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Stronger, Bolder and Unified: Cities Poised To Enter New Era.

NLC President Shares Hews of 1998

The National League of Cities dearly has a lot to be proud of as we wrap up another successful year on behalf of the nation's cities and towns and begin a year-long celebration of our 75th anniversary.

As I prepare to step down as NLC President this week, I want to report to you on the work of your leadership team during this busy and exciting year. I also want to share my thoughts about the future of America's cities as we move toward the turn of the century in conjunction with NLC's 75th anniversary.

When the NLC officers met in January 1998 to start the governance year, we laid out a seven-point agenda to guide our work on behalf of all cities and towns. The key components of that action plan, which I shared with you at the Congressional City Conference in March, were:

* to carry out an aggressive lobbying effort in Washington with particular emphasis on protecting municipal rights, responsibilities, and authority;

* to strengthen the connections between NLC and the membership and grow our membership base;

* to implement our new Strategic Plan which was adopted by the Board in March 1998;

* to help cities deal with the technology explosion, focusing heavily on the Year 2000 technology problem;

* to bring focus to our international agenda by developing an International Strategic Plan;

* to revitalize our youth, education, and families agenda; and

* to initiate a leadership discussion about race relations and what we as local officials can to do to confront this problem in our communities and our country.

It was an ambitious agenda, but we have made significant progress on every component. Thanks to the dedicated leadership provided by the NLC Officers and Board of Directors, NLC stayed focused on its agenda and its new mission statement -- to strengthen cities as centers of opportunity, leadership, and governance. I believe the work we did on behalf of all members in 1998 has strengthened cities and established a strong framework for NLC in the next century.

We can look with considerable pride on our accomplishments in 1998.

Protecting City Interests in Washington

NLC's National Municipal Policy and annual lobbying agenda are designed to ensure a strong federal-local partnership and protect city interests in Washington. During the past year, the word "protect" became paramount as Congress and the White House repeatedly pursued legislation and regulations that stepped on basic local rights and authority. From a takings bill that would have circumvented local zoning ordinances, to a battle over taxing goods and services on the Internet, to an executive order on federalism that would have given federal agencies authority to preempt traditional local rights and responsibilities, we have been on defense all year.

We had some major successes. The takings bill did not get through the 105th Congress, and we have some allies who are committed to working with us in 1999. The federalism order was withdrawn after NLC, working with the state and local public interest groups, voiced their strong opposition. And, thanks to the coordinated efforts of local officials and state municipal leagues, we were able to reshape the Internet Tax Freedom Act in a way that offers some protection for local revenues over the long run as this new way of doing business grows.

Our work on the Internet bill reinforced my belief that we need to grow the membership to strengthen our voice in Washington. When local officials from thousands of cities across the country send the same message to their Congressional delegations, we can have an impact. Our grassroots lobbying efforts on the Internet Tax Freedom Act provide a blueprint for future NLC lobbying efforts.

These challenges won't go away in 1999, and we will need your active participation.

NLC's voice was also influential in the early passage of a new transportation bill -- the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA 21) -- which, in fact, ensures a strong local role in shaping our transportation systems for the future. And, we preserved federal funds for the summer jobs programs and for the public safety block grant program -- two important local priorities.

Connecting with the Members

NLC has grown during the past 74 years from an organization of 10 state municipal leagues based in Lawrence, Kansas, to a national education and advocacy group made up of 49 state municipal leagues, more than 1,500 direct member cities, and some 18,000 state league cities. That growth has increased NLC's power and influence as a national voice for all cities. It also makes it more challenging to stay in touch with all NLC members in every corner of the country and to ensure that our programs, services, and national agenda reflect the interests of our large and diverse membership.

In 1998, I made a personal commitment to reach out to an members both to strengthen the connections between NLC and its members and to expand the membership base. During the past year, I have personally attended 24 state league conventions from New Hampshire to California. NLC First Vice President Clarence Anthony and Second Vice President Bob Knight attended 13 meetings between them. We've shared our agenda and our commitment to listening to the members and involving an cities in the NLC family.

As of November 1998, we had a record 1,537 direct member cities compared with only 1,490 a year ago. We have also maintained a solid 96.6 percent member retention rate. But, I know we can grow even more, focusing particularly on very small cities.

