The business meeting of the National League of Cities (NLC) was the concluding event at last week’s annual conference, which we hosted in Seattle this year. The business meeting approves policy positions that comprise the legislative platform for NLC, and also elects the new officers for the coming year. A key highlight in the policy document was the affirmation of the policy position in support of marriage equality, adopted by the Board last summer.
At the 2012 annual conference, hosted in Boston last November, NLC first took up the issue of marriage equality, but the resolution in support of it was tabled by the Policy Committee and never reached the floor for a vote. Because a number of delegates wanted to pursue this issue, led by the NLC’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered Local Officials organization, it was brought before the NLC’s June Board meeting. As a member of the Board, I moved adoption of the policy position, and after a very respectful and thoughtful debate, the Board accepted it. We did so knowing that the conference would have to ratify the Board’s action. Most Board members who opposed Board action in June did so because they believed that representatives of many smaller and more conservative cities would oppose taking this position. These Board members felt it would be better for the organization to have the debate before the full convention, because even though they expected the convention to approve it, they felt that opponents would be more accepting if they had a chance to be heard.
The NLC annual business meeting is organized like a political convention. Each state has an assigned section, and each city is assigned a number of votes based on its population. Most of the action is done by consensus, including approving new policies, which are normally recommended through NLC’s standing committee structure. NLC has seven topic oriented committees that evaluate issues throughout the year and recommend new or modified policies to the business meeting. These recommendations, in turn, have to be approved by the Policy Committee of the NLC Board in order to get on the floor of the convention – although these procedures can be overridden by a supermajority of delegates. Substantive floor fights over policy are rare, but do happen occasionally, and we expected that there might be one over marriage equality.
But we were surprised! When the Policy Committee report was brought to the floor, there was virtually no discussion. No issue was called out for a separate vote, and this and the other policies were adopted by consensus. It’s a pretty extraordinary indication of how quickly the issue of marriage equality has become mainstream that the organization representing 19,000 cities and towns has now endorsed it.
NLC also endorsed other key policy perspectives that Seattle has advocated for, including a resolution supporting Comprehensive Immigration Reform and one calling for Healthy Food, Public Health and Sustainability Practices in the Reauthorization of the 2008 Farm Bill.
I did not run for reelection to my post on the NLC Board. In addition to electing a new slate of Board members, the convention selected Mayor Chris Coleman of St. Paul, Minnesota, as the President for 2014, Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City as First Vice-President (President-elect for 2015), and Mayor Mary Colbert Kean of Joplin, Missouri as Second Vice- President (President-elect for 2016).
Delegates were universally enthusiastic about our great City, and the conference was very well-attended – returning to a size not seen since before the Great Recession. It was great to have the opportunity to host NLC, and I am confident that the organization will continue to be an effective and progressive voice for America’s cities.