 70 percent said there should be cuts in foreign aid, and 56 percent supported cuts in defense spending.

"This is not a time for 'feel food' solutions. It is a time for 'real good' solutions," said Hood. "Local government leaders are convinced that tax cuts will not bring about the investments we must make in our nations' future," she said.

Hood described the task as a "National Community Agenda," consisting of four components, all working together: the nations' cities and towns, the leadership of corporate America, state government and the federal government.

"Right now, our cities and towns are struggling with a situation that will require choices and changes -- and not just at the local level in their community, but also in the attitudes and actions by state and federal government," said Borut.

Just over half the officials reported that overall economic conditions sorsened in their communities, up from 14 percent in the 1988 NLC survey and 36 percent last year. More than half said unemployment and cost of living worsened, and more than 40 percent said poverty, drug abuse, homelessness, AIDS and the cost of energy had become worsening problems.

The only areas in which more than one-third of the officials reported improving conditions were local mortgage conditions, interest rates on city borrowing, wastewater treatment and the condition of streets, roads and sidewalks.

When asked about the most important problems facing their communities, overall economic conditions topped the list of responses, followed by crime, drugs, unemployment and city fiscal conditions.

In response to a question asking them to rate the prospects for a young person hoping to find a job and begin a career in their community,more than 34 percent described their local opportunities as "poor." Fifty-five percent said the outlook was "fair," and only 10 percent described their local situation as "great."

Fifty-four percent were pessimistic, and of that group, more than 17 percent were very pessimistic. Of the 46 percent who expressed optimism, only 4 percent were strongly optimistic. When asked to evaluate the performance of the federal government in dealing with a number of domestic policy issues, a majority of respondents gave Washington grades of "poor" or "fail" in the areas of homelessness, poverty, health care, dealing with the budget deficit, city fiscal disparities and mandates.

A majority gave ratings of "fair" or better in the areas of clean air, transportation, education, solid waste, housing, and racism and discrimination. There was an even split in the evaluation of federal efforts in dealing with drug abuse and violent crime.

A majority of local officials, nearly 55 percent, also said federal and state policy restrictions or mandates are creating obstacles in their efforts to deal with problems facing their community.

The survey was conducted by NLC with assistance from the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., using a random sample of elected officials from communities with populations above 10,000. Of the 397 respondents, 38 percent held the office of mayor, 60 percent were councilmembers and 2 percent held some other elective office.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Shafroth, Frank
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Jan 20, 1992
Previous Article:Concurrent sessions promote peer idea exchanges.
Next Article:City leaders concerned for future; push for domestic commitment; opinion survey tells of crises.

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