March 19, 2020

5 types of emergency measures cities are enacting to support residents during the COVID-19 outbreak

The first case of the coronavirus in the U.S. was confirmed on January 21, 2020 in Seattle, WA. Despite this, Curate caught municipalities discussing the novel virus as early as November 2019, which have slowly increased each month through March, as displayed below, while the pandemic continues to afflict the country, especially large metro areas like Boston and Chicago.

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As the coronavirus outbreak situation changes daily—even hourly—businesses are anxious to stay in the know about the latest actions their local and state governments are taking to stop the virus and mitigate the economic impact of the effective shutdown of society. 

BostonCovidNov-March_2Most cities around the U.S. are less than one week into this new reality of social distancing, although some of the epicenters of COVID-19 have gotten a few days’ head start, and that head start has prompted them to lead the way in announcing emergency measures to protect their communities. 

It’s a good bet that many cities around the country will follow suit in the next few weeks with similar executive orders and emergency ordinances. Here’s a rundown on the main types of measures cities are enacting:

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1. Courts/Evictions

Since physically appearing in court means risking the spread of infection, some cities are taking action to shift court proceedings to a virtual setting or to suspend court proceedings altogether. In the town of Oregon, Wis., anyone who was scheduled to appear in court can request that their hearing be rescheduled, or request to appear via phone, if they call in 48 hours beforehand. “All requests will be granted,” wrote Municipal Judge Beth Cox in a statement.

Some cities have decided to suspend their small claims courts for either a short-term period or forthe duration of the state of emergency. The supervisor of Fallsburg, New York, shared with residents the following message on March 12

“I have directed our Town Justices to adjourn all non-essential matters before their Courts, including civil, municipal code violations and vehicle and traffic matters for thirty (30) days. Criminal matters will be determined by the Court and District Attorney's office.”

While suspending non-essential civil court cases means that if you were in the midst of a dispute with someone who owed you money, you’re not going to make any progress towards a payout until the suspension is over, in some cities it also means that landlords will be unable to bring new eviction lawsuits to the courts. 

2. Evictions

Even if their courts are still running, many communities are either considering enacting or have already enacted a moratorium on evictions directly, since displacing people from their homes could endanger them and lead to more disease spread. 

The city of Kenmore, Wash., proposed a moratorium on evictions through April 24 at a meeting on March 16. Cleveland, Ohio, will decide on March 23 about a 60-day moratorium on evictions, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. And local news reports say the town of Hermosa Beach, Calif., is considering pausing commercial evictions

3. Transportation

Cities are putting in place a variety of changes related to public and private transportation in order to make it easier for people to stay home, to pick up or deliver food and supplies, or to thin out the crowds using public transit. 

New York is suspending enforcement of its e-bike ban in order to help delivery workers get around faster. 

Los Angeles is easing back on enforcement of several parking restrictions, including suspending ticketing or towing for street cleaning and parking—so that people staying home all day don’t have to worry about moving their cars—and removing parking restrictions around schools so that families picking up meals for their kids can get in and out quickly. 

Madison, Wis., is also letting up on parking restrictions. The city announced Wednesday that it won’t be enforcing metered or time-limit parking restrictions until April 5, but unlike L.A., Madison will enforce street cleaning parking restrictions. Madison also capped the number of passengers who can ride a bus at 15 and is switching to a more limited service schedule beginning March 23. 

4. Utilities

The utility regulators in most states are asking utility providers to hold off on disconnections while the state of emergency is still in effect. But many cities are also taking action. 

The city of Brewster, Wash., called a special council meeting on March 16 to discuss possible action concerning customer utility payments. 

In addition to suspending disconnections, Seattle is also extending its income-based discount program for utilities to those who have suddenly lost all or a portion of their income from the outbreak, which would allow some residents to cut their utility bills in half.

5. Sick leave 

Since sick leave provisions often come with restrictions, like getting a doctor’s note to prove that you’re actually sick, some cities, including San Francisco, are removing those restrictions to give employees easy access to the leave that they have accrued if they can’t work for any reason related to the outbreak. More cities will likely follow suit, especially if action from the state or federal level takes too long. 


Staying up-to-date in a time of unprecedented change

Since the coronavirus situation in each city is changing so rapidly, many city and county leaders are using their broad new powers granted by declaring a state of emergency to enact immediate changes. They are sharing announcements directly to city government homepages and making changes without going through the typical checks and balances of city council and committee meetings. 

To keep up with the changes, we recommend following local news organizations, scanning the home pages of your local government websites, and updating your search terms with Curate to flag any ordinances related to mitigating the impact of COVID-19. We are actively working to add new functionality to the Curate search tools to help businesses get more comprehensive information faster about this rapidly changing scenario. 

