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Learning, lobbying highlight Congressional City Conference.

Cities big and small had a common mission during the Congressional City Conference (CCC), March 7-10--to create socially and economically healthy communities. To help meet these goals, some 3,000 local elected officials made choices from a menu of opportunities. Three days of informational sessions and a day of Capitol Hill lobbying for city priorities kept local officials busy during their annual trip to the nation's capital.

From small, informal roundtable discussions to a general session address by President George Bush which drew an audience of almost 4,000, the Congressional City Conference offered attendees the chance to explore new ideas, learn from their peers, improve their skills and get current information on legislative priorities for the nation's cities and towns.

In small workshops, participants shared information on pilot programs and new strategies and learned more about complying with federal laws like the Americans with Disabilities Act. Elected officials shared concerns with meeting the requirements of the Act and its cost impact on small governments.

In Omaha for example, the city council is concerned about the accessibility for the hearing impaired in understanding written government procedures, applications, billings and notifications and the hearing impaired issues associated with televised public hearings. Among the exchange of ideas, small cities and towns were encouraged to make braille and recorded services and closed captions and interpreters available upon request only to cut down on costs.

"The CCC provides a forum for cities to identify with a diversity of ideas and networks to improve their ability to govern in tight economic times," said NLC Executive Director Donald Borut.

"This conference is important to NLC's legislative inroads. This kind of collective lobbying helps cities play active roles in assuring that national policy decisions are made with the input of cities," Borut said.

Elected officials pondered over government policies like the Clean Water Act, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, the changing federal tax laws, the federal refugee policy, waste management mandates and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Attendees participated in policy planning sessions on fiscal strategies and how to decrease budgets not services, improving education for youth, meeting rural workforce needs, human development, energy, environment and natural resources, making safe city investments, understanding the federal anti-drug grant application process, cable franchising and renewal procedures, and understanding cut backs in the federal defense budget.

In roundtable groups, taskforce meetings, over lunch and in the corridors of the hotel during breaks, attendees discussed the human issues of broken families drug abuse, divorce, teenage pregnancy, juvenile violence, and future of youth, and unemployment. Participants shared ideas about what works and what does not.

More than 20 people gathered around a crowded table during the conference to discuss crime and gangs. Cities of all sizes were represented at the exchange which concentrated heavily on the pros and cons of curfews.

"Without good community relations, government help like curfews can turn on them," said Councilman Welton Reynolds of Florence, Alabama. Reynolds said when setting curfews, localities must communicate with parents and make them aware of government intentions and they must explore all of the civil and legal rights that surround such government imposed actions.

Nearby, a smaller discussion was stirring on the issue of homelessness as leaders from Arkansas, Utah and Washington areas beginning to experience the impact of the homeless epidemic, talked about the need to stay informed of trends as preparation for whay may be coming there way.

The group said it looks to NLC to provide a data base of resources on the mistakes and success of other city programs. A representative for Atlanta joined the group and shared information on an overwhelming problem with educated, professional people now joining the traditional homeless population.

"NLC must develop a cafeteria of choices," said Councilmember Linda Horowitz of Vancouver, Washington.

Political exchanges were made during a discussion sponsored by NLC and NBC-LEO, called "South Africa Today." The forum was developed to help cities make informed decisions about sanctions against that country.

President George Bush talked from a family perspective before the General Session and participants witnessed a film on innovative approaches to improving families during a separate session on family friendly cities and towns. The film gave a look at a program in St. Louis, Missouri, where a social worker became an extended member of a single woman headed household.

After six weeks, the mother, a recovering drug abuser, began to bond more with her children and gain more control over the families growth. The film was followed by a panel of educators, and child health experts. Moderator and ABC White House Correspondent Ann Compton led the panel into a review of the film which received an overall good reception.

"This was an example of how to make large public systems capable of reconciling good solid program attributes with the demand for social service," said panelist Lisbeth Schorr, author of "Within Our Reach, Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage." On the lighter side, conference attendees participated in city enhancement workshops about the "do's and dont's" of public speaking, developing strategies to improve total quality management, the art of effective human relations, building community confidence in city government, creating quality services and leadership training.

As highlighted in conference speeches throughout the conference city officials have to unite for the good of the whole city. Pensacola, Fla. Councilmember Cecil Hunter agreed.

"I'm elected by a District but my concerns are for the entire city first. If the city is ill, then there isn't anything I can do for my District," said Councilmemeber Hunter.

Lee's Summit, Missouri Mayor Marvin Ensworth, whose community faces environmental issues says he comes to the conference "to form and renew networks with other cities."

Ensworth said his approach is totally bipartisan and cities place too much blame on the federal government.

"Everybody wants the federal government to do everything and I just don't go along with that," he said.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Baker, Denise
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Mar 16, 1992
Previous Article:Bush brings family message to city leaders; keynote address takes on issues of families' future.
Next Article:Advisory Council plans agenda for coming months.

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