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Chicago Mobilization Coles, Mayors Set White House Priorities - Plan Active Role in Transition to Next President

By Conference Staff
July 31, 2000

Mayor Coles addresses over 50 mayors as part of the special transition meeting in Chicago. Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran looks on.
Under the leadership of Conference President Boise Mayor H. Brent Coles, 50 mayors from across the nation gathered in Chicago on July 20-21 for a special transition policy meeting designed to define city priorities for the next President of the United States.

In opening the meeting, Mayor Coles said, "Domestic policy is really being written in the cities of this nation, not in state capitols or Washington, DC." Coles said that there is a national excitement regarding the innovations taking place in cities of all sizes all across the nation, and a growing recognition of the role of mayors as the leaders of metro economies which are driving the national economy.

The goal of the Chicago meeting and the Conference's efforts over the past year is to ensure that both presidential campaigns include mayoral policy priorities in their campaign agendas, according to Coles.

"We must help shape the philosophy of how the next government is formed and operates," Coles told the mayors.

Coles also said that the Conference will continue to focus on the best practices of mayors over the coming year.

Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran stressed that while appointments to cabinet, sub-cabinet and White House positions will be important during the transition, mayors must be ready to actively engage in the new President's policy transition teams immediately following the November election to ensure that mayoral policies are reflected in the Administration's first 100 day agenda and beyond.

As he announced in his inaugural address in Seattle at the 68th Annual Conference of Mayors, Mayor Coles is focusing his work as President of the Conference on four major areas: 1) the well being of the family; 2) the livability of communities and neighborhoods in which we live and work; 3) educating the workforce of the new millennium; and 4) building infrastructure to connect metro economies. As Mayor Coles stated, "By working on these issues, we will be able to strengthen and maintain the growth of The New American City."

Within these four overarching areas, Mayor Coles has identified 10 specific priorities, and named 10 teams to work on developing these areas: 1) Drug Control/Public Safety; 2) Human Dignity/Diversity; 3) School Programs Supporting Families; 4) Smart Growth (Housing, Transportation, Environment, Brownfields); 5) Smart Cities/Technology Infrastructure/Digital Divide; 6) Parks and Open Space; 7) Technology in Schools; 8) Workforce Technology Training; 9) Rail System Restoration; and 10) Airport Enhancements

In Chicago, the 10 teams worked in the morning of June 21, and then reported their priorities to the entire meeting in the afternoon. The work of the Chicago meeting will be refined in the coming weeks, and taken into the Conference of Mayors Fall Leadership Meeting in Boise/Sun Valley on September 13-17, 2000.

1. Drug Control/Public Safety

The first transition discussion was led by co-chairs Mayor Scott King of Gary and Mayor Jeff Griffin of Reno, with participation by Mayors Bart Peterson of Indianapolis, Rita Mullins of Palatine, Graham Richard of Fort Wayne and Joseph P. Ganim of Bridgeport.

The group focused on five areas, but agreed on one summarizing statement: "At the end of the day, it all comes down to drugs." There was agreement that there must be a greater national focus on illegal drug demand reduction which highlights the cost-savings which can be realized from these investments. Within this discussion, there was strong support for Drug Courts, increased direct local funding for drug treatment, a better coordination of federal efforts, and mandatory drug testing of prisoners prior to release, with treatment provided while in the prison and on probation or parole. This last issue was of particular concern as the mayors discussed statistics which show that many drug offenders are now on a cycle to be released from prison and reenter cities.

On the issue of local drug treatment resources, it was pointed out that of the total $17.5 billion federal drug control budget, approximately $3.14 billion is spent on treatment, and of that, local governments have direct access to only $53.8 million.

Second, the group agreed that there needs to be a better coordination of federal and local law enforcement efforts, including the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Attorneys with benchmarks established to measure crime reduction results.

Third, in that the next Administration will deal with the reauthorization of the 1994 crime act, the mayors stressed that programs, such as COPS and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, should be more focused on law enforcement technology needs, providing drug treatment, assisting the broad criminal justice system, and promoting local collaboration between law enforcement agencies with performance measures. Conference Vice President New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial stressed the importance of maintaining the successful COPS program.

