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Issues. We've all got'm. But these are the ones that may affect us.


Jun 2017

Fun in the Summertime: Sun and Wind Energy Policy

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With the official start of summer around the corner, we at Voterheads are looking forward to enjoying the best the season has to offer: longer days, vacation, sunshine, and cool breezes.  To help all of you get into the summer mood, we thought what better way than a blog on local solar and wind energy policy.

Yes, even summer can be tied to our favorite subject of local government!  If you have ever driven by a house covered with shiny black solar panels or by a field with large air turbines, you may wonder how they ended up there.

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May 2017

When Global Goes Local: City and County Governments Tackle Climate Change

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To many of us, climate change feels like an overwhelming, global issue.  International organizations host world forums to determine what steps countries should take to help lessen what many consider to be the negative impacts of development on the earth and environment.  The recent Paris agreement, for example, took years to plan and long, hard negotiations to finalize.  So you may wonder: what can be done, or is being done, by local governments in terms of climate change?

Do local entities even consider items related to climate change, or do they look to state and national governments to determine policies?

climate photoA search of the Voterheads database shows that climate change does indeed fall on local agendas.  Elected officials discussed topics, actions, and events related to climate change during public meetings throughout the country these past couple of months.  What are some of the things they talked about?  Let’s check it out.

The Chatham County, NC Board of Commissioners’ Climate Change Committee gave a presentation on the county’s Emissions Inventory Project. This project is a joint effort by the board and local college students from UNC-Chapel Hill.  The board requested the project in an effort to assess the amount and rates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions made within the county’s borders.  After the presentation, the board voted to approve continued funding for the project for this year.

Honolulu’s City Council passed a motion requesting that the city administration report on its efforts to establish an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability, and Resiliency. The citizens of Oahu voted for the office’s creation during last November’s election.  The report requested by the council will include the office’s first projects and its development of a resiliency strategy for the region.

Newton, MA’s Program & Services Committee considered a motion put forth by two council members that would require gas stations to place notices upon gas pumps that remind customers that the burning of gasoline contributes to the impacts of climate change. The notice will also provide a link to the city’s website that offers suggestions for alternative transportation options that do not require gasoline.  The committee decided to wait to vote on the measure until more information on gas pump regulations and the stickers’ design is provided during future meetings.

Northampton, MA’s City Council considered a resolution calling on the state legislature of Massachusetts to create a carbon pollution pricing system for the state. The council affirmed its recognition of the detrimental effects of climate change generally and within its jurisdiction.  Consequently, the resolution asked the legislature to act quickly to encourage the development of more environmentally conscious and friendly methods of production and services through higher prices for carbon emitting sources of energy.

The Oakland, CA City Council recently voted on a resolution that supports a state senate bill requiring state pension fund boards to consider the financial risks associated with climate change when determining the investments they will make for state employees. The bill also implements a reporting mechanism beginning in 2020, requiring the state to report on the risks associated with climate change and the carbon footprint attached to the state pensions’ investments.  The committee voted for the resolution to be moved up to the city council for full consideration.

The four governments of Fayetteville, NC, Madison, WI, Maple Valley, WA and Santa Cruz, CA discussed comprehensive plans and strategies during public meetings over the past couple of months. These plans help local governments set up goals and objectives for the coming years, seeking to reduce the impact of various potential issues or problems by thinking ahead.

All four of these local entities considered the potential impacts of climate change in their plans.

Examples include ways to handle rising temperatures, methods for more environmentally friendly urban design including compact and mixed used building, approaches in dealing with the consequences of long-term drought, and the encouragement of applying new technologies for renewable and efficient energy sources.

climate photo

How we think about issues often impacts the decisions we make and the methods we choose to deal with them.  Thinking of climate change, or any other global concern, at only its highest level can make us feel detached from the issue.  But when we begin to see the impacts on our own communities, it not only becomes something more tangible but also inspires hope that solutions can be found at every level of society.  If you are interested in learning more about the local approach to climate change or any other environmental topic, be sure to add them to your interests on your Voterheads account!

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Feb 2016

Police Brutality: What Local Governments are Doing to Put Out the Fire

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It’s uncomfortable to turn on the news and not see reports of police brutality, racial unrest, and the long judicial processes of determining what use of force is justified and what isn’t. One of the biggest problems that communities are facing is the lack of uniformity across the nation as to what constitutes an excessive use of force. However, this doesn’t mean that it is the federal government’s problem. Every community is different and faces unique challenges, making uniform national policy difficult to apply. From the presidency to state legislatures, police brutality has become more of a campaign issue than a real social justice problem. The quickest path to dealing with these issues statistically is on a local government level. The following are measures local governments throughout the United States are taking to lower the number of incidents of excessive force used by police officers.