The social distancing strategy to fight the outbreak could be necessary for anywhere from eight weeks to a year or more—right up until a vaccine is administered to the entire population. If the longer projections turn out to be true, cities will face difficult decisions about how to support the sectors of their economies that rely on people being able to gather in public. Those decisions will likely be made at virtual meetings, and the public will need to adapt in order to participate in the process and provide input.

Now, more than ever, businesses need to pay attention to, and participate in, the decisions happening in local government. And Curate will be here to help.

February 21, 2020

Seeing into the cracks: How municipal lobbying differs from state & federal lobbying

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At any level of government, the key to successfully influencing policy is staying informed and building relationships. But there are a few key points where lobbying city and county governments differs from state and federal. 

There’s less money in local government.

Running a campaign for city council is relatively inexpensive, costing somewhere between $2,000 and $15,000, depending on the city and the seat. 

Most local government offices are only part-time positions, and officials may earn as little as $5,000 per year or nothing at all. Cities and counties also have limited or completely non-existent staff available to help elected officials research issues that they need to vote on.

The low-budget nature of local government has several implications for lobbyists who need wins. 

A local elected official faces less pressure to stay in the good graces of stakeholders who can write large checks in order to get re-elected… except in big cities, negative ad campaigns are few and far between. And without full-time staff available to research upcoming issues, local officials often rely on outside experts and lobbyists to educate them. But lobbyists should avoid manipulating the message when providing education, so as not to break trust with the local official. As with any relationship, transparency builds trust. 

Since it’s almost impossible to make a career out of local government, local offices see significant turnover, as officials either try to move up in government, or just retire from what may have become an exhausting civic obligation with few rewards. This means lobbyists must often build new relationships from scratch with every local election. 

Local government is less partisan.

Elected officials at the local level don’t typically announce their national political party affiliation, and even if you figure out whether a particular council person leans conservative or liberal, it won’t necessarily indicate their likelihood of voting for or against a local ordinance. 

It’s important to connect with each member of a local government body and get to know their personal position on controversial issues. Many are open to considering both sides of all issues since there is rarely a voting bloc in local government. 

Local lobbying is less regulated. 

Although lobbying at the municipal level is typically less regulated than at higher levels of government, most cities do have ordinances about who must register as a lobbyist and what lobbying activities need to be reported. 

Most local rules require anyone who is being compensated for the time they spend meeting with a local government official to disclose their financial incentive and report how many hours they spend in those meetings. It’s also a best practice to reveal whether you or the organization you represent has a direct financial interest in the subject of your meeting. And it’s never OK to buy elected officials anything, whether that’s lunch, a cup of coffee, or tickets to a professional sporting event.

Now, are most city attorneys chomping at the bit to prosecute lobbying rulebreakers? No, but that doesn’t mean lobbyists should ignore the rules. To preserve trust with your local officials, it’s important at a bare minimum to follow the spirit of the laws. 

Local Government Gets Less Coverage.

Hundreds of reporters cover the goings on in Washington DC every day, for media outlets around the world.

Yet, due to changes in the news industry, state and local reporting outlets are facing cutbacks nationwide.

Screen Shot 2020-03-05 at 5.04.39 PMAnd city halls across the country? It’s even worse. As municipal newspapers and local radio stations dwindle, much of what occurs in local government in the United States has almost no one paid professionally to keep tabs on what’s happening.

That is, except for us at Curate.

Curate makes local government discussion-tracking possible at scale for the first time.

Armed with Curate, proactive businesses are now tracking what’s happening in local government in their own and neighboring communities, putting them in the best possible position to influence decisions. We’ll know first, and you can too.

January 27, 2020

How Texas Cities Responded to Gun Violence

Screen Shot 2020-01-26 at 4.02.08 PMIn the months following the two mass shootings in southern Texas in August last year, there were no significant changes in gun policy in U.S. federal law. Meanwhile, a slate of Texas laws passed during the 2019 legislative session took effect on Sept. 1, all of which loosened restrictions on guns.

But looking at what happens at the state government level does not tell the whole story about the gun policy debate in Texas. Throughout the state, several cities and towns have taken a different approach to gun policy in the wake of the two mass shootings in August. Many of them have issued statements calling for action at the state level to enact common-sense gun violence prevention measures, and they’ve also taken local action through assembling task forces and proposing voluntary gun buybacks. 

Many of these discussions don’t get coverage in the local press, but a quick search of the CurateLOCAL database can bring you right to the minutes of these discussions, help you take the pulse of the local community on the issues, and help you find out about the next opportunity for public comment. 

Here are three examples pulled from meeting minutes of cities throughout Texas: 

On Aug. 22, Austin established a task force to study gun violence and put some teeth into an effort to collect more data about gun violence. The minutes from that meeting record the councilmembers’ different perspectives on the goals of that task force, such as this passionate passage from Councilmember Alison Alter, the sponsor of the proposal:

“Due to the restrictions passed at the state and federal levels, we have limited tools to solve the gun violence crisis...Some may say a task force is unnecessary because we know what we need to do. Yes, it's true we know exactly what needs to be done at the federal level and the state level to have the greatest impact, such as finally requiring universal background checks on all gun sales and implementing extreme risk protective order laws. Those all require the cooperation of state and federal government. But I believe we can and must do more at the local level.”

