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Michigan’s New Governor Sends Strong Message to State Employees

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs her first executive director on Wednesday.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs her first executive director on Wednesday. Office of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer


Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Pennsylvania pension changes … N.Y. gov.’s about-face on marijuana ... San Diego scooter safety ... and Kentucky open-records lawsuits.

Good morning, it’s Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Leading Route Fifty’s state and local government news roundup is an executive order from Michigan’s new governor but scroll down for more from places like Morton, Pennsylvania; Birmingham, Alabama; San Diego, California; and Charlemont, Massachusetts. ALSO ON ROUTE FIFTY … States say Peace Cross case could impact thousands of monuments around the nationCenturyLink outage investigated by FCC and state regulatorsRepublican AGs weigh in on census citizenship question … and the ShakeAlert earthquake-early warning app is now available in Los Angeles.

Let’s get to it ...

PUBLIC HEALTH | The first executive order from the newly sworn-in Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer came with a strong message to state employees about preventing future environmental and public health emergencies, like the Flint water crisis: “An employee in the executive branch of Michigan state government who becomes aware of an imminent threat to the public health, safety, or welfare shall immediately report information relating to that threat to the employee's department director or autonomous agency head.” Speaking with reporters in Lansing on Wednesday, Whitmer couldn’t answer specifics related how her new administration would enforce the directive—processes for response are being developed—but said that "it's important to make sure that my first act is to communicate with our state employees who really are on the front line." [Executive Directive 2019-01; Michigan Advance; The Detroit News]

PAY & BENEFITS | The start of 2019 means that planned changes for Pennsylvania state employee retirement plans under Act 5, approved by the legislature in 2017, are now taking effect. The law, where “new public workers no longer will receive full guaranteed pensions backed by taxpayers and immune to the ups and downs of national and world economies,” has created “two new retirement plans that carry less risk for taxpayers and therefore lower retirement benefits for workers who enroll in them.” [The Morning Call; Lehigh Valley Business] … Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has said he wants to sit down with the city’s firefighter’s union to discuss the implementation of the voter-approved Proposition B, which requires firefighters to be paid the same as police officers. Turner had campaigned against the proposition, saying that it will lead to first responder layoffs. [KTRK]

SOCIAL SERVICES | California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom, seeking “to frame his new administration as one with an eye toward closing the gap between rich and poor children,” is proposing nearly $2 billion in spending on early childhood programs. [Los Angeles Times]

BROADBAND | A handful of small communities in western Massachusetts, including Charlemont, have decided to pursue building their own municipal broadband networks eschewing proposals from Comcast to improve internet connectivity. “Some residents are wary of trusting a big company to make decisions about such a crucial service” and want to “ensure that decisions about connectivity stay in local hands.” [The Boston Globe]

CITY HALLS | Reacting to a Delaware County Common Pleas Court judge’s order that removes Morton, Pennsylvania Mayor Bruce Edward Blunt from office, District Attorney Katayoun Copeland said in a statement: "As a convicted felon, Mr. Blunt violated the law by assuming the position of mayor, meanwhile wasting the valuable time of our voters and breaching their trust, compromising the electoral process. He is unauthorized and therefore incapable of holding the position of mayor, and therefore, must step down immediately." Blunt was convicted of a variety of misdemeanor offenses in 1988, including aggravated assault. And those convictions stack up to an “infamous crime” that disqualifies Blunt from serving as mayor. [Delaware County Daily Times]

FINANCE | According to the Kansas Department of Revenue, “the state brought in $687 million in taxes last month, which is about $10.5 million more than expected.” [Topeka Capital-Journal]

PUBLIC RECORDS | In Kentucky, if you file a public records request, don’t necessarily be surprised if you face a lawsuit from the government agency or office you’re seeking information from. “Based on my experience, when they [an agency] don’t want to release information, they can make it very difficult, almost impossible,”  Peter Hasselbacher, a former University of Louisville professor whose public records request turned into a legal fight that’s lasted two years, said in a recent interview with WDRB. “Somebody who is not a major newspaper or media outlet is up against it if they are trying to get records.” [WDRB]

CRIME | Recent national attention on Baltimore’s dismal crime rate from The Washington Post caused a “civic eruption” locally. “Another murderous year erodes Baltimore’s spirit—and faith in its leaders,” including Mayor Catherine Pugh, Baltimore Brew observed. From the Post’s investigation published last week:

While there is evidence for and against a nationwide Ferguson effect—the theory that crime increased after 2014 as police faced more scrutiny following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.—in Baltimore there is an indisputable Freddie Gray effect. As violence in the city has risen since 2015, the likelihood of a killer being arrested has dropped precipitously.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Gary Tuggle told the Post: “We’ve got a really, really talented homicide unit, but we’re understaffed.” [Baltimore Brew; The Washington Post]

PUBLIC SAFETY | A special state commission in Florida studying last year’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County unanimously approved a 458-page report on Wednesday, The document examined “the cascade of errors revealed in the wake of the shooting, including fumbled tips, lax school security policies and unaggressive Broward sheriff’s deputies who hung back as shots were fired.” Seventeen people were killed at the school during last February’s mass shooting. [Sun Sentinel] … Valerie Abbott, the city council president in Birmingham, Alabama, reported Wednesday that celebratory gunfire from New Years Eve damaged her roof. []

MARIJUANA | During a radio interview on Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo  said he intends address the marijuana legalization in the state budget that’s due by March 31, an announcement that “further cements the governor’s 180 degree turn on marijuana, which he described as a gateway drug in 2017.” [WMAC / The Roundtable via Times Union / Capitol Confidential]  

MOBILITY | The new year has bought new rules for e-scooters in San Diego, but some sidewalk safety advocates are urging city officials, including Mayor Kevin Faulconer to adopt a more strict enforcement posture for improper use of the mobility devices. [KGTV]

Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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