Redefining Crime

Police all across the United States are stretched entirely too thin and the statistics prove it. For years, one of the most popular campaign platforms has been for a candidate to proclaim that he or she is “tough on crime” and that their opponent is a “softie.” Citizens rush to the polls and vote for the candidate that seems the toughest without realizing the number of things that are defined as crimes and the lack of differentiation between violent and nonviolent crimes. The United States incarcerates more people than any other country in the world. While state legislatures are responsible for the passage of many of these laws, local governments have much of the control over their enforcement.

California has passed over 1,000 new crime bills in the past 25 years. Michigan enforces 3,102 crimes and New York City has over 10,000 potential ways you can commit a crime. Among these crimes are spitting in the subway, wearing saggy pants, loitering, being in a park after hours, panhandling, and drinking alcohol in public. Two weeks ago, in Southwest Houston, a high speed chase ensued over a tail light being out. Granted, the best course of action is typically to stop when police try to pull someone over, one has to ask; Is a broken tail light worth endangering innocent lives with high speed chases on crowded roadways?  Is the person fleeing the scene just because they can’t afford a hike in their insurance, or because they have drugs in the vehicle?  These are the tough choices public safety officials make in a matter of a few seconds.

The quickest path to dealing with these issues statistically is on a local government level
Cities recently affected by national stories of unarmed citizens have been forced to rethink the types of issues that force police into confrontations, New Orleans, Minneapolis, Denver, Indianapolis and Charleston are among cities taking a second look at what they are asking their police to enforce. People are beginning to speak out that they feel much of this brutality and excessive force is born out of over-enforcement of things that shouldn’t be criminal justice issues.

The War on Drugs

With few exceptions, most people agree that drug use is a detriment to society. Much of the border violence that is so heavily cited when politicians speak about immigration is a result of drug cartels that get so extremely rich from bringing drugs into the U.S. that they are willing to do so by means of force. Grassroots efforts from citizens in cooperation with city governments are starting conversations on new ways to tackle the issue.   The Denver City Council in cooperation with the District Attorney’s office started by loosening enforcement of marijuana possession laws and saw a drop in the local crime rate better than the national average. The Colorado legislature took notice and with one stroke of a pen put illegal marijuana dealers out of business by decriminalizing it.

Due to pressure by city government, District Attorneys, and advocate groups, voters in California passed Proposition 47 in November 2014, reducing some drug possession and property crime felonies to misdemeanors. In turn the estimated $150 million per year savings was reinvested to support mental health and drug abuse treatment, school truancy and dropout prevention, victim services, and other programs serving as alternatives to incarceration.

Former Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Howling said, “Nixon announced the war on drugs when I was put in charge of the narcotic enforcement effort for the Los Angeles Police Department. We have imprisoned 43 million people for nonviolent drug offenses. We fractured communities. We divided families. Each year I failed. I didn’t stop the flow of drugs. I didn’t do anything to reduce addiction. The answer is to treat drug addiction as a health problem, not a criminal justice problem. In the last 40 years we’ve spent 1.3 trillion dollars on this drug war and we’ve accomplished nothing.”

From 1980 to 2008 the number of incarcerated Americans ballooned from 500,000 to 2.3 million, with nearly half that number consisting of nonviolent offenders. The average stoner can’t put down the bag of Cheetos and turn off the cartoons long enough to commit violent acts.

Voters and city governments across America are taking up legislation and refocusing efforts on violent crimes like gang violence, rape, and murder rather than non-violent addicts, many of whom can be better served in hospitals and treatment facilities. Law enforcement themselves are pointing out the fact that branding nonviolent addicts as felons only serves to take away any job prospects due to employment background checks and turns them into ‘real’ criminals when they suddenly have no means to support themselves. Taking a new approach to drug issues has led to less chances for conflict between police and citizens.

Redirecting Police and District Attorneys

In 2011, New York City prioritized police to enforce low-level offenses resulting in more marijuana arrests in one year than the total arrests from 1981 to 1995.    In 2013, a coalition of grassroots organizations held a public forum for the Brooklyn District Attorney candidates to discuss the connections between the war on drugs and jail overcrowding. Citizens encouraged candidates to consider re-prioritizing their enforcement of low-level offenses. A similar mayoral forum was held, and citizens changed the public mindset so that both Republican and Democratic candidates publicly supported decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana and other low-level crimes. Brooklyn’s District Attorney said that his office would not prosecute low-level marijuana possessions. In response to the financial and human costs of the incarceration of low level offenses, city council members in New York City are working to change some of the City’s most common offenses from criminal to civil issues.

Cities across America are rethinking low-level offences and to what degree that enforcement improves public safety. While littering is pretty annoying, isn’t it much easier to just pick up the trash yourself rather than ask a policeman to arrest the man who threw it out?