Fourth, the mayors restated Conference policy related to gun violence which calls for:1) fully enforcing existing laws; 2) increasing support for federal law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcing gun laws - specifically the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; and 3) enacting a package of meaningful gun safety laws including provisions to close the gun show loophole, ban the importation of large capacity ammunition clips, require that trigger locks be included with all guns sold, and require the licensing and registration of all handguns as called for by the Million Mom March.

Fifth, the group focused on the concern of weapons of mass destruction, calling for the establishment of an executive mayoral training program, increased federal support for equipment, and the establishment of cooperative agreements between cities and Department of Defense agencies.

2. Human Dignity/Diversity

A return to civility a return to civility appreciation for the diversity of all cultures, and the elimination of all forms of bigotry was the dominate theme of the second transition team led by Co-Chair Mayor Meyera Oberndorf of Virginia Beach. Also participating were Mayors James Garner of Hempstead, Alex Fekete of Pembroke Pines, and Catherine Melchert of Bartlett (IL).

The group concurred that there must be a national initiative led by the creation of a Cabinet level position that will assist mayors and mobilize Administration officials to address issues of human rights and dignity. The efforts of the national initiative will be directed at increasing the nation's awareness of human dignity, civility, cultural/ethnic diversity and understanding one another. The national initiative was just one of the several recommendations made by the group.

The group agreed that the next Administration must actively oppose, in word and deed, all manifestations of bigotry and encourage the development of programs designed to create a climate of respect and appreciation of diversity, and promote better race relations and intergroup cooperation among all people.

On the issue of campaign reform, the group strongly agreed that campaign reform should not be limited to finance reform but must include policies against "race baiting," bigotry, prejudice based on religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical disabilities, and national origin.

The group engaged in an impassioned discussion on the current state of the criminal justice system and, finally coming to a consensus, that the next Administration must, through a complete examination and restructuring of the criminal justice system, ensure that every person receives competent legal services to reduce the risk that innocent people are wrongfully sentenced or executed. Additionally, the group agreed that DNA testing must be made available to all those convicted of capital offenses.

Restating its support for Conference policy, the group urged Congress to expand federal hate crimes legislation thereby making crimes based upon an individual's gender, disability or sexual orientation a federal offense. They also felt that Congress and the Administration must work with local agencies to design and implement a system of collecting and reporting statistics on the race, ethnicity and gender of individuals who are stopped or searched by law enforcement, and support programs to allow local communities to provide for cultural sensitivity training and eliminate racial profiling.

Overwhelmingly, the group agreed that the next Administration must ensure that all persons can obtain a level of economic opportunity or status to provide for a meaningful and dignified life in society. Specifically, the group agreed that the Department of Education's school based curriculum should include philosophies such as those in the "Character Counts" program as a tool for teaching diversity and cultural inclusion within the schools.

Because the strength of a nation and the principles of its people are often reflected in its policies toward other nations, the group agreed that the United States must take a stronger role as a global community partner. Beaumont Mayor and Health and Human Services Standing Committee Chair David Moore led a discussion on the AIDS epidemic in Africa and the group agreed that the U.S. must share information and resources with developing nations to address world health issues and that the federal government must have a larger focus on AIDS, particularly in African nations and other developing countries for the prevention and elimination of this disease of epidemic proportion.

Overall the mayors asserted that the next Administration and cities should encourage the celebration of diversity and cultural heritage through cultural events and festivals, hold community discussions on civility, diversity and respect, and should work with the private sector to invest in cultural diversity initiatives.

