Responsibility of Local Government

Recently I read a blog post by a Dallas personal injury lawyer that got me thinking. How much responsibility does local government have to keep residents safe? If for example a known dangerous intersection needs a stop light and city council votes down the stop light and a child is killed by a car at that intersection, how much liability does the city bear?

I’ll be exploring this topic more soon. If anyone has any case law to contribute to this topic, please let me know.

UPDATE: Currently getting comments from a lawyer at this firm: https://litsterfrost.com/ten-secrets/

Encouraging Economic Development In Ankeny

Ankeny is a small town of just over 50,000 people with an active city council that has worked tirelessly to use their near location to Des Moines and Ames to continue to improve the economy and quality of life of their residents. Being able to stay independent and prosperous when surrounded by two other well known and growing cities, one the capital of the state and the other home to the largest university in the state, is quite a challenge in and of itself.

 

Recent Press Has Been Good

According to popular finance website NerdWallet, Ankeny is rated the best small city for families in the entire Midwest and comes in 11th nationally in that list that examined over 250 cities up for nomination. This definitely helps with positive press, but does it translate to growth in opportunity and services?

 

Mayor Gary Lorenz has lauded Ankeny for maintaining that “small town feel” and sense of community that is not only appealing in a state of Iowa but also offers benefits to anyone who counts themselves as a resident. But can this feeling remain considering that the town is also considered one of the fastest growing in the nation when looking at small cities of 50,000 people or more?

 

This is part of the challenge of thriving in the shadow of Ames and Des Moines while using their own unique identity and nearness to these urban areas in a way that profits everyone involved.

 

How To Encourage Economic Improvement?

While many people would be tempted to rest on their laurels based on how the small city of Ankeny is doing, the City Council has made it a priority to figure out how to take advantage of their growth and current good fortune by encouraging that growth and prosperity to continue.

 

In fact, the Council has even come up with a 7 point action plan to continue to base policies and development of the community around these specific points to encourage all the positive benefits to improve. Called the Economic Development Action Plan, it is a public seven point plan even on the City Council website showing they are still working to keep up with equally healthy and competitive neighboring towns and cities.

 

Multiple Development Options

When it comes to encouraging business into town, there are many different types of incentives being plotted out to help encourage all types of businesses from downtown retail to more food and beverage options to factories – they are keeping an eye open to prosperity now so they are prepared for any tough times that might come ahead.

News About City Council Issues

 

On 22 June 2016, the Los Angeles City Council laid down its final approval for plans to outfit the city’s police department with body cameras. Of the course of five years and at the cost of 57.6 million USD, thousands of body cameras will be purchased for use by police officers as part of a larger initiative to improve police accountability in the wake of outcry over excessive use of force by police across the United States, particularly against African Americans. While this outcry has increased tensions between residents and police across the nation, sometimes erupting into riots, the Los Angeles city government is attempting to lessen these tensions by outfitting their police force with body cameras that will record officers in action, and allow their actions to be reviewed in the wake of a serious problem

 

Once this proposal has been fully brought into being, the LAPD will be the single largest law enforcement agency to use cameras on a scale this widespread. Over 7,000 devices will be distributed among officers, with a good bit of controversy surrounding the process by which the plan was approved. While the initiative was backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and the appointees he placed on the Police Commission, concerns among the city’s lawmakers stalled the legislation for months. While the effort has finally come to fruition, concerns remain about the effectiveness of the program as well as the long term impact of the laws surrounding the body cameras.

 

Still, the bill was not without its problems. A number of technology companies that were competing for the lucrative contract have openly complained that they were left out of the selection process without just cause. The search for the company that would provide these seven thousand specialized cameras was conducted by the relatively small Kern County Sheriff’s Department.

 

The LAPD is has stated that implementing this program will take time; their earliest estimation for when the full 7,000 body cameras will be outfitted with officers is late 2017, with most projections indicating that it will taken even longer than that.