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Jun 2015

Five Things Businesses Can Take Away from the Supreme Court Signage Ruling

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On June 18th, the Supreme Court issued a ruling on ‘REED ET AL. v. TOWN OF GILBERT, ARIZONA, ET AL. ‘.  The case was brought against the Town of Gilbert after their code enforcement issued two citations against the Clyde Reed and the Good News Community Church for leaving their directional signs out more than one hour past the end of service.

The Town argued that the ordinances were not content based as their codes were based on the purpose (election signs, directional signs, ideological signs among a total of 23 categories of temporary signage) instead of a specific message.  The Supreme Court decided that purpose is in itself is a type of communications.  As written in the majority opinion:

We hold that these provisions are content-based regulations of speech that cannot survive strict scrutiny.

On its face, the Sign Code is a content-based regulation of speech. We thus have no need to consider the government’s justifications or purposes for enacting the Code to determine whether it is subject to strict scrutiny.

So, what does that mean for you as a business?

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Nov 2013

Voterheads Radio – SC In-Depth – Columbia Strong Mayor Referendum

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A major discussion is going on in Columbia, SC as citizens there decide whether to change their form of government from council-manager to strong mayor. We’ve already posted a consolidated repository of information about the referendum on our blog. Now, we’ve taken our research a step further. This week, we asked both sides of the referendum debate to join us on our podcast at

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Aug 2013

Shoulda Had a VH!

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South Carolina’s capital city has been awash the past few days with controversy over a recent proposal passed by City Council to address what many refer to as the city’s increasingly visible “homeless problem.” Voices raging from all sectors of the community, from the small business owners on Main St to lawyers to bed and breakfast owners to homeless rights advocates to city council members, are so numerous and heated that it’s hard not to get swept up in the debate. Not even just the national media has picked this up — but so has local press in Detroit and elsewhere.

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Jul 2013

Columbia: The Bull St. Redevelopment

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There’s been a lot of hype recently in Columbia about the redevelopment of the State Hospital property on Bull St, and time is getting short for the public to voice their opinions about it in the hopes of swaying their elected officials. The City Council meets Tuesday (7/9) for the final vote on the agreement, which, if approved, will involve an infrastructure investment by the City of $31.25 million. The public has been divided over the subject, though, and an editorial in The State Sunday called for the Council to postpone the vote in order to allow more time to educate the public about the project and garner public support. Mayor Benjamin and the Council have already shown their commitment to listening to the public’s concerns — they’re in the process of adjusting the agreement based on concerns raised at last Monday’s hearing.

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Feb 2013

The Special Election Special

Posted by / in Ballot Research, Issues / No comments yet

Filing closed a week ago on Monday, January 28th, for candidates running in SC’s 1st U.S. Congressional District Special Election. This election is being held to replace the seat of former U.S. Representative Tim Scott (R.) when he resigned and was appointed to the U.S. Senate seat following Jim DeMint’s resignation in Dec. 2012. The primaries will be held on March 19, 2013, a runoff (if necessary) would be held on April 2, 2013, and the general election will be on May 7, 2013.

Special elections are often perceived to give newcomers or less-well-known hopefuls a greater chance both to file as a candidate and to achieve victory, although the large number of filed candidates this year could thwart the aspirations of many simply due to too many choices of too similar candidates. With a whopping 16-candidate list on the Republican primary ballot (making a runoff likely) and a much more tightly contested Democratic ballot, this special election season should prove an interesting one.

We’ve compiled a directory for all of the 19 candidates, with a brief bio and reference links, so you’ll have all you need to stay informed and connected. We’ll also keep you updated as the election nears with news and ballot information, but in the meantime, take a look at the candidates below and tell us what you think in the comment section, on Facebook, or via Twitter (@voterheads).

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Jan 2013

Another Penny Passed: What a recent S.C. county tax means for everyone, in Richland County and beyond

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If you live in South Carolina, you’ve probably heard of the Penny Transportation Tax passed in the recent election by voters of Richland County. “Richland County?” you might scoff if you live elsewhere, “What do I care about Richland County?” Now, wait just a minute. Not only does this tax affect anyone living in or visiting Richland County (supporters say nearly half of the revenue generated will come from non-residents), but it has implications for every other county and region as municipal and state governments are facing increasingly difficult decisions about how to improve infrastructure in the current penny-pinching economic climate. Tax referendums have been popping up all over the nation, to varying degrees of results. It’s certainly noteworthy that Richland County, SC, voted to support this 1% sales tax increase only four months after nine regions of Georgia, including the Atlanta region — one of the most traffic- and transportation-troubled regions in the country — shot down just such a tax.

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