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A year of collaborating to build a strong agenda for the future.

For the National League of Cities, 1992 was a year of reaching out and working with others to make cities and their leaders better and stronger, collectively and individually, now and for the future.

Poised, as we are, to usher in a new presidential administration and vastly changed Congress, it is tempting to look only to the future, but we must also look back and recount the past year's events; the events which brought us to this exciting juncture.

The recent national elections have clearly focused attention on the priorities of President-elect Clinton and how his program "putting people first" will address the critical needs of our cities and towns.

Our relatives this past year position NLC to take advantage of this new opportunity and work with the new President and Congress.

NLC has been aggressive in responding to the needs of member cities and working collaboratively with the state municipal leagues. Our programs are expanding, our financial base is solid, and our reputation as an informed and responsible spokesperson and advocate for local government is strong.

Communication is the Key

An organization's ability to communicate is fundamental to its effectiveness, and NLC is no exception. Effectively communicating, sharing information, and promoting interaction with other groups and organizations has strengthened the voice of the National League of Cities this year.

Acting decisively for the future, this last summer the NLC Board, in discussions on changing politics and governance, set the foundation for reassessing how we as an organization and as leaders of America's communities communicate and carry out our leadership role.

From the Board's discussion came a sold commitment to strengthen, expand, and diversify our communications. We reorganize that many voices make our message stronger so NLC initiated the use of periodic "Action Alerts" to key groups to highlight critical issues and generate grassroots support.

Connecting With Our Members

It is also clear that the value of keeping the membership current and informed is giving our members the chance to share common information to help every member be an effective voice for America's cities and towns. to better carry out that mission, NLC implemented a major redesign of Nation's Cities Weekly--a direct response to a readership survey.

Nation's Cities Weekly continues to be the best way to reach the leaders of our member cities and we have taken steps to make it better and more relevant than ever. New columns on current issues, a more readable format, easy to find stories, and more analysis on topics of importance are part of the new format.

Reaching Out With Technology

Through cutting edge technology the League this year has been able to reach well beyond the Washington beltway thanks to a video teleconferencing system operating in cooperation with Bell Atlantic. The system links NLC and seven state municipal leagues.

NLC initiated this interactive video teleconferencing project to connect local elected officials, state municipal leagues, and NLC. The National Association of Countries (NACo) is working cooperatively with us to carry out a similar program.

With vidoe teleconferencing, NLC is taking a step into the future, ahead of many similar organizations. It is a leadership move that recognizes the importance, again, of reaching out to others, of being connected to our members and state municipal leagues across America.

The U.S. House of Representatives is also exploring video teleconferencing with several of their committees to connect Congress and the American public. We expect and hope that, over time, our members will have the option of testifying before congressional committees without having to come here to Washington.

The Strength of Working Together

In addition to enhancing our communication approaches, a major effort was undertaken to work more closely with other national organizations on major policy issues in order to develop common strategies and leverage our diverse and rich memberships.

This included working closely with local public interest groups, including the U.S. Conference of Majors, the National Association of Counties, and the International City/County Management Association. A major cooperative effort was completed with the National Conference of State Legislatures and the National Association of Countries to address the rising costs of entitlements, and an effort to build a common agenda on issues of Federalism was carried out with the National Governor's Association and other groups.

Both activities created forums for elected officials at the state and local level to collaborate on shared concerns and move beyond the tensions that have grown between the two levels of government. Another cooperative effort underway involves working with local government and private sector interest groups and a research organization to focus on economic community development activities. Much of this work is aimed at a shared agenda to be presented to the new Administration and Congress.

Legislative victories this year have been notable.

High points we witnessed this year include the passage of the Intermodel Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA), Congressional approval and override of the Presidential veto on the Cable Bill, and the enactment of a two-year extension of the Small Cities Stormwater Regulatory Compliance Moratorium. These successes, however, are tempered by continued federal mandates, without corresponding funding, and a Presidential override of the Urban Aid Bill.

New Initiatives

Local elected officials are always reaching out for new information, ways to improve their skills and ideas on building better communities. To address that ever-present need in a comprehensive way the League established the Leadership Training Institute

The Institute was created to provide a wide range of training and technical assistance opportunities for elected local officials. This year more than 750 officials participated in programs including Total Quality Management. Community Collaborative/ Citizen Participation, Mediating Disputes, and complying with the new ADA.

For the future, the institute will be working closely with state municipal leagues to ensure the development and provision of programs directly responsive to the interests and needs of local elected officials.

The two annual national conferences, the Congress of Cities and the Congressional-City Conference, are major opportunities the League has to bring together our members to participate on policy committees, engage in workshops, seminars, and major plenary sessions. Members are now involved in both the planning and evaluation of the Congress of Cities, which has resulted in significant changes to the program.

