Incoming NLC head wants more fed aid
This month, Madison, Ala., Councilmember Cynthia McCollum will be inducted as president of the Washington-based National League of Cities (NLC). A councilmember since 1989, McCollum also serves as vice chair of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Foundation and on the executive committee of the Alabama League of Municipalities. McCollum also is a past president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. American City & County talked with McCollum about her goals for the upcoming year, representing Madison and the challenges that cities’ face.
Q: How has your involvement with committees representing varied interests, such as social services and the sciences, prepared you for your role as a city councilmember and NLC president?
A: Being on different boards has prepared me with a business sense of how things should work — working with people of different walks of life and seeing how they operate, how teams can operate and make a difference. I’ve learned that one person can’t do anything alone and that we always need someone else to help us.
Q: What issues does your city face that you would like to bring to NLC’s attention this year?
A: Failing infrastructure [is] a big issue for us. We need more money for streets and roads, and I want to bring attention to that because other cities are facing the same kinds of problems. Our city’s small enough that each of us — the councilmembers and the mayor — can walk [through] our districts and talk to people. [During] the last election cycle, the one thing people said was, “Fix our roads.” But, the money is not there. The bridge [collapse in Minneapolis] brought national attention to the fact that our infrastructure is failing, and we’ve got to have help. Cities don’t have the money to do it themselves. We’ve got to have help, and we’ve got to have the money [allocated] directly to cities.
Also, cities’ financing and revenues are in jeopardy. Nobody wants to raise taxes, even though that’s the price we pay for democracy. Citizens want wonderful services, but they aren’t willing for us to raise taxes to do so. Most cities have to take that referendum to their constituents for a vote. Cities are doing the best they can with what they have [and] working hard to manage and balance their budgets. Congress doesn’t do that, but we do it everyday. I want to show the people that I meet that my city — and other cities like it — need help from our federal government.
Q: What are your goals for NLC this year?
A: We want to ensure that cities are kept in the forefront of the national dialogue. To do that, I need to interact with [the presidential candidates] so that whomever [becomes] president [understands] the importance of cities. We represent hometown interests and not special interest groups. That’s going to be my focus, to ensure that [the federal government] knows if there’s an issue that will impact cities, [their] resource is the National League of Cities.
We [need] options to support decades of neglect of our infrastructure. We need to make sure that Congress [provides] for transportation funding. [I also want to address] poverty. We’re working on some long-term solutions to help local officials in dealing with poverty.
[In addition,] cities have to respond to the change in their communities in spite of the lack of [immigration] reform at the federal level. [Illegal immigration] is still a problem for cities, and the [federal government believes] that they can push this cost off on the cities. We can’t afford to have our police do what the [federal government] ought to be doing.