A special committee of elected officials and league directors, led by Mayor Karen Anderson of Minnetonka, Minn., and New Mexico League Executive Director Bill Fulginiti, worked together this year to develop a series of strategies to increase access to NLC--including creating three new membership categories for cities under 10,000 population. The work of this committee lays a foundation for ensuring that NLC truly represents all 18,000 cities in America. I thank Mayor Anderson and Executive Director Fulginiti for their leadership.

A Clear Vision for the Future: The NLC Strategic Plan

At last year's Congress of Cities in Philadelphia, hundreds of members shared their views on the draft strategic plan at two public hearings and in written comments to the Strategic Planning Committee. The group decided to meet again before forwarding the final plan to the Board of Directors to ensure that every piece of feedback from the NLC members was taken into amount. The revised plan was adopted by the Board of Directors on March 7, 1998.

In only nine months, we have taken significant steps in carrying out the strategies and tactics in the plan. A progress report will be distributed to the membership at the Congress of Cities. The plan has been embraced by state municipal leagues, constituency groups, and many local governments who adopted resolutions endorsing it and the core beliefs. It is now the guiding document for all NLC program activities including designing the FY99 budget and executive director and staff goals around it.

Harnessing Information Technology for Our Cities

Two years ago, I asked the Advisory Council to explore the impact of technology on our cities and towns as its "futures report" and to help NLC build an agenda to help cities of all sizes deal with the many technology challenges and opportunities. We have continued to focus on that agenda by providing information resources and workshops including a major emphasis on technology at the 1998 Congress of Cities. Our ongoing partnership with IBM has been a valuable source of support including offering Tech City as a hands-on resource at the Congress of Cities, conducting workshops during the conference, and developing a new partnership to offer a high-tech training program at the IBM conference center in Palisades, N.Y. in 1999.

Early in 1998, it became clear that we had a pressing technology issue that needed our immediate attention--the impact of the turn of the century on our information systems, known as the Millennium Bug. While NLC has conducted workshops more than two years ago to alert local officials to the Year 2000 issue, most local officials were not ready to address the issue then. So it was time for a renewed effort. Working with our local government partners at the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) and led by our technology arm, Public Technology, Inc. (PTI), we mounted a Year 2000 awareness program to make sure local government leaders confronted this huge technology challenge.

Together, we have distributed more than 18,000 Y2K awareness kits to cities and counties across the country, conducted a national satellite broadcast for 3,000 local leaders, coordinated workshops at league meetings and national conventions, and worked with the President's Council on Year 2000 Readiness. We haven't solved the problem, but we have sent a loud wake-up call to local leaders about the risks of doing nothing.

We have also launched phase II of this effort which will provide examples of successful approaches, an assessment of city progress, and information about contingency plans to ensure that basic services work even if all the technology resources are not reprogrammed when the clock turns on December 31, 1999.

Focusing Our International Agenda

NLC has long been a player in the international arena including an early connection to the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA), leadership in establishing the Sister Cities International group, and successful programs and resources to help cities thrive in the global economy.

In 1998, a special committee, led by Past Presidents Glenda Hood and Greg Lashutka, developed a strategic plan to build on this strong foundation and guide our international work in the coming years. Drawing on the model of the NLC Strategic Plan, the committee developed a set of core beliefs about our international work, three guiding objectives that focus on education about the importance of international linkages, facilitation to help local officials make those connections, and advocacy to ensure that local views are incorporated into key international issues that will affect American cities.

The plan will be incorporated into the NLC Strategic Plan and will become a guide for all international efforts. As we look ahead to the turn of the century, our connection to the global economy will become even more important. I thank Mayor Hood and Mayor Lashutka for their work on this important issue.

Revitalizing Our Youth Program

Mayor Tom Menino of Boston took up this challenge for NLC in 1998 and has produced incredible results in only a few months. Working with a small committee, Mayor Menino and his two vice chairs, Mayor Mike Morrison of Waco, Tex., and Council President Les Wright of Columbus, Ohio, created an exciting model that will provide leadership, resources, and support to local officials to ensure young people in every community a bright future.

The youth plan calls for a new vision statement to guide local efforts, establishment of a national Youth Advisory Council to give young leaders a voice in shaping key issues affecting youth in our communities through NLC, and creation of an institute to provide information, resources, and support to cities on the best thinking about youth issues.

To kick off this renewed youth focus, we are expecting nearly 100 youth delegates at the Congress of Cities to learn from us, share their ideas, and help implement the work of this important committee. I thank Mayor Menino and his committee for their outstanding work, and I urge all of you to get to know these youth delegates, attend the special youth sessions during the conference -- including Emanuel Cleaver win lead a discussion with 10 young people about their priorities for cities and towns -- and create new partnerships with youth when you go home.

