Baltimore City, Md. Councilwoman Helen Holton, chair of NACo’s Large Urban County Caucus, led a group of leaders from the nation’s largest counties who met in Franklin County (Columbus), Ohio, to explore innovations in economic and workforce development, education and human services delivery, and fighting poverty during LUCC’s Annual Meeting, June 19–21.
A national issue of importance discussed in depth during the meeting was NACo’s efforts to protect the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. Emilia Istrate, NACo’s director of research, presented NACo’s recently released study, Municipal Bonds Build America: A County Perspective on Changing the Tax-Exempt Status of Municipal Bond Interest, which shows how critical the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is to counties, and their ability to build and maintain America’s infrastructure such as schools, hospitals, road and bridges, and water systems.
NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase, one of the municipal bond session panelists at the LUCC meeting, told the group that the threat to the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is real because the federal government is desperate for revenue. The threat, however, goes beyond dollars and cents. He said it’s about who is in control of America’s local infrastructure projects.
“If the federal government can impose a cap, then they are in control,” Chase said. “We want this to remain a locally driven process. This summer we want to help you organize community tours and invite members of Congress and their staff out to see these projects for themselves — schools, sewers, hospitals, airports. If counties don’t have this (funding) tool, we are in big trouble.”
Another panel session featured three members of the Ohio congressional delegation: Reps. Tim Ryan (D), Steve Stivers (R) and Joyce Beatty (D). They discussed the importance of breaking down community silos — especially in education — and stressed the importance of workforce development, expanding programs that work for all Americans and encouraging regionalization and public-private partnerships.
Ryan said too many government programs today are built on the industrial-age models of the past.
“So when we look at issues today, whether it’s education or workforce development or research, our challenge as public officials is figuring out how we can take that old industrial-age model which is being blown out of the water by technology and communications, and break down these silos,” Ryan said. “We know that if a kid is not healthy, cared for or feels safe, then it really does not matter what great ideas we come up with. He’s not paying attention (in school).”
Ryan said schools in Youngstown, Ohio have cutting-edge social and emotional learning programs which address the reasons kids are not paying attention in class.
Photo by Jim Philipps
Commissioner John O’Grady, Franklin County, Ohio (right), and Guy Worley, president and CEO, Columbus Downtown Development Corp., share information about the successful economic development projects in downtown Columbus and throughout the county with LUCC leaders.
Stivers, a career soldier and colonel in the U.S. Army, said jobs and the economy are his priorities.
“We have soldiers coming back from Afghanistan, and before that Iraq, who are coming back to no jobs,” Stivers said. “Our veterans in the age 18–24 category have an unemployment rate of almost 17 percent. It’s shameful given the sacrifices that they have made and what they’ve done for this country.”
He said he has introduced legislation in Congress to address the issue.
Beatty, one of the nation’s newest members of Congress, highlighted the effectiveness of public-private partnerships, especially in the area of education.
“Today, when we talk about education, for me, that is the component that spurs the economic system that we have,” said Beatty, who served five-terms in the Ohio General Assembly. “You can’t talk about education without talking about Head Start giving our children a jump start. You can’t talk about spurring the economy without talking about financial literacy and making our children have a better understanding of what interest rates are, and what a credit card can do and should not do. Some young folks have more credit card debt than student loan debt. We need to do a better job with that.”
Holton said jobs, economic development and the delivery of human services are among the most important challenges facing the nation’s metropolitan counties, which is why the theme of the LUCC meeting was built around those issues.
“Franklin County-Columbus is undergoing impressive change with new downtown and waterfront developments as well implementing innovative ways of addressing the underserved in the community,” she said. “During the two days of meetings and tours of the community, we got up close and personal with how local government leaders forged public-private-academic partnerships to meet and exceed the needs of the community.”
Other panels during the meeting centered on the various public-private partnerships which resulted in successful redeveloping of blighted urban areas including Nationwide Arena (home of the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets), Huntington Park (home of the AAA pro baseball Columbus Clippers), Scioto Mile waterfront development, Lincoln Theater, Columbus Commons and the Lazarus Building.
In addition to the guest panel speakers, the LUCC meeting featured informational tours of many of the projects discussed such as the 145-acre Scioto Mile parkland in the heart of Columbus, the Franklin Park Conservatory and the Lazarus Building (“green” building redevelopment).
NACo’s Large Urban County Caucus is a bipartisan coalition of 1,000 elected county executives and officials from the nation’s most populous metropolitan counties. LUCC identifies challenges, provides input in developing national solutions and implements programs that assist metropolitan communities nationwide.
The 2013 LUCC Annual Meeting was hosted by Franklin County Board of Commissioners President John O’Grady, a member of LUCC’s Steering Committee.