 

While the effort is intended to improve police accountability and build trust between communities and their police, some do not think the legislation is going far enough, while others are adamant that it goes too far. Because the footage gathered by the cameras will not be publicly released without a court order, many people do not believe the cameras will be as effective as City Hall has been touting it as.

Des Moines City Services: Getting The Word Out

Des Moines, the capital of the state of Iowa, is a city that has shown what can be done when a specific focus is put on renovation and building an ideal community. Over the last 20 years the city has transformed in many ways, and no small part of that credit goes to an active community and a responsive city council. However, there offering all the best services in the world isn’t going to do any good if no one knows about them, and this lack of knowing what services are available has been a major issue recently.

 

Perceived Versus Reality

Many frustrations of citizens are from not seeing the city services in particular areas like graffiti removal or roadkill removal. However, the city does offer these services and often has an extremely fast response time – but only if the right phone number is called. They can’t fix something if they don’t know about it and the help will be delayed when the wrong department is called.

Yet there seems to be a major disconnect between what residents know is offered and what actually is – and it’s becoming a major issue that needs to be addressed.

 

Responsive Services

Details matter, and among the services Des Moines has created for residents are the following:

– Graffiti clean up (priority within 24 hours if crude or hate based)

– Roadkill removal

– Pothole repairs (48 hour response)

– Sewer back-ups

– Tree planting (local public spaces)

 

These are unique services that some cities have but don’t offer on a “respond to calls” basis. The pothole repair is one in particular that has come up at many city council meetings despite the fact that one phone call can make sure any pothole in the city is filled within 48 hours.

These are services aimed at helping the city respond to the need of its residents, but many Des Moines residents aren’t aware just how many options that they truly have.

 

Getting The Word Out

New efforts and options are being explored on trying to figure out how to get the word out. Des Moines has had no problem getting rave reviews from travelers, visiting authors, and from anyone looking at how a city can transform itself into a true “place to be,” and yet getting the word out on many of these relatively new services has been a harder process and one that needs to be revisited.

Hillsboro, Ohio Mayor Still In Turmoil

 

Drew Hastings left the comedy world and thought he was moving to an area that would leave him a peaceful retirement. However, in what some people are calling a political head hunt, the mayor has found himself embroiled in a court battle that is one that some are saying is the good old boys hunting after the mayor who is trying to make changes. So are these charges founded or unfounded that the mayor is currently facing off against?

One of the primary charges stems from a property the mayor owns in Hillsboro. The property was given a notice about an issue and it would take five hundred dollars to get it back to the point that it could be inhabited again. The mayor claimed to have made these changes and reported them to the agency in charge of removing the fine. However, an issue that he is facing is the government official that is in charge of the seals never seen the check for the money and his office was broken into with the mayors information now having his seal of approval on it.

Illegal dumping is something that is treated as a crime for several reasons. One of the reasons is the illegal dumping can fill up the landfills, but it is also a crime because the dumpsters may not be owned by the person who is dumping in them. This is another charge the mayor is facing as he was allegedly caught dumping his personal trash in the city owned dumpsters.

In most cities, including Hillsboro, it is a requirement for the government officials live within the city limits. While Mayor Hastings does own property in the city, he was accused of having property outside of the city as his primary residence, which goes against the charter for the mayors office. So he is also being investigated and charged for this as well.

All of the charges are against Mayor Hastings do seem like they are starting to add up, but the key is are the charges founded or unfounded? According to the state of Ohio they were founded enough to bring forth Grand Jury indictments on the mayor. They have even reached the point of appointing a special judge to oversee the case as it moves forward in the court of law. Even if Mayor Hastings is found innocent on the charges, this is sure to have tarnished his image to the residents of Hillsboro.

