May 04, 2020

Curate’s COVID-19 Weekly Snapshot Is Live!

COVID-19 Weekly Snapshot. Powered by Curate.

At Curate, we know how important communities across the country are… which is why we track meetings from communities with no stoplight to New York City. 

As part of Curate’s commitment to understanding communities, we’re proud to launch the COVID-19 Weekly Snapshot - where residents and businesses can learn what local governments are doing in response to COVID-19. Curate software has already scanned over 280,000 meeting documents from approximately 9,400 municipalities across the country in the last week and identified key changes to government operations, community health, economic recovery, and public safety. 

It’s the most important work we can do right now. 

This Weekly Snapshot is free and open to the public to see what actions and discussions municipalities across the country are considering as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many communities are discussing important legislation and I encourage you to stay vigilant by signing up for updates on our new COVID site, to keep up with the ongoing information coming out of your local municipality.

If we can be helpful to you during this time, please reach out to us at hello@curatesolutions.com

Stay healthy, 

Taralinda

Co-Founder, CEO 

April 21, 2020

3 things to do during quarantine to improve your government relations program (that don't involve another Zoom meeting).

The Capitol and Reflecting Pool in Washington, DC.-1

By Curate Team

Government affairs is a relationship business, especially at the local level. 

For lobbyists, in-person meetings and casual interactions with lawmakers have always been a crucial part of the relationship-building that helps them make sure their clients’ voice is heard in local government. 

So when face-to-face meetings are out of the question, what can government affairs experts do to position their clients for success? 

It’s not like you can just seamlessly convert all of your in-person meetings to virtual. The last thing a local lawmaker wants to do — while juggling fighting a pandemic, saving an economy in freefall, homeschooling their kids, and learning a host of new digital communication platforms — is to have another Zoom meeting with a lobbyist.

Luckily, there are many other productive things you can do with your time while waiting out the apocalypse that can set you up for success when normal(ish) life resumes. 

  • Share actionable data with lawmakers pulled from your customers or your operations.

Local lawmakers rely on experts to educate them about complicated local ordinances. Typically, this education happens through in-person meetings. But with a little proactive effort, you can still provide invaluable education about a topic virtually. Consider creating educational assets that lawmakers can watch, listen to, or read on their own time. 

One of the biggest challenges local governments are finding as they respond to the economic crisis the pandemic has caused is a lack of information. Local governments are poorly equipped to share and receive information from residents during a rapidly-evolving crisis. 

If you represent a large utility or a membership-based association, you likely have sophisticated communication tools that connect you to a huge segment of the regional population. To assist local lawmakers when they are crafting their response to the pandemic, find ways to leverage your customer base to provide useful data about which communities are being hit the hardest, and what their particular challenges are. This could happen through surveying your members or customers or just examining your internal data. Of course, make sure to respect the privacy of your members or users by sharing data only in aggregate or with permission. 

  • Take the opportunity to widen your advocacy lens. 

Without any upcoming trips to conferences, or coffee meetings in your schedule, it’s a good time to reflect on your processes and find ways to refine them, especially if your process up until now has relied a little too heavily on the grapevine. 

Take some time to make sure your process for reviewing local government agency reports, minutes and agendas is comprehensive. If you’re only covering the cities and counties that you directly operate in, consider expanding your coverage to all of the neighboring jurisdictions, or, ideally, the entire state. 

To monitor that many agencies, you’ll need either an army of sharp-eyed interns or a force-multiplying tool like Curate. 

To understand how important it is to expand our lens, take a look at the justification Wood County, Wis., provided for doubling a handful of highway fees in a meeting on March 12: 

“Hawk has completed research on neighboring counties...Hawk is requesting the cost of the OS/OW permit increase from $25 to $50 to be consistent with the other permits...These fees are all in comparison to Marathon, Portage, and Adams counties.”

It’s very common for communities to borrow policies from their neighbors when it comes to utility fees and permits. If surrounding counties have already raised permit fees, then it’s only a matter of time before the county you operate in will propose a fee hike. 

With Curate, you can track every mention of upcoming changes to fee schedules, permit processes, and local ordinances across the state, even in towns so small they don’t have a stoplight. Curate’s weekly reports will give you the best chance of preventing unfair increases in permit fees.

  • Build public support. 

When municipalities get back to normal — or maybe even before, in some cases — they’re going to be on the hunt for new revenue sources to make up for the massive shortfall in tax revenue of every kind.

One easy target? Fees. These tend to disproportionately impact large entities like energy companies, utilities, developers, and other organizations that maintain physical infrastructure across a large geographic area. 

If you successfully spot an upcoming discussion about raising fees and you’re able to join in the conversation, your chances of defeating those fee increases will hinge greatly on your relationship with the broader public. 

That’s why it’s smart to focus on building public support when your access to lawmakers is limited. And with so many communities needing extra support during the pandemic, there are infinite opportunities to build goodwill right now. 

For utility companies, there’s a ready-made opportunity to proactively position themselves as team players in the community, since most public utility commissions have suspended disconnections for the duration of the public health emergency. Look for similar opportunities to present your organization as a compassionate member of the community throughout the crisis — public support will come in handy when you face future fee hikes.

