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Looking Ahead: 2016 Predictions and Prognostications


December 29, 2015 by Byron Katsuyama
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Looking Ahead: 2016 Predictions and Prognostications

Each week, as part of my preparation for the MRSC In Focus Newsletters, I scan the web for interesting and useful news, blogs, articles, and reports from a variety of local government related sources. Over time, these scans often reveal trends as certain issues emerge and begin to attract more attention. As we begin the new year, I thought it would be a good time to highlight several issues and trends that have emerged and that will likely continue to be significant local government issues in 2016 and beyond.

Police-Community Relations

In my 2015 predictions and prognostications, I speculated that there would be an increasing focus on police-community relations based on events in Ferguson, Missouri and in other places, noting that “we have definitely crossed a threshold where future events of this nature will be more likely to produce strong community responses and increased calls for more serious efforts to address and improve police-community relations.”

If anything, the focus on this issue has now become even more pronounced as events from late last year in the city of Chicago have demonstrated. In November, the release of yet another police shooting video led to several nights of demonstrations and calls for reform, eventually resulting in the firing of the police superintendent by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. At the press conference where he announced the firing, Mayor Emanuel also announced the appointment of a special task force to review accountability, oversight, and training issues, with the goal of restoring and building confidence in the department. The U.S. Justice Department also just announced an investigation of its own, looking for possible civil rights violations by the police department.

I don’t think anyone sees this issue as one that will be fading anytime soon. Many communities, such as Spokane, have already initiated more robust community policing efforts. As I noted previously, these efforts will be particularly important for communities with a large minority population that is not well-represented in the police department, and where there is a history of distrust between those citizens and the department.

Police Body Cameras

Interest in the use of police body cameras continues to grow, which is, of course, largely being driven by events like those in Chicago, Ferguson, and in other cities where calls for reform have consistently led to calls for the deployment of police body cameras as a way to increase transparency and police accountability. Recent developments in Washington include a decision by the Spokane Police Department to equip all of its patrol officers with body cameras after an initial deployment to half of the patrol force that began last May. According to media reports, the results of a recent internal study in Spokane showed that both citizens and officers strongly support the use of body cameras. One of the most challenging issues raised in this context relates to the requirements for collecting and keeping police body camera video records. The Washington State Archives Office recently issued new records management advice, called How Long Do Police Body Camera Recording Need to Be Kept?, that provides guidance on the minimum retention periods for recordings from police body cameras. Challenges remain, however, with respect to the storage and retrieval of potentially massive amounts of video data in connection with public records requests.

The Drones Are Coming!

This should come as no surprise to anyone who has even casually been following this issue. The drones are indeed coming, as growth in the numbers of recreational and commercial users have begun to accelerate. The Consumer Technology Association, a national trade group, is predicting that 700,000 drones will be sold in 2015, many during this year’s holiday buying season. A recent article appearing in Governing magazine timely asks, “How Will We Handle a Sky Full of Drones?” noting that nine states have already passed laws aimed at restricting drone use in response to public safety and privacy concerns. Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been moving quickly to adopt a list of recommended rules for monitoring recreational drone use including a requirement for registering the devices. The FAA has also pledged to issue more comprehensive commercial drone regulations by June 2016. Local governments in Washington and elsewhere will know more at that point about the extent to which they may also be able to regulate drones within their jurisdictions.

Affordable Housing

Recent events in the City of Seattle centered on Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) are focusing new attention on the issue of affordable housing. The Seattle City Council has just begun holding public hearings to consider a set of 65 recommendations developed by the mayor’s 28-member HALA advisory committee that are aimed at increasing the city’s supply of affordable housing. Some, like a proposal to upzone single-family neighborhoods to allow more housing types, have already been set aside as being too controversial. Others, like mandatory inclusionary housing and commercial linkage fees, seem to be gaining some traction. It’s not clear at this point which of these recommendations the council will adopt, but the entire process, including the public hearings and surrounding media coverage, have reenergized the conversation in Seattle and elsewhere in the region about whether communities are doing enough to meet the demand for decent, affordable housing. In Seattle, Mayor Murray has set a goal of creating 50,000 new homes — 40% of them affordable for low- and moderate-income residents — over the next 10 years.

New Interest in District-Based Council Elections

Questions about the representativeness of city councils in some Washington jurisdictions have led to new interest in district-based elections to fill council positions. Voters in Seattle amended their city charter two years ago to end a long-established system of electing their councilmembers in at-large elections, with the goal of making the council more representative of the city’s diverse neighborhoods. Seven of Seattle’s nine council positions are now elected from neighborhood districts while two have remained at-large. A switch to an all-district-based election system for councilmembers in the City of Yakima resulted from a federal lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year and a judge’s order requiring the city to elect all of their city councilmembers by districts in both the primary and general elections. The judge found that the city’s election system violated the Federal Voting Rights Act and was not “equally open to participation” by Latino voters.

The changes in Seattle and Yakima appear to be sparking interest in district-based elections systems in other jurisdictions as well. Clallam and Whatcom counties switched to stronger district-based elections in November. The City of Wenatchee recently formed a citizen advisory committee to study whether councilmembers there should be elected by districts. A recent editorial in the city of Walla Walla asks “Is it time to elect city council by districts?” Other cities, according to the Tri-City Herald have also been reviewing their election processes in view of the Yakima decision.

What themes and trends do you think will be important for local governments in 2016? Let us know in the comments below or email me directly at bkatsuyama@mrsc.org.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Byron Katsuyama

Byron began work at the Center as a Research Assistant in July 1978. He holds a B.A. degree in Political Science from the University of Washington and an M.P.A. from the University of Washington's Evan’s School of Public Policy and Governance. After completing his M.P.A., Byron joined MRSC's consulting staff as a Public Policy and Management Consultant concentrating on municipal administration and policy analysis. Byron is responsible for research in such areas as emerging local government issues, best practices, strategic planning, performance measurement, and local government management. In addition to his consulting duties, Byron also maintains the "Focus" section of MRSC's website and is editor of our "In Focus" and "Ask MRSC" e-newsletters. He also coordinates our HR, Planning, Finance, Government Performance, and Council/Commission Advisors. In his own community of Kirkland, Byron also served for eight years as a member of the city's planning commission. Byron is a member of the Washington City/County Management Association (WCMA) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).

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