New Airbnb rules in Chicago

airbnb-rentalOn 22 June 2016, the Chicago City Council backed a new set of online home rental rules, particularly those backed by the online rental company Airbnb. The new rules are something of a complicated compromise between different factions inside the city of Chicago, complete with elaborate rules for what properties may and may not be rented, as well as equally elaborate ways around those rules. The legislation was backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and while there was a great deal of vocal opposition, the legislation passed 43 to 7. There was fierce debate and intense lobbying on the part of Airbnb, but the compromise rules are already going into effect.

Guests in Chicago residential properties became somewhat of an issue recently when online rental company Airbnb began doing business in the city. While complaints of noisy guests renting properties in otherwise peaceful neighborhoods was a prime concern, other problems seemed to be waiting in the wings as well. Though Chicago business is not quite as corrupt as popular portrayals make it out to be, there was a legitimate concern that new “investor schemes” would spring up in the city if regulation wasn’t passed to curb the uncontrolled business of online rental properties. Other concerns about out of control out of towners also permeated the vote.

Still, the measure passed, with Mayor Emanuel introducing it in the spring and touting a fee on the industry as a means to help Chicago’s homeless population as well as creating genuine constraints on the industry. Though the mayor predicted an easy backing by the city council, the legislation got stalled when confusion over the proposed rules and clashing interests inside the city’s political and business communities began to butt heads over what form the new rules would take when enacted.

It was a multi-sided legislative clash that involved an Airbnb backed advertising and lobbying campaign, aldermen in neighborhoods where residents have complained about out of control rental properties, hosts associated with Airbnb determined to protect their livelihoods and city officials desperate to strike some kind of balance between these battling factions. On top of a wide range of new rules about what properties can and can’t be rented to online companies like Airbnb (as well as limitations on how many), Airbnb and other companies with a similar business model are being saddled with fees, including a 60 USD fee for each Chicago address the company lists and a 10,000 USD license needed to operate in the city.

Is Gatlinburg Abusing Their Power

Gatlinburg is often seen as a beautiful tourist area, but in some cases the residents that live in Gatlinburg just want to be left alone. This is very true of some of the residents who live in town who had the very real threat of eminent domain being used to overtake the properties for the use of commercial development. While this is a decision that a lot of people have come to love, the property owners were feeling threatened and so are some of the other residents who live in this town about the choices that are being made by the government.

 

What is key here is the city is starting to take these properties, that in some cases were empty, but other cases are occupied for the development of more commercial properties. Now these properties were ones that were not the best in town, but the decision was made on the council level for the city to take the properties. and compensate people properly for them, but at the same time it does look bad for the city.

 

What the city plans on doing with these properties they have obtained is definitely admirable as they are going to plan on getting the city expanded and starting to develop the commercial district more. This is a great idea, but it comes at the expense of the citizens, but as we mentioned the extra commercial income from the taxes could easily cover the loss of the residential income levels.

 

The problem with this format is it does leave quite a few people who live near Gatlinburg, but are in the commercial districts with there private homes worried. What happens if the city decides to use the same type of force on them? Yes, they would be able to present a court battle, but this cost quite a bit of money to take a city to court. Not to mention in previous court cases, even in Ohio for the development of a shopping mall, the owner of the properties ended up losing, but they were compensated quite a bit more than what the owners who sold out right away were offered.

 

Commercialization of private property is going to happen at some point. In Gatlinburg the city has used their eminent domain to push this into the region at times. The decision was not exactly the best one they made and even stirred up quite a bit of controversy at the time. However, what happens if the city decides to push this expansion agenda again?

Austin City Council To Improve Food Insecurity Issues

 

In an attempt to improve areas within Austin where there is limited fresh food access, the city council met to determine how to handle this problem which is affecting 25% of the people living in Austin right now. These individuals have no idea where they will be able to get access to their next meal. This is what is referred to as a food insecurity issue, a matter that city leaders have determined to be of great priority, specifically for the newly created council in charge of these matters called the Office of Equity.