The meeting minutes from the City of San Marcos city council meeting on August 20, 2019 show how many residents vehemently resist even a small change in gun policy. During the 30-minute period for public comment, 10 people spoke out about a proposal to ban the concealed carry of guns at local government meetings. The proposal eventually failed. 

One resident’s opinions proved that you don’t have to be a gun owner to show up to a meeting to defend gun rights: 

“Sara Lee Underwood-Myers...stated that she is floored that the Hays County Government Center security always makes her take her fingernail file out to her car. She stated that she is not licensed to carry. She stated that we have to continue with our right to carry and it is bad policy to pass.”

At a meeting on Sept. 18 (PDF), the San Antonio city council passed a voluntary buyback program. The minutes give a glimpse of the decision-makers’ goals for the program:

“The CCR suggested that the program allow individuals to anonymously turn in firearms without fear of legal repercussions while also developing a public awareness campaign to appeal to residents in communities with a high concentration of gun violence...Mayor Nirenberg noted the resolution passed by the City Council to reduce gun violence and stated that any step is better than none.”

Gun violence is just one of many social issues that often see more action at the local level than at state or national levels. To find out how CurateLOCAL can help you keep up with the conversation in any town or city in any state, request a demo

January 06, 2020

How to figure out a small town’s take on wind power from thousands of miles away

Beautiful green landscape with windmills viewed from the air

Wind energy is a controversial topic where municipal governments often hold as much power as states. And it’s a topic with surprising opponents and allies.

Those in favor cite the positive environmental impact of reducing reliance on nonrenewable energy sources, the economic impact of lease revenue for landowners, and the increased revenue for local governments from property tax. But those against may oppose it for a host of reasons: aesthetics, noise pollution, the impact on migratory birds and other wildlife, or the nuisance of a flickering shadow that drives humans and animals nuts when the sun is low in the sky.

Since wind farms are typically installed in less populated areas, the municipalities that make crucial zoning, tax, and regulatory decisions in support or opposition of wind power are often very small. Decisions can be swayed by a small number of people, and board meetings where decisions happen are often not covered by a local newspaper. 

To find out what a town’s attitude toward wind power is, you could make a trip to talk to locals. But before doing that, you could take a look at the CurateLOCAL database and search keywords like “wind turbine,” “wind energy” or “wind farm” in the communities you’re looking at. 

Here’s a sampling of comments you might find. 

In Seneca County, Ohio, (population 55,000) the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution in support of a state bill concerning industrial wind turbine projects on Nov. 14. From the county’s recap of an Oct. 10 meeting found in the Curate database, you can read an excerpt from one of the letters county officials sent to the state concerning wind turbine development:   

“In Seneca County, we have had significant public discourse around the development of wind resources and utility-scale wind farms. We have incredibly engaged citizens and public officials. If wind development moves forward in Ohio, we feel duty-bound to offer our recommendations for improving the wind development process.”

That gives a good indication that Seneca County residents are cautious about wind turbine development, but haven’t ruled it out completely.

In Logan County, Colorado, (population 22,000) the Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to encourage on-site manufacture of wind turbines at a meeting on Oct. 1. At their September work session, the minutes show that Logan County was responding to a regional effort to attract more wind turbines:

“[State Sen.] Greg Brophy recently met with the Board to encourage adoption of a resolution in eastern Colorado counties that is intended to unite the counties to attract the wind farm growth. Yuma County has passed a similar resolution, Sedgwick County is considering a resolution, and Kit Carson County is working on one.”

The minutes from a Special Town Board Meeting and Public Hearing in the town of Enfield, New York, (population 3,500) on Oct. 16, record the varied opinions of residents and committee members about a draft of a local wind energy law, which some speakers called “stringent but not unreasonable” and others called “far too restrictive.”

The recap of one resident’s comments notes that:

“...she is frustrated with people who won’t have turbines in their backyards, but want turbines in Enfield. She sat through many meetings with a gag order. She would never want that to happen to anyone else. This law needs to be put in place to protect the safety of homes and residents. She would never want to live next to a wind turbine that would make her worry about noise, ice, and if they would fall over.”

With a CurateLOCAL subscription, you can research past discussions in city and county meeting minutes and agendas, and you can also stay up-to-date on current discussions with weekly reports. Any time your keywords appear in the documents from the municipalities or counties you’re following, you’ll get an alert, giving you time to engage with local government and get involved in the discussion.

Find out how you can stay on top of local discussions about wind power development by requesting a demo of CurateLOCAL.

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