Confronting Racism in Our Communities

In January, the Officers agreed that NLC should not shy away from the challenge of confronting racism in our communities and, in fact, should initiate a leadership discussion on racism to serve as a model for a larger organizational effort. In March, I shared with the delegates my personal reaction to our first effort at confronting this important issue on behalf of cities and towns. After talking with Roger Wilkins, a noted author, professor, and civil rights leader, I realized that each and every one of us must make a personal commitment to speak out about racism and monitor our own behavior.

Since then, a group of NLC leaders participated in a work session on racism and a series of meetings to develop a strategy for our organization. This is tough work because it's personal and sensitive. At our meeting in July, NLC Second Vice President Bob Knight, mayor of Wichita, Kans, offered to make racism his futures topic, working through the Advisory Council, to give the issue a home in NLC over the coming year. He has followed through on that commitment, and the Advisory Council is beginning its work on this topic in Kansas City.

There are no easy answer to the issue of racism in America. The work of the Advisory Council will provide a strong foundation for an NLC agenda to start the next century. It seems appropriate that an organization like NLC, which has worked diligently over the years to embrace and celebrate diversity through its network of constituency groups and through of workshops and information resources, emerge as a national leader on this topic as we move into 2000.

I thank the NLC leaders who shared in the discussions this summer, the Advisory Council for the work it win do over the coming year to build a strong leadership agenda for NLC, and Mayor Knight for stepping up to take on this critical issue for the good of our organization and our country.

75 Years of Service

There are many more successes that I could point to at the end of this exciting year--strengthened partnerships with our founding fathers, the state municipal leagues; successful Leadership Training Institute programs reaching nearly 2,000 local officials; new foundation-supported technical assistance programs on working with community organizations and helping cities grow jobs; an outstanding weekly newspaper that reaches some 30,000 people every week and remains the most valued NLC membership service; and another solid year financially -- just to name a few.

NLC's continuing financial strength is a key component of our ability to serve our growing membership in productive and creative ways.

In FY 1998, which concluded on September 30, NLC once again exceeded the year-end financial target set by the Board and is continuing to build its net assets to ensure a strong financial future.

It has truly been a successful year that reinforces what the NLC Strategic Planning Committee concluded only a year ago -- that NLC is a strong, successful, financially solid organization with the capacity and potential to increase its effectiveness and value to cities.

I have traveled thousands and thousands of miles on behalf of NLC during the past year.

I am ending this year energized and more committed than ever to NLC and the essential role it plays on behalf of all cities and towns--from our very smallest direct member city, Vernon, Calif., with 152 residents, to New York City, our largest member city with 7.3 million residents.

We will face many challenges in 1999 -- continuing efforts in Washington to preempt local rights, ensuring that our cities and their information systems are ready for the year 2000, continuing to grow and connect with our large and diverse membership, and establishing new partnerships to ensure that our voice on behalf of cities remains effective whenever we need to take a stanch

When John G. Stutz, executive secretary of the League of Kansas Municipalities, sent an invitation to state municipal leagues in 1924 to a meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, to exchange ideas, methods, and experience around legislative issues, league operations, and services to cities, he had a clear vision. He wanted to encourage networking and information sharing so that the leagues could better serve cities.

Ten state leagues accepted his invitation and, on December 12, 1924, convened for what is now considered the first Congress of Cities in Lawrence, Kansas. They created an organization called the Association of American Municipal Organizations, which later became the American Municipal Association, and, in 1964, the National League of Cities.

I am pleased to report that the vision of those pioneer league directors, led by John Stutz, is being carried out successfully by the National League of Cities today.

The turnout in Kansas City will be much larger than it was in Lawrence 75 years ago. And, the commitment to responsible public service, to sharing ideas and exchanging experiences, and to working together through and with the state municipal leagues is as strong as ever.

As I reflect on this past year as NLC President and ion my many years of service both nationally and in Philadelphia, I know we have demonstrated that people like John Stutz of Kansas, and Morris Lambie of Minnesota, and Frank Pierce of Iowa had the right idea 75 years ago. And, I think they would all be quite proud of what we accomplished.

I am pleased that I could be part of that vision in 1998, and I believe that, together, we can do great things for the cities and towns of America in the next century.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:O'Neill, Brian J.
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Nov 30, 1998
Words:2895
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