 

The Problem At Hand

The problem that the city council is facing right now was first reported by the Office of Sustainability. They had presented the idea that a quarter of the population of Austin were facing this food insecurity problem. Edwin Marty, who is in charge of the food policy program, has stated that it is one of the largest concerns that he has heard on a consistent basis from a multitude of different constituents. Specifically, these individuals do not have access to what would be considered healthy and affordable food, a problem that the council believes that they can resolve very quickly.

 

Ways Of Addressing These Disparities

District 2 council member Delia Garza stated that this council has an obligation to addressing the disparities related to food insecurity and that it is necessary to resolve these food access problems which are all over the city. Over the last several months, the city staff has taken part in 11 stakeholder meetings, and has met with over 30 organizations and city departments to increase funding and resources in this area. This would specifically address the use of community gardens which could provide a nutritious food incentive program. They would work by targeting specific ZIP Codes, administering a nutrition education campaign, and would be able to achieve a final preliminary report on the overall cost of this type of project.

 

The Main Problem With The Current Project

The main problem with this current project is the scope of the project itself. Food access has become a significant issue, mostly because of the surrounding areas. According to Shannon Jones who is the director of the Human Services Department, there is an affordability issue due to providing food for those in areas where there is a lack of infrastructure. One solution is utilizing healthy food that will be discarded by restaurants and stores, huge volumes of food that can be used to feed the hungry. Bill Fry, board chairman of Keep Austin Said, is actually able to distribute 30 tons of food every month made available by over 30 donors. By utilizing food that would be otherwise thrown away, this can help with the current budgeting problems. It’s also a great way to gain access to food that actually is healthy and safe to eat that can be given to those that are less fortunate.

 

In conclusion, the Austin City Council seems to have a good idea on how to expand their reach to help those that are hungry. By defining the parameters where hungry people are located in and around Austin, and utilizing the free healthy food made available through local businesses, it is possible to compensate for the ever increasing number of those that need to eat. Once this project goes from a proposal to an actual viable solution, it should help prevent thousands of people from going hungry. As long as they are able to coordinate with local businesses, and receive approval from the city council, there should be no problem at all dealing with food insecurity issues now and in the future.

Boston City Council News

 

On Wednesday, the Boston City Council will go back to work on the proposed budget for the city’s next fiscal year. Education funding has been the most contentious element of the city’s proposed budget for a number of reasons. While the Boston Public Schools are expecting a budget of a 1.032 billion USD (40 percent of the city’s budget), this figure could well increase after the school department finishes some tense negotiations with the Boston Teacher’s Union. Student walk outs protesting elements of the political situation the school system finds itself in have made things more complicated and the city council more desperate to reach a compromise.

 

The 8 June 2016 meeting of the city council began with a number of concerned city Councillors voicing apprehension and dissatisfaction with the school district’s budget and the ways in which it would be distributed. Councillor Ayanna Pressley voted to reject the budget, citing concerns about weighted student funding formulas, as well as the number of trauma trained school nurses. Councillor Pressley also cited dissatisfaction with the school system’s means of funding transitioning special education students.

 

Mayor Marty Walsh tried to balance the matter out by expanding the school system’s budget by 5 million USD to back investment in the school system’s Superintendent Tommy Chang’s program known as “Excellence for All” intended to offer a more challenging curriculum for 13 elementary schools. This program was also intended to extend learning times for special student populations and a new means by which the school system could track transportation data to better track ridership.

 

City Councillor Tito Jackson and other Councillors did not feel that was enough. According to Councillor Jackson, he was dissatisfied with how the additional funding goes to the central office rather than the schools themselves, claiming that his calculations left the school district with a 26 million USD deficit in the school district’s expenses. Councillor Jackson urged other Councillors to reject the budget until the city’s public schools were fully funded.

