Connecting state and local government leaders
STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Mo. governor wants restraining order against state AG … Fla. bridge collapse prompts safety reviews elsewhere … Mich. is a PFAS hotspot … and Puerto Rico is without power, again.
Here are state and local government news stories that caught Route Fifty’s attention …
TRANSPARENCY | For those keeping track of the unfortunate local government soap opera that’s been unfolding at Cincinnati City Hall in recent weeks—which has revolved around a dispute between Mayor John Cranley and City Manager Harry Black—there’s a new plot twist: A lawsuit that a conservative group, Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes, filed against the city has surfaced text messages from five city council members discussing the internal acrimony privately.
According to WCPO-TV:
These texts offer a rare glimpse into the private, and possibly illegal, conversations and thoughts of city officials on one of the most controversial and dramatic events to rock City Hall in years.
Among the texts exchanged among city council members include messages about “whether City Manager Harry Black needed counseling” and that “implied Mayor John Cranley was a liar.” One of the attorneys working on the lawsuit, Chris Finney, told WVXU-FM that the text message discovery "demonstrates the need for our lawsuit and injunction to force compliance with the Open Meetings Act." [WCPO-TV; WVXU-FM]
Meanwhile in Colorado Springs, Colorado, members of the city council OK’d a $425,000 agreement to settle a lawsuit in “yet another apparent violation of the state's open meetings law.” City council members approved the agreement in executive session. "If they are going to settle a lawsuit, use taxpayer money to settle a lawsuit, isn't that something the public is entitled to hear about in a public session?" asked Jeff Roberts, executive director of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition. [The Gazette]
GOVERNORS | The embattled governor of Missouri, Republican Eric Greitens, has asked a Cole County judge to issue a restraining order that would bar the state’s attorney general, who has been looking into allegations of misconduct, from investigating him further. Attorney General Josh Hawley “must recuse himself and his entire office from any investigation or prosecution related to Gov. Greitens or the Governor’s Office,” the motion reads. “If such investigation or prosecution is to be conducted, it must be conducted by a court-appointed special prosecutor independent of the [attorney general’s office].” Hawley, also a Republican, says there is enough evidence to charge the governor in connection with allegations that Greitens illegally obtained and used a donor list from a veterans charity for his campaign. Hawley has asked St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner to file criminal charges in the matter. In a separate situation, Greitens is facing an upcoming trial where he’s charged with felony invasion of privacy. [The Kansas City Star; St. Louis Public Radio]
INFRASTRUCTURE | After the deadly collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Miami last month, many state and local transportation agencies are taking a closer look at some of the bridge spans under their jurisdiction. Following inquiries from the Austin City Council, public works officials in the Texas capital city identified five bridges that “require major rehabilitation or replacement.” The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, which is currently carrying out a large-scale bridge-replacement initiative, has reviewed its construction techniques and “engineers are convinced the methods contain no flaws” like the ones that may have led to the bridge failure in South Florida. [KVUE-TV; The Patriot-News / PennLive.com]
Nearly all of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents lost power on Wednesday after a work crew mistakenly severed a critical powerline in the southern part of the U.S. island territory, which is still struggling to recover from the devastation brought by Hurricane Maria last year. [Reuters]
- Los Alamitos, California: After local leaders voted to exempt the city from California’s “sanctuary state” law earlier this week, this small Orange County municipality now faces a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. “The Los Alamitos city council cannot pick and chose which state laws it will and will not follow,” ACLU attorney Sameer Ahmed said at a press conference on Wednesday. “The city’s actions are clearly unlawful.” [OC Weekly]
- Virginia Beach, Virginia: “Private-sector employment opportunities” beckon for Mayor Will Sessoms, who announced Wednesday that he is stepping down from his city hall position. “I am grateful to the citizens of Virginia Beach for entrusting me to serve as Mayor of the greatest city in the world. One of the reasons is because we have City employees and volunteers who work so diligently to carry out the vision of the City Council.” [WAVY-TV]
- Springfield, Massachusetts: Out-of-state drivers on the Massachusetts Turnpike owe the commonwealth more than $15 million in unpaid tolls and fees, but the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is limited in what it can do to recoup the lost toll money from those scofflaws. Massachusetts only has agreements with New Hampshire and Maine where it can prevent drivers in those states who have unpaid toll bills from Massachusetts from renewing their vehicle registrations. The turnpike no longer has physical toll plazas but collects tolls via EZ-Pass transponders and pay-by-plate scanning systems. [MassLive.com]
- Denver, Colorado: Legislation that passed Colorado’s House on Wednesday and heads to the Senate would, if approved, make it easier for local governments to adopt rules that permit bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. [Denver Streetsblog]
- Gaithersburg, Maryland: In the span of two hours, Maryland state troopers stopped 120 motorists for distracted driving thanks to an undercover law enforcement officer dressed as a homeless man holding a plastic bucket adjacent to an onramp to Interstate 270. In that bucket was a police radio, where the officer alerted troopers a short distance away of violations, including “three drivers that actually had books on their steering wheel area” and reading while driving. [WRC-TV / NBC Washington]
- Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Environmental Working Group has a new interactive map and report out about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been linked to some types of cancer. Michigan is the current PFAS “hotspot” among 22 states with sites linked to PFAS contamination. [Environmental Working Group; The Grand Rapids Press / MLive.com]
- Edmonds, Washington: A city employee helming the public works department’s Twitter account accidentally liked a tweet from President Trump that called former FBI director James Comey a “slimeball.” The inadvertent like caused some confusion and questions about the city’s social media policy, which frowns upon political statements coming from the city and its employees. The city employee involved in the social media incident had pressed the like button while scrolling down a webpage that had an embedded tweet. [Edmonds News; @edmondspw]
Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.