Responding directly to interest expressed by members the League has developed a number of publications. A new series called Issues and Options provides direct nuts and bolts informations to elected and appointed officials. The first issues cover Rightsizing. Not Downsizing, Regional Revenue Sharing, Telecommuting, and Ethics.

Also this year, cities faced the important task of complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act and NLC was there with a variety of resources to help cities. To respond to the continuing interest and need for information on implementation for the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), we produced a new video and training program entitled "Partners in Compliance: The Local Officials Guide to Americans With Disabilities Act." It serves as a companion piece for an earlier publication, "Complying With Americans with Disabilities Act, A Local Officials Guide", which to date has sold nearly 7,000 copies.

NLC has made available to cities two very exciting and promising new technical assistance programs--the first providing assistance in developing a vision for downtowns and implementing action plans around that vision and a second to promote community investment by identifying housing and economic development credit needs and addressing these through specific techniques and strategies.

Leadership for the Future

NLC's leadership task forces and staff have focused on a variety of initiatives related to children and families this year, beginning with a meeting last January with President Bush. Our leaders spoke out on their concerns and priorities and the President heard their message.

At the meeting, the NLC officers proposed the establishment of a $3 billion initiative to create a model program to address the needs of children and families in cities and the creation of a Presidential Commission on America's Urban Families. The Commission was created, but no funds were appropriated or authorized to respond directly to the concerns expressed by NLC's officers.

The Commission will be presenting its findings before the end of the year.

The Advisory Council, made up of past Board members, spend the year addressing the issues of families and communities, and its findings are now available in the publication Families & Children, The 1992 Futures Report.

Through a recent grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the League will take a first step in redirecting our project work from "encouraging and enabling" to "mobilizing" local leaders to take action around the needs of children and families. On the recommendation of the Task Force on Cities' Roles in Education, the League has published a primer entitled "Education: Everybody's Business" which also includes a companion video produced by TCI Cable Television of Missouri. We also produced a new book "Making Government Work For Your Cities Kids" which provides practical information on working through the inter-governmental maze of government services available to children and families in our cities and towns.

Members have pressed NLC to find ways to increase its presence in international activities and we have responded. Through a grant from the Agency for International Development (AID), the League is supporting a presence in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and is helping to build strong municipal associations in their region. At the same time, we have support from the Ford Foundation to identify and develop economic development strategies to address the problems of urban poverty here in our own communities.

NLC's strength is clearly in its membership, and as we approach a transition here in Washington, a new President and a Congress of the same party, there is reason to believe that new energies will be directed toward the needs of local government and our cities. The House of Representatives now has 15 new member who were former mayors or city council members and the Clinton Administration is at this moment drawing on current and former local elected officials who have long been active in NLC.

There is reason to believe that gridlock separating the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue will be broken and that NLC, which sits in the middle of that avenue, can be an important player in developing a national agenda for local governments, but also assure that the needs of cities, towns, and their citizens are addressed.

This involves not only reducing or eliminating unfunded federal mandates, bringing the deficit and its long-term negative effect under control, and providing targeted assistance to address the human fiscal needs to our communities, but also giving voice to the positive influence and effect the public sector can have on improving the quality of life for Americans.

Financial Status

This year, NLC's operations more than met the financial goals established by the Board resulting in a strong addition to the fund balance. Our position is strong. I am pleased to report that even in these tough financial times, actual direct member city membership in NLC grew to a record high.

Further strengthening our financial position, the NLC Board authorized the acquisition of additional equity in our headquarters building. That decision is important because it further solidifies our position in the midst of our Nation's capital poised at mid-point on the Avenue that links the White House and Capitol Hill.

On a personal note, elected officials appreciate the important role of staff in transforming policy decisions into practical and responsive programs. This is also true at the National League of Cities where we have a talented, professional staff truly committed to responding to the defined needs of America's cities, towns, and villages and their elected officials.

In many ways, 1992 has been a difficult year for our member cities. While we had some legislative successes, the limited action in Washington and the addition of new unfunded mandates has further constrained local governments.

Governor Bill Clinton's election offers possibilities for reducing the gridlock at the national level and opening up productive discussions about the issues facing our cities and towns. So, we move into 1993. with considerable optimism for the future.

Donald J. Borut NLC Executive Director
COPYRIGHT 1992 National League of Cities
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:1992; The Stewardship Report
Author:Borut, Donald J.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 23, 1992
Previous Article:Economist Freund, journalist Gergen will speak at Congress of Cities.
Next Article:Recognizing family-friendly communities.

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