3. School Programs Supporting Families

In an intensive work session the transition team on School Programs Supporting Families expanded and enhanced the scope of its policy statement, recommending to the Conference leadership that any 'platform' developed larger educational issues such as increased federal funding for school construction and renovation; teacher training; and reducing school class size/student-teacher ratios. Led by Mayors Rosemary Corbin of Richmond (CA) and David Moore of Beaumont, the seven-member team called for the nation's Mayors to adopt a broad array of policy statements within its position paper, including:

  • Providing a pre-kindergarten educational experience for all children by age four;

  • Providing an additional 100,000 teachers and 100,000 schools counselors for America's schools; and

  • Developing the technology infrastructure of America's schools, and providing teachers and other school staff with the necessary training.

The group also advocated for such innovative policy changes as the adoption of a year- round school year, and later starting times for school days. The latter has been linked in recent research to increased student attentiveness and readiness to learn.

Transition team members included Mayors Sharon Sayles-Belton of Minneapolis, Dannel Malloy of Stamford, James Torrey of Eugene and Marilyn Young of Yuma. Mayor Bill Purcell of Nashville, also appointed to the Transition Team by Mayor Coles, was unable to attend the strategy session in Chicago but was represented by a senior official from the city.

4. Smart Growth (Housing, Transportation, Environment, Brownfields)

Smart Growth, co-chaired by Charlotte Mayor Patrick McCrory and Tulsa Mayor M. Susan Savage, with participation by Mayors Kenneth Barr of Fort Worth, J. Christian Bollwage of Elizabeth, Charles E. Box of Rockford, Willie L. Brown, Jr. of San Francisco, William A. Johnson, Jr. of Rochester, Patrick J. McManus of Lynn, and Shelia Young of San Leandro. They developed a number of recommendations in the following areas: Jobs, Housing, Transportation, Infrastructure, and the Environment. The recommendations were made from the point of view of what could be done to conserve, sustain and improve each issue area as well as what tools in each presently work or not work.

For jobs, the transition team said that tax credits or tax incentives should be used to maintain and recruit employees within metropolitan areas where the infrastructure is in place and where there is high unemployment.

In housing, affordability, accessability and preservation should be principal goals. The consolidation of federal housing programs with simplification and maximum flexibility should also be a guiding principle for housing policy. The mayors said that the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, HOPE VI, and the use of Section 8 for homeownership should be strongly supported. "Smart" public housing (well designed units that fit into communities) should be developed. Finally, the mayors agreed that the Conference of Mayors should work with the Mortgage Bankers Association of America to develop and further refine housing policy recommendations.

For transportation, the recommendations included a national policy that invests in upgrading existing infrastructure and that rewards smart growth; a sliding match scale for smart growth transportation and road policies; public transit which would be provided to the public at no cost; the establishment of national goals for increasing ridership on public transit; the targeting of gas dollars for more diverse use; and the provision of incentives to encourage regional cooperation in transportation.

In the area of infrastructure, the transition team recommended that all federal mandates be funded; that an infrastructure bank be created which would provide revolving loans to developed areas to replace and upgrade infrastructure; and that better (longer life) streets be developed.

Finally, in environment, the recommendations included the creation of an environmental block grant for comprehensive local/regional planning and implementation; a comprehensive environmental policy for air, land, and water with regional adaptation and flexibility; the establishment of EPA entitlement communities (similar in concept to the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program); passage of S.2700, the Brownfields Revitalization and Environmental Restoration Act of 2000; the establishment of uniform national non-point compliance; the provision of tax incentives for environmental compliance (land use, infrastructure, air); the encouragement of regional recycling of solid waste disposal; and, the development of a federal plan on solid waste disposal.

The mayors said that there should be no new requirements until existing requirements are funded. The mayors also recommended that efforts be made to get mayors appointed to positions at EPA.

