Mayor Tom Rowland, Vice Mayor Avery Johnson, 4th District Councilman and TML second vice president David May, and City Manager Janice Casteel took advantage of several workshops on a variety of topics relating to municipal government, including the decline in civility in public discourse. That particular workshop was focused on the questions of “where does all this venom come from? How can it be dealt with in a way that brings peace and makes government more effective?”
Casteel said this morning the annual meeting is primarily for sharing ideas about how cities handle common issues.
At least two of the workshops discussed engaging the public in a digital world by taking a look at changes in the Internet, the invention of smartphones and how citizens’ consumption of information is placing demands on governments to offer more public services in a digital environment. The workshop dealt with an overview of the evolution of mobile functionality and offered real-world examples of how communities are engaging the public digitally in new ways.
“There’s an App for That” explored a mobile government in the midst of the explosion of smartphones and iPads. Cities across the country are making their services even more accessible to constituents by creating applications for smart devices.
“If a recreational event had to be canceled, we could put it on a social networking site or disseminate the information through email blasts or text messages,” Casteel said.
Raising revenues without raising taxes with tight budgets and decreased spending is a common theme across all local governments, and finding new and unique revenue streams is critical to maintaining a high level of citizen service. This workshop was a discussion on marketing a city’s assets, finding corporate partners and developing mutually beneficial partnerships.
Tax Increment Financing is a financing tool that can be used to fund public improvement projects. Revenues generated through the new developments can then be captured to pay for those improvements. The speaker discussed the mechanics of a TIF. Tax Increment Financing is one of the funding methods discussed in connection with redeveloping the Whirlpool campus in downtown Cleveland.
“In redeveloped areas, you can take the growth from taxes and use that toward debt service,” she said.
Another workshop dealt with the number of foreclosures within Tennessee communities continuing to mount and how elected officials, department leaders and code enforcement officers are faced with the negative impacts of property abandonment. For most cities, addressing vacant properties is a priority, yet it can pose incredible strains on budgets, department resources, and staff man-hours.
A city’s ability to identify the party responsible for an abandoned property is sometimes impossible, creating great frustration and resulting in noncompliance with local codes, deteriorating values and posing a threat to neighbors. Solutions were provided for how cities can communicate directly with mortgage servicers, improve department efficiency, expedite compliance for neighbors and achieve resolution without straining city budgets.
Casteel said a company that partners with mortgagers to maintain vacant property presented that workshop.
“They winterize the house and perform required maintenance,” she said. “They don’t repair the house, but the first thing they do is change the locks and make sure all the windows are secured,” she said. “They mow the yard twice a month and in nonmowing seasons, they check the house at least once a month.”
Other workshops involved the aging demographics. One explored how, for the first time in history, four generations can get along in the workplace. Questions addressed included: “How will you resolve the clash in values and expectations? How will you foster productivity between those who remember the IBM Selectric typewriter and those who have never known anything other than the Apple iPad?”
The city manager said one of the sessions of interest to her concerned law enforcement’s efforts to combat dangerous new synthetic drugs marketed under harmless sounding names such as “bath salts” and “plant food.”
Over the past several years, a growing number of cities have become increasingly alarmed about the use and sale of synthetic drugs. The workshop will looked at the challenges law enforcement, prosecutors and local elected officials have encountered in addressing the use of synthetic drugs.
“This is very scary,” Casteel said. “Synthetic drugs are available in convenience stores and they say they are worse than meth because they sound safe, but they’re not.”