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Emerging Issues Roundup: August 2020

August 20, 2020  by  Byron Katsuyama
Category:  Open Public Meetings Act Law Enforcement Operating Policies COVID-19

Emerging Issues Roundup: August 2020

Each week I scan the web for local government news, journal articles, reports, blogs, and other relevant sources looking for information about newly emerging issues that may affect local governments in Washington. Here is a roundup of the latest issues that caught my eye.

The Line is Forming for a COVID-19 Vaccine and Local Government First Responders Will be Near the Front

When an effective vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available, one of the initial issues will focus on the question of those who should be first in line to receive what will inevitably be limited supplies. Science reports that the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices’ initial recommendation is to begin with “12 million of the most critical health, national security and other essential workers,” which is likely to include the majority of local government emergency medical services (EMS) personnel and other first responders. Early indications suggest that not all of these decisions will be without controversy, particularly as second- and third-tier priority groups are selected (something else to prepare for), but there does seem to be a consensus around most of the first-tier recipients.

New Hybrid Public Meeting Formats May be Around for a While

Even as we begin a phased reopening process and an eventual return to council chambers and board meeting rooms for the conduct of public meetings, there will likely be a continued need for and interest in remote meetings, leading to the development of new hybrid meeting formats that combine remote and in-person participation. Luke Stowe writes in Government Technology, that hybrid meeting formats may be needed especially to accommodate the needs of vulnerable stakeholders who may not be able to venture out to attend public meetings for some time. Could it be too that remote meetings will become a desired, new feature of our post-pandemic world as local governments begin looking for more ways to promote greater inclusion and participation in their communities? Local governments that were forced to adapt to the requirements of the pandemic are certainly now in the position to move much more seamlessly toward the adoption of hybrid meeting formats going forward.

Is Some New Degree of Telework Here to Stay?

Speaking of pandemic-related practices that may be more widely adopted in a post-pandemic world, there are a number local government observers who are predicting that the pandemic-induced adoption of telecommuting for large numbers of local government employees may not necessarily come to a complete end once all of the pandemic-related restrictions on social distancing have finally been set aside. In a recent ICMA blog, Patricia Vinchesi asks whether the COVID-19 pandemic and the “reassignment of major operational tasks” outside city halls might result in a rethinking of the “traditional paradigm of local government service delivery.”  After all, we have just unintentionally conducted the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment ever but have not yet had the opportunity to evaluate the results. This might be a good time to include a set of questions about attitudes toward telework arrangements in your next employee survey. Which positions thrived and which suffered? Is there a strong, new interest in working from home? A note of caution: old paradigms seldom go quietly into the night.

Statehouses May be the Most Likely Source of Far-Reaching Police Reform Measures

While several local government legislative bodies and police departments in Washington and elsewhere have taken some early actions to implement various types of police reform measures in response to widespread protests and other calls for action, it may be that the most far-reaching police reforms will come instead from state legislative initiatives, particularly where there is strong interest in having a unified state approach.

Art Haywood reports in Patch that at least 13 states have passed legislation in the past two months adopting measures banning the use of chokeholds, altering officer immunity, placing new restrictions on the use of lethal force, requiring anti-bias and de-escalation training, and requiring independent investigations of police-involved killings, among other reforms. For current legislative information, the National Conference of State Legislatures maintains a searchable database on law enforcement legislation that is updated daily. In Washington, I’m hearing reports that a variety of potential state legislative actions are being discussed and reviewed, including a look at a statewide use-of-force policy, a statewide database to track officers that have been fired, penalties for failing to report serious misconduct of fellow officers, and a statewide body camera requirement, among others. There are no proposed bills at this point, but that will probably change as we get closer to the 2021 session. Stay tuned!

What new issues do you see emerging from your perspective as a local government official, staff member, or otherwise interested observer of local government? Share your insights with me and I will consider them for the next Emerging Issues Roundup blog.

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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