 

Education problems aside, other elements of the budget have also come under scrutiny. The proposed budget included projections of less public safety overtime spending which many city residents do not agree with. The proposed budget also called for lower spending on utilities, though these reductions were born of reduced usage by the city and lower rates. The city council has until 29 June 2016 to approve a final budget for the city of Boston.

Seattle City Council News And Issues

SHB 1553 Passed

Recently at a committee Council meeting in Seattle, a unanimous vote on SHB 1553 passed, as well as the CROP program which allows employers to have an easier time hiring people with criminal histories, specifically those that require a vocational license. According to the report on the meeting, currently only people without a criminal record can get jobs that require some type of vocational license. For example, someone that would like to get a job as a dental hygienist, or even a barber, would not be able to get this type of job as a result of having a criminal record. This will make it easier for these individuals to apply and potentially receive a job if they have the proper licensing. Additionally, after the governor’s signature had gone through, it became a state wide program that permits an individual to file what is called a civil motion that will clearly show that they have not had any convictions or new arrest since that time, and that they have also met the terms of their sentence. Once this becomes more widespread, people will be able to get jobs that could not before because they had a criminal record. There was another resolution passed that ensures that this will be considered by all employers, something called Resolution 31637.

Resolution 31637 Also Unanimously Approved

One other thing that was able to get passed by the Seattle City Council was this resolution which legally shows the support of the city in regard to the certificate for restoration of opportunity program. In this particular situation, they are requiring the privilege of a prisoner, and also the community corrections departments to work to strengthen CROP. This particular type of work group will identify opportunities that should be made available to these individuals, something that goes far beyond criminal justice agencies. They are also required to develop recommendations that the city can implement to facilitate what is called prisoner reentry. This should remove any possible barriers for these individuals if they need to get housing as well, making this a well-rounded project.

In the event that this continues to move forward, there is the possibility that more jobs will be created for people that are fully capable of doing the work but have had a criminal record. Sometimes these things happen in our lives, and as a result of mistakes that we have made, it can lead to problems getting employment. The passing of SHB 1553 and Resolution 31637 makes it now possible for people in Seattle to have the ability to move forward with their lives if they have been trying their hardest to get previous convictions behind them, and if they have not had any additional convictions since that time.

Sacramento City Council News And Issues

There has been quite a bit of activity in the city of Sacramento, the capital of California, specifically regarding the city Council as of late. They have done many things in regard to approving grants to combat violence caused by gangs, and have also dealt with several other important issues. Let’s take a look at what they have been doing recently, and why it is so important for this Council to continue to discuss matters that are relevant for the safety and productivity of the city of Sacramento.

 

Grants To Help Combat Gang Violence

The first agenda that is worth noting in regard to the Sacramento city Council was that they have actually approve to grants that will affect 18 neighborhood organizations which are specifically designed to help reduce gang violence. It was noted that the city’s ability to offset what is happening with gangs in the city is not doing very well, and they believe that this is a step in the right direction for a long-term solution. The total amount for the grant was $680,000 which is a sizable amount, divided between each of the organizations. It is actually money that was approved by voters, specifically who voted for Measure U sales tax, and is therefore properly funded by an approved by the people.

 

Dealing With The Homeless

The homeless are most certainly in need of help in Sacramento, and the latest City Council meeting has made sure that they are at the top of their agenda. They are going to try to implement similar measures that were approved and utilized in the city of Seattle which could very well work in Sacramento to help diminish the amount of homeless by helping them back into society. Additionally, there would be mandates that need to be followed by the homeless including tent camps that could remain for 90 days at a time. There would be no drugs or alcohol allowed, and those that live there would provide cleanup services and security for nearby neighborhoods, making this a win-win scenario.

Although there are many other issues in the city of Sacramento, helping deal with gang violence and helping the homeless are two priorities that always need to be discussed. The more that the city Council focuses on these problems, and provides solutions for them, it can help those that are involved in gangs find their way out and the homeless can find a way to live in a much more meaningful and dignified way.