Whether its sharing actionable data with lawmakers pulled from your customers or your operations, taking the opportunity to widen your advocacy lens, or building public support, you are sure to be improving your government relations program in the best ways we know how. If you want to find more insights curated to the needs of your company & put millions of municipal documents to work for you and your team—so you stay ahead of change, visit our webpage at Curatesolutions.com

April 15, 2020

How the coronavirus crisis could change the relationship between municipalities and states

Raleigh, North Carolina, USA State Capitol Building.-1

Crises change things. They may be the only things that can truly bring about real change, to paraphrase a quote from the famous economist Milton Friedman. For anyone whose business is greatly impacted by local government spending or decision-making, the question of the hour is how will the fallout of the coronavirus crisis change the way city and county governments operate?

In the short-term, we know that local governments will be forced to cut spending. A report by the Brookings Institution breaks down the numbers about the assistance states and local governments can expect from the federal government from the CARES Act and the Medicaid expansion, and the bottom line is, it won’t be nearly enough to prevent states and localities from cutting spending.

But looking beyond the budgets, there are many ways that this crisis will mark a turning point for local governments. It’s helpful to look at these changes through the lens of the relationships that will forever be changed — and one relationship that will be sure to change is the one between state and local government.

We’ll cover the state-local government relationship in this article, and look at the other two in a series of posts.

In the last five or so years, the relationship between states and municipalities has become increasingly contentious, particularly in states where one political party almost unilaterally controls the state government and the other party has more influence in city governments. In a 2018 report about the state of home rule in the U.S., the National League of Cities noted an uptick in preemption laws and general antagonism toward local control by state elected officials. 

“Consistently, state legislators have stricken down laws passed by city leaders in four crucial areas of local governance: economics, social policy, health and safety,” the report notes. 

The impact of those state statutes has come to light in many cities across the country as local leaders have been unable to pass emergency measures that their residents are demanding. In Madison, Wisconsin, the Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway vented her frustration in a public address where she asked landlords to voluntarily suspend evictions. 

“If I could issue a moratorium on evictions and non-renewals here in the city of Madison, I would,” Rhodes-Conway said. “But I am specifically prevented by state law from doing so, which is an incredibly frustrating thing when you’re trying to take care of your community.”

In light of the way that recent state actions have hampered local governments’ ability to respond to this crisis, organizations like the National League of Cities are calling for a new approach to home rule that would give cities the authority they need to respond to a crisis. 

Spencer Wagner, a Program Specialist with the National League of Cities’ Local Democracy Initiative, shared his insights on how the crisis could impact state and local government relationships with Curate in an email. 

He pointed out that in the absence of adequate local authority, cities must wait for state leaders to pass emergency measures like eviction and foreclosure moratoriums, shelter-in-place orders, and business closures. And while some state governors have been extremely proactive in fighting the spread, such as Ohio and New York, in other states, slow action from the state level is making for a more contentious relationship between city and state leaders. 

When Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves issued an executive order defining the state’s social distancing guidelines — limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer and leaving most businesses open — he explicitly took away the right of any cities or counties to pass any more restrictive measures. 

In South Carolina, another state that has not issued a statewide order to stay home, the attorney general has threatened to sue cities that pass their own stay-at-home order, claiming that only the governor has that power. 

Additionally, some states have chosen to block Medicaid expansion or add more restrictions to it during the crisis, which will likely expose more people to the virus, and put more of a strain on local health systems and local governments. 

However, Wagner said he is hopeful that the crisis will bring about a more productive local-state relationship in the long-term. 

“We’ve seen plenty of examples of cooperation between municipalities, counties, and their states that highlight the collaborative relationship that should exist between these levels of government as opposed to the preemption we have seen from states in the past,” Wagner said. “I believe this could mark a turning point as we reflect on how cities responded, the collaboration we have witnessed, and the type of authority they needed to enact policies.”

Another factor that will undoubtedly influence the way municipalities and states collaborate is the way the CARES Act funds will be distributed between state and local governments. The act sets a threshold of 500,000 residents as the minimum population needed to receive a direct allocation of funds. In the 16 states with no city or county over 500,000 people, the state government will receive the entire allocation. Small cities across the country will have to rely on state programs to provide any relief for their residents, requiring a good working relationship with state officials.

Wagner noted that catastrophes often prompt reactive legislation to prevent a similar catastrophe from having such a negative impact. For example, in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, many states might be motivated to pass permanent paid sick leave laws. But for Wagner, the biggest takeaway from the coronavirus crisis should be that municipalities need to be able to respond how they see fit. 

“We do not fully anticipate what tools and policies cities, towns and villages will need to implement as we recover from COVID-19, or to respond to whatever the next crisis could be,” Wagner said. “It is essential for local governments to not be hamstrung before it is too late.”

However much the relationships between municipalities and states change, Curate will be here to track it all, and deliver the relevant information to our valued customers. If you want to learn how Curate can help you and your business keep track of legislation at the local level, fill out our Get Started form here.

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.

SeattleCovidNov-March_2
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:

ChicagoCovidNov-March_2

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.

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