5. Smart Cities/Technology Infrastructure/Digital Divide

Dearborn Mayor Michael Guido, Omaha Mayor Hal Daub and Bloomington (IN) Mayor John Fernandez participated in discussions on the Smart Cities/Technology Infrastructure/Digital Divide transition team. Mayor Fernandez was selected to summarize the team's views and recommendations. He reported that changes in the nation's economy and the introduction of new information technology is having a tremendous impact on cities. There are tremendous opportunities for those who have access to this new technology and there are some real dangers if this technology is not available to all communities, according to Mayor Fernandez. The team identified four broad areas of focus in which it will be soliciting input and further developing and interject best practices from around the country. These include:

New Economy Infrastructure-encourage the investment of new technologies, particularly telecommunications technologies into our cities by reducing barriers and encouraging competition. Federal policy must allow local communities to continue to have home rule authority in managing their rights-of-way, including the ability to charge fair market rent for using public property. Federal policy must also be developed that allows for the more efficiently utilize existing federal rights-of-way to expand investment opportunities for technology infrastructure. Cities should work with the federal government to encourage and foster policies that give cities maximum flexibility to use the latest technology to improve the way cities conduct business and the way cities provide public services.

Digital Government-encourage innovations in technology and better coordination of information systems at the federal level to improve the way cities communicate and conduct business with other levels of government, the private sector and the general public. Cities need to make urgent revolutionary changes in government to match the revolutionary changes taking place in the business environment. Technology must be used to simplify the collection of state and local taxes on Internet sales, particularly to maintain local option taxes on remote sales. The federal government should expand its utilization of various technologies to improve government-to-citizen interactions, government-to-government interactions, and government-to-business interactions.

Digital Opportunity/Divide- develop and urge support for policy that ensures universal access for all Americans to the Internet and related technologies. Also increase investment in educational initiatives to ensure all Americans benefit from 21st Century technologies. Continue to support the e-rate to ensure that schools and libraries have access to the telecommunications infrastructure.

Research and Technology Innovations-support an increase in federal investment in university-based public and private partnerships in research and development projects that promote innovations in technology. Research and development tax credits legislation should be made permanent. The tax code should be examined to make sure it's relevant and that it encourages new technology investment.

6. Parks and Open Space

Conference Vice President New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial led the discussion on parks and open space which included Cedar Rapids Mayor Lee Clancey, Macon Mayor C. Jack Ellis, Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz, and Carmel (IN) Mayor James Brainard.

The task force expanded its discussion area to include the arts, youth recreation and parks. The mayors put forth recommendations that included using some of the surplus funds to establish "real" endowments for the arts, humanities, and museums thereby eliminating the annual appropriations battles; and creation of special tax credits to help encourage more private support of the arts and major arts institutions.

In the area of youth recreation, the mayors favored the reinvigoration of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and the need for major sporting good manufacturers and retailers to sponsor and promote youth recreation programs.

The task force members favored continued Congressional support of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and Urban Park and Recreation Recovery programs, but called for the two programs to be funded at $1.2 billion with the funds being equally divided between federal, state and local governments. The mayors also favored the creation of special tax credits to help acquire and protect local open spaces.

7. Technology in Schools

The workgroup on Technology in Schools was co-chaired by Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean and Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino. Other mayors that participated in the discussion were: Susan J.M. Bauman, Madison; Norman Coleman, St. Paul; and Douglas Palmer, Trenton. Leading the discussion on Technology and Schools was Mayor Menino.

According to Menino, it was the sense of the group to have a strong lead statement, "All our children must have access to and be trained in the technology of the 21st Century. Computers can be the great equalizer of the New Millennium." The group focused on ensuring that technology be available to all children in schools and to their families thereby eliminating the "Digital Divide."

Most important on the agenda for the group was to ask the new President to hold a Presidential Summit on the Digital Divide with mayors, the private sector, educators, non- profits, and faith-based organizations within 120 days of his inauguration, with follow up every six months to ensure that the recommendations made are implemented.

Complementing the Presidential Summit the group recommended that a White House Task Force/Presidential Commission on the Digital Divide be established which would be responsible for ensuring continued action on the issues and plans defined during the summit.

Secondly, the group recommended expansion of the E-Rate (Education Rate for Schools and Libraries). This past year demand for the e-rate was over $4 billion but only $2 billion in resources was available. This lack of resources hampers the ability for schools and libraries to give every child access to technology and close the gap between the haves and the have nots.

