Connecting state and local government leaders

Alaska Declares ‘Public Health Disaster’ for Opioids; Palm Springs Ex-Mayor Facing 21 Counts

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker Becky Bohrer / AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

Also in our State and Local Daily Digest: Phoenix City Council rejects “sanctuary city” request; San Francisco may toll famous street; and Maine governor’s low salary.

OPIOID ABUSE | Alaska Gov. Bill Walker has declared his state’s opioid abuse crisis a “public health disaster.” It’s the first time the state has used a disaster designation in response to a public health crisis. The declaration does not cost Alaska any additional money, but it does create a legal basis for the state to issue a “standing order” of naloxone—the anti-overdose drug—to community groups, law enforcement, and members of the public. The number of heroin-involved deaths in the state has quadrupled from 2009 to 2015, and there is some indication that the worst may be yet to come as drugs like fentanyl become more common in the region. [Alaska Dispatch News]

CITY HALL SCANDALS | In Palm Springs, California, a criminal complaint is charging former Mayor Steve Pougnet with 21 felony counts related to allegations that he accepted $375,000 in bribes from real estate developers “in exchange for favorable decisions from behind the City Council dais.” A September 2015 raid on Palm Springs City Hall and Pougnet’s home by the FBI, IRS and the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office was “a jolt to this desert tourist destination that is heavily dependent on private investment for new hotels and restaurants.” [The Desert Sun]

Separate city hall scandals in Atlanta and Jackson, Mississippi, seem to have a common thread: Atlanta pastor Mitzi Bickers, who is a “kingmaker” in state and local politics in Mississippi and helped Mayor Kasim Reed win office in Atlanta in 2009 and later served as his human services director. When Reed released 1.5 million pages of documents related to the federal investigation into alleged bribery in Atlanta, “literally hundreds of boxes were tagged as ‘Bickers related.’” [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

Federal prosecutors are accusing the building commissioner in Muncie, Indiana, of improperly billing $800,000 in work his companies either didn’t do or did at inflated prices. Building Commissioner Craig Nelson was taken into custody on Wednesday and was charged with one count of theft of government funds and dozens of counts of wire fraud and money laundering. During a Thursday news conference, Muncie’s mayor apologized to city employees for the FBI interrupting operations while conducting their investigation. [WXIN-TV / FOX 59]

SANCTUARY CITIES | The Phoenix City Council rejected a citizen request to become a “sanctuary city” but said it would investigate other ways to challenge an Arizona law forcing local police to comply with federal immigration enforcement. The designation could have also cost the city millions of dollars, but the 7-2 “no” vote led to chants of “shame on you” from immigrants-rights groups. Also frustrating activists is the fact council members plan to discuss any action they might take against the state’s position behind closed doors, an easy way to avoid public displeasure. [The Arizona Republic]

At a community forum in Joliet, Illinois, near Chicago, Mayor Bob O’Dekirk told the mostly Latino audience that the city has no plans to work with federal immigration authorities on local enforcement actions. But the mayor said there were no plans to officially declare of itself a sanctuary city. "I believe it's a mistake to openly declare that we are defying federal government,” pointing out that Chicago’s sanctuary city status didn’t prevent immigration raids there. [Chicago Tribune]

TRANSPORTATION | San Francisco will study the possibility of tolling vehicles to drive on a 95-year-old section of city roadway sometimes dubbed “the crookedest street in the world.” More than 2 million people now visit a crooked portion of Lombard Street each year, creating crowded conditions that are irking some area residents. San Francisco Supervisor Mark Farrell is initiating the effort to study a toll for the street. He said Lombard Street “has zero infrastructure in place,” and “the time has come for the city to step in and step up.” [San Francisco Examiner]

The process has begun to find the next general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. At a breakfast on Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack as created a panel to advise throughout the process and put together a search team. The governor appears to be looking for someone with a strong business background to head the agency next. [Boston Globe]

Residents are pressing the City Council in Billings, Montana to include more money in the city’s next budget for clearing snow from residential streets. A number of council members said they’ve heard from constituents who say they’re willing to pay about $9 extra annually for residential snowplowing. “I’ve asked friends and colleagues and they all state the same—we want to pay for snow removal on our side streets,” one resident wrote to the council this week. “We end up paying more on car maintenance and use much more gas trudging our vehicles through feet of snow and ice.” [Billings Gazette]

CITY COUNCILS | The Casper, Wyoming, City Council has decided against opening meetings with a public prayer or moment of silence after the city’s legal staff warned that doing so could lead to litigation. “These kind of cases end up in federal court as a civil rights violation,” City Attorney Bill Luben said. “If we lose we end up paying attorneys’ fees.” [Casper Star Tribune]

PARKS AND RECREATION | The South Dakota legislature’s budget panel tabled Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s $2.5 million plan for a state park in Spearfish Canyon, citing lagging tax revenues. Daugaard had his own aide request the bill be killed. “The governor shot his own dog, so it’s over,” said Frank Carroll, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee. [Rapid City Journal]

GOVERNORS | Maine Gov. Paul LePage says that the low compensation for his job is like serving as a priest or nun—“You go into poverty to serve the public”—but the conservative Republican opposes legislation that would boost his $70,000 annual salary, which is currently the lowest in the nation.  [Portland Press Herald]