I was recently asked, “John, why did you get involved in legislative advocacy?”
My background in public service, prior to becoming a city manager, was in economic development, community redevelopment, brownfields redevelopment and planning. While I generally understood the legislative process and the difference between Dillon’s Rule and Home Rule, I didn’t become more involved in legislative advocacy until I served on the Florida Brownfields Association Board.
The Florida Brownfields Program was facing changes proposed by former Senate President Gardiner. Changes that I firmly believed would negatively affect my community and its ability to facilitate brownfields redevelopment. For our city, redevelopment and revitalization are key elements of our economic development strategy. In 2015, when the Florida Enterprise Zone Program was not reauthorized it negatively impacted our City.
The attack on local governments’ Home Rule authority and their economic development tools, including the Brownfields program and Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRAs), crystalized the need for me to be more actively engaged in the process.
I started by working with the city council and our local lobbyist to develop legislative priorities. We presented these priorities to our local legislative delegation when they were back home. We then followed up by visiting these legislators in Tallahassee to discuss the issues we were facing, as well as concerns regarding proposed legislation. The goal was to ensure legislators were aware of the Brownfields program and its success stories, as well as how the proposed changes would impact local governments in respect to redeveloping environmentally challenged properties.
That was my first true involvement in the legislative process. And it taught me that the only way to truly make a difference and help protect the best interests of our city and its Home Rule powers was to be more involved. In 2016, I volunteered to serve on a Florida League of Cities legislative policy committee, and for the past two years have served on the Land Use and Economic Development Committee.
While the ending of the Enterprise Zone Program and attack on CRAs may have been the driving force to increase my involvement, as I became more involved I realized there are many more issues that impact local governments’ ability to provide vital municipal services.
I understand that some of you are not able to travel to Tallahassee during legislative session to testify before sub-committees. But, the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties provides many opportunities for city managers to be engaged. Volunteering to serve on a legislative policy committee, attending legislative action days, or responding to legislative alerts are just some of the ways managers can participate in the legislative process.
Being engaged with your local Legislators year-round can pay dividends during legislative session. The data you provide in response to legislative alerts and other requests can go a long way toward helping Legislators understand the impact of proposed legislation on local governments.
Often times we, as city and county managers, are more aware of the real-world implications of proposed legislation in our communities. It then becomes our role to provide supporting data and information about how bills will affect Florida’s cities. This is why t reaching out and communicating your city’s concerns is vitally important. It may be as a simple as a phone call, a text message or an email, but it might be the tipping point that saves a bad bill from becoming law.
Often the Legislature seeks to craft a “one-size fits all” approach to a real or perceived issue. We are a diverse state with different and unique communities. Brevard County is vastly different from Broward County, and what may be appropriate and work for Coconut Creek may not for Cocoa. This goes back to why Home Rule, the ability to make local decision at the local level, is so important.
Don’t be like me and wait for that one issue to surface before you become more engaged. I encourage my fellow FCCMA members to become more active in the legislative process NOW. Changes are certainly coming. And while they may not always be drastic, we have an opportunity to develop relationships with legislators that are necessary to protect local government and Home Rule.
If you are a county member, encourage your elected officials to sign up for one of the legislative policy committees with the Florida Association of Counties.. Visit the Florida Association of Counties website for more details.
The Florida League of Cities is currently encouraging members to sign up to serve on one of its legislative policy committees. With five policy committees to choose from (Finance, Taxation & Personnel; Land Use & Economic Development; Municipal Administration; Transportation & Intergovernmental Relations; Utilities, Natural Resources & Public Works), I’m certain there is a committee that suits your background, interests and the issues that matter most to your community,
Visit the League’s website to sign up by August 20. In doing so, you can help shape the League’s next Legislative Action Agenda. I hope to see you at this year’s legislative policy committee meetings.