The group also recommended that access to the e-rate be made easier. Currently, accessing e-rate funds is very difficult and often requires schools and libraries to hire consultants in order to access the funds.

The third major focus of the group was teacher training. Because teacher training is essential and the need for training and retraining is on-going, the group recommended that professional development must be provided for our teachers. In addition, the group called on our universities to partner with mayors in providing training for our teachers, as well as help in developing technology-based curriculum for our schools. The group discussed working together with the Great Cities Universities but recommended that all universities be involved in teacher training and curriculum development.

Fourth on the agenda for the Technology in Schools workgroup was to promote private sector and university investment across the board in public schools. The group recommended that the new Administration must encourage the private sector to invest in hardware, software, training, curriculum development, user certification for both children in schools and adults, and workforce development.

The group recommended that we must identify and create tools for stimulating private sector investment and recommended tax credits (not just the current tax deductions) for donations of computers and training plus federal grant setasides and/or incentives for grant applications that include technology as a major component.

The group recommended that workforce development be at the top of any technology in schools agenda. Specifically, technology must be incorporated into school-to-work activities. In addition, strong business connections and partnerships need to be developed to ensure that technology is incorporated into job training that relates directly to real jobs.

The group recommended the integration of technology and computers across all curricula. This would ensure that all teachers incorporate technology into their curricula, not just those teachers whose field of study relates directly to technology.

The group also recommended that the next Administration set goals and benchmarks in a variety of areas to evaluate progress the progress of bridging the digital divide especially in the following areas:

1. the number of wired schools;

2. the computer ratio for schools and students (one computer for every four students by the end of the President's first term);

3. the number of trained teachers;

4. the number of connected libraries, non-profits such as boys and girls clubs, and community centers, etc.

The group also recommended that consideration be given to integrate the transition teams, specifically, Schools Programs Supporting Families, Workforce Technology and Technology in Schools.

Other areas discussed by the group were wiring homes and training parents to use computers including having computers in public housing; the problem of no phones in some homes; the limited use of computers by young women; and coordination of various local programs to maximize connections in the community.

8. Workforce Technology Training

The Workforce Technology Training team discussion was led by co-chair Mayor Beverly O'Neill of Long Beach, with participation by Mayors Donald L. Plusquellic of Akron and James E. Gatzke of New Berlin (WI) and Barry Williams, representing Mayor Clarence Harmon of St. Louis.

"The skills shortage impacts every facet of our economy, the entire workforce, business, every city and every family. This is a bi-partisan issue which must be a priority for the next President - when we address it everyone wins," said O'Neill. In defining the issue, the group acknowledged that jobs in all industries, not just information technology (IT), require skills in technology, which are in short supply among the nation's workforce.

The following themes emerged in the discussion and will shape mayoral policy priorities in workforce development for the next President of the United States:

  • Local elected officials know what is needed and metro-economies, with cities at their core, are driving the nation's economy. Flexible block grant funding must be provided directly to cities and local governments to address the skills shortage.

  • Education is the foundation for a skilled workforce. Public schools must do a better job of providing reading, writing, arithmetic and basic technical skills.

  • Partnerships with business and industry are essential.

The group agreed that mayors, as leaders of metro economies, are uniquely positioned to bring together the key partners to address the skills gap. The group recommends that as both presidential campaigns are shaping their agendas, mayors convene a series of Skills Summits over the next several months. Mayors will convene the key stakeholders including business, unions, workforce development, training institutions and schools to address the skills gap issue, bring attention to best practices, recommend innovative solutions and communicate mayoral priorities in workforce development to both presidential campaigns and the next President's transition team.

The group recommended that the policy priorities for workforce technology training and feedback from the Skills Summits be incorporated into the Presidential Summit on the Digital Divide, which was recommended by the Technology in Schools Task Force. The mayors agreed that a comprehensive look at workforce technology training includes the issues addressed by the Technology in Schools and School Programs Supporting Families transition teams.

