In the 112 years since its founding, the Virginia Municipal League continues to help local governments “secure a better administration of municipal affairs” as charged by the League’s first president, Samuel Buxton. With a mission to assist local governments through legislative advocacy, research, and education, VML serves as a clearinghouse for information, a medium through which local leaders cooperate to improve the quality of life in Virginia.
VML’s Executive Committee and staff strive to exceed the vision established in 2014. With that in mind, the League’s accomplishments for 2016-2017 are detailed here.
Lobbying and advocacy
VML continues to have a strong working relationship with the current governor and we have made contact with members of both campaigns to build a similar relationship with the next governor. This year we were very successful in ensuring that localities retained their land use authority when regulating short term rentals. There was also great success in limiting the wireless infrastructure bill to only co-location on existing structures. Our legislative priorities and policy statements continue to be vital to our lobbying efforts and we are grateful to our policy and legislative committee members for their time and commitment to local government.
We have established a Federal Advisory Council that developed a federal policy statement and we hosted our first reception on the Hill. This group will continue to monitor legislation on the Federal level and provide reports.
VML Day at the Capitol
On Jan. 25, 2017, VML hosted local government officials at the Capitol for the annual networking event with members of the General Assembly. In between meetings with delegates and senators, local officials heard about legislative issues from VML staff and subject-matter experts. This year’s briefing addressed short-term rental issues, stormwater regulations and legislation concerning wireless infrastructure and broadband.
Education and training
Annual Conference and Virginia Mayors Institute
VML’s annual conference has always delivered the latest updates on hot-button issues affecting local governments relayed by nationally recognized experts. The 2016 event in Virginia Beach was no exception. Legislative advocacy at the state and national level was the focus of several sessions. Breakout sessