Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Major storm systems disrupt California and Northeast; Austin’s busy 9-1-1 call center; St. Paul mayor’s inaugural ball funding gap; Vermont’s ‘regressive’ DMV compliance; and Indiana’s new IoT hub.
PENSIONS | In a talk radio interview earlier this week, Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin ratcheted up his ongoing war of words with the Kentucky Education Association, which is currently engaged in a tough fight over teacher pensions at the State Capitol in Frankfort. The Republican governor, who just a day earlier apologized to a group of teachers for his previous harsh rhetoric, told the the Bowling Green-based Talk 104.1 radio station that some teachers who have been protesting his pension reform legislation have a “thug mentality.”
According to the Lexington Herald-Leader:
Bevin has been dedicated to providing full funding for Kentucky’s pension systems, which are among the worst funded in the nation and have an unfunded liability of more than $40 billion, but his comments Tuesday add to a long list of things he’s said to infuriate teachers.
Since he rolled out his initial plan to reform public pensions this fall, Bevin has accused teachers of “hoarding sick days,” suggested the people of Kentucky lack the “sophistication”to understand the pension crisis, and called teachers who opposed the bill “selfish” and “ignorant.”
The governor said there’s a silent majority in his state who want to see his pension reforms implemented: Ninety percent of people “may be quiet in times like this, but they still vote, and they want to see progress made, they want to see things being done. I don’t worry about it at all, and other people shouldn’t either. The best thing you can do is just stay off social media and ignore the crazies.” Several school districts, many in eastern Kentucky, canceled classes on Wednesday to allow teachers to participate in a Day of Action at the Capitol. [WKCT-FM / Talk 104.1; InsiderLouisville; Lexington Herald-Leader; WKU Public Radio]
WEATHER | First responders, emergency managers, transportation agencies and public works crews have been kept busy by strong weather systems impacting parts of California and Northeastern states. In Southern California, where thousands of people evacuated from some areas of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties vulnerable to mudslides and debris flows that start in areas stripped of vegetation and follow normally dry creeks and arroyos down from the foothills. Emergency managers are most worried about a repeat of the deadly mudslides and debris flows that killed 21 people in Montecito in January during an earlier winter storm.
Meanwhile, state and local agencies in the Mid-Atlantic and New England are dealing with yet another Nor’easter storm that’s been making its way up the coast, dumping new snowfall in many areas and causing coastal flooding in others. Federal, state and local governments and schools were closed Wednesday due to the weather and treacherous travel conditions. Commercial truck traffic was banned on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and other highways in the Keystone State on Wednesday. In Rhode Island, utility repair crews have anticipating more power outages from tree limbs weakened by earlier storms.
- Austin, Texas: Law enforcement authorities reported Wednesday that the Austin area’s suspected serial bomber, identified as 23-year-old Mark Conditt, died after blowing himself up when a SWAT team cornered him in a vehicle in Round Rock early Wednesday morning. The city can now breathe a sigh of relief, though there are concerns that there could be additional package bombs in the area. Mayor Steve Adler, in an interview with National Public Radio, said Wednesday that “as these incidents have been occurring with increasing frequency, the anxiety and fear in the community's been growing. So it was good to be closing in over the last day or so and to have this resolution.” Not unexpectedly, 9-1-1 operators in Austin have had their hands full, answering 12,500 calls since Sunday—that includes 1,300 calls reporting suspicious packages. There was also a 150 percent increase in call volume during the SXSW festival, according to police stats. Austin’s 9-1-1 call-center operation had an above-average answer rate of 97.86 percent of all calls being answered in under 10 seconds. [KUT News; CNN; NPR / Morning Edition; @Lara4780 via @AustinPD]
- Cincinnati, Ohio: In the ongoing city hall saga where Mayor John Cranley has pressed for the resignation of City Manager Harry Black, the mayor pulled an item from the City Council’s Wednesday agenda related to Black’s proposed $423,000 severance agreement, giving councilmembers more time for discussion with key stakeholders on what's been a tense topic in the Queen City of the West. [Cincinnati Enquirer / Cincinnati.com]
- St. Paul, Minnesota: Coordinators of Mayor Melvin Carter’s inaugural ball at St. Paul’s Union Depot are looking for $36,000 in additional funding to cover a gap in sponsorships, contributions and donations for the inauguration festivities, which came with a $206,000 price tag. About $170,000 in funding was raised. [The Pioneer Press / TwinCities.com]
- Manchester, New Hampshire: In her State of the City address, Mayor Joyce Craig focused on the ongoing opioid abuse crisis and the need to improve the local public schools. [WMUR-TV]
- Fishers, Indiana: This suburb about 20 miles north of Indianapolis with hopes of growing into a tech hub opened up an Internet of Things incubator and co-working space called the Indiana IoT Lab, the first such center in the Hoosier State. [VentureBeat]
- Montpelier, Vermont: The Automated Vehicle Inspection Program used by the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, which has shifted car inspectors away from a paper-based records system to one where inspection results are uploaded directly into an electronic database, has prompted grumbling by some in the Green Mountain State. Farmer and writer Ben Hewitt argues that that “enhanced enforcement of the DMV’s rules amounts to a ‘regressive tax’ on low-income Vermonters” who have trouble meeting the burden of car inspections. [VTDigger.com]
- Los Angeles, California: Mayor Eric Garcetti wants his city to cut its unsheltered population by half in five years and achieve a “functional zero” homelessness rate by 2028. According to the most recent official count, there are more than 25,000 people living unsheltered in the city. [Los Angeles Times]
- Bismarck, North Dakota: As the North Dakota Department of Health kicks off accepting applications from potential manufacturers of medical marijuana, local officials are taking steps to figure out how to accommodate medical cannabis as approved by state voters in 2016. Under a new zoning ordinance approved Monday by Burleigh County commissioners, medical marijuana can only be grown and distributed from agriculture, commercial and industrial areas of the county, which includes Bismarck. [Bismarck Tribune]
- Hatcher Pass, Alaska: The Alaska Department of Transportation worked to clear two large snow slides that covered that trapped 10 people, including three Belgian skiers, at a lodge “on the wrong side of the slide” about 60 miles northeast of Anchorage in the Talkeetna Mountains. [Anchorage Daily News]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.