The group recommended an assessment of workforce development programs and initiatives in all federal agencies, including the Department of Labor and the Department of Commerce to determine how their funding structures reflect that metro-economies with cities at their core, not states, are driving the national economy. The group calls on the next Administration to provide directly to cities and local governments flexible block grant funding to be used in partnership with the private sector to meet the demand for high-tech skills, re-train America's workforce and develop untapped pools of workers.

The mayors call on the next Administration to develop the current workforce and invest in the nation's untapped pool of workers, and restated Conference policy which includes: 1) providing $500 million to address the shortfall of funding needed in all cities to provide summer jobs for at-risk youth; 2) investing in the skills development of the hardest to serve welfare recipients and working families who are concentrated in cities by extending the Welfare-to-Work program and providing direct funding to cities as part of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) reauthorization; 3) providing greater investments in training and continuing the reform of the nation's workforce development system, recently enacted under the Workforce Investment Act, by providing direct flexible block grant funding to cities and local governments; 4) investing in school-to-work and cooperative education programs; and 5) addressing pervasive poverty and joblessness of inner-city youth and young adults.

The group also focused on promoting greater private sector investment in the schools, business involvement in creative and more responsive methods of preparing workers, greater involvement of unions in addressing the issue, and identifying the need to provide incentives for business involvement.

9. Rail System Restoration

"There is no national rail policy," was the central theme of the dialogue among members of the Rail System Restoration team, a group led by Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays.

The team worked to give specific substance to what such a policy should include, emphasizing the need to increase federal resource commitments to meet the rapidly-escalating demand for rail services within and between communities and regions of the country.

Foremost among these was a call for action by the Congress on a pending tax proposal, S. 1900, that is designed to stimulate capital commitments to high-speed rail infrastructure in major corridors throughout the nation. Smith who led the discussion emphasized that there is an opportunity, with strong backing from the mayors, to get Congress to act this year on the legislation, which would deliver up to $10 billion in bond funds over the next 10 years. The program relies on tax credits to entities providing the capital, allowing states to access these bond funds at a much reduced carrying cost.

Conference President Coles told the group that "the time is now" to push Congress and the Administration to develop a national rail policy. Coles explained that he would deliver this message to the Senate Finance Subcommittee at an upcoming hearing, where he would urge action on S. 1900. This legislation, it was noted, has already garnered 49 Senate cosponsors. While focusing on this immediate opportunity to build up investment in intercity rail services, the team also agreed to work on developing a specific plan for local/regional rail projects, called "new starts", that can be taken to leaders of the 107th Congress and the Administration.

During the team's discussion, members emphasized how a successful national rail policy depends upon a strong national high-speed passenger rail network that complements local and regional rail projects and vice versa. It is this interconnectivity among national and regional rail systems that ultimately helps the nation achieve a seamless national transportation network.

Members of the team included Alameda Mayor Ralph J. Appezzato with participation by New Orleans Mayor Marc H. Morial, Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb, and Mayor Coles, who also emphasized highway and aviation systems were at capacity, noting that rail has not received the policy emphasis that has been given to aviation and highways. All of the team members agreed that a rapid expansion of our nation's rail services was needed to sustain U.S. economic growth and to deliver a 21st Century Transportation Policy for the nation.

10. Airports Enhancements

The Airports Enhancements team is planning discussions prior to the September Leadership Meeting in Boise to focus on the many issues pertaining to increasing airport investments that will deliver both the air-side and land-side improvements which are needed to meet rapidly increasing passenger and cargo needs.

This group, which is chaired by Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell and Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, will be focusing specifically on ways that mayors can stay involved in the debate on aviation needs. Sustaining Congressional momentum for increased capital commitments to local airport needs, as set forth in the recently-enacted aviation reauthorization, known as AAIR-21." This legislation which increased capital commitments to local airports by more than 40 percent is only a three-authorization. As such, this legislation expires during the next Congress, so this team will be examining ways to keep mayors involved and at the forefront of the aviation debate, with a particular emphasis on working with leaders of the new Administration and the 107th Congress to build upon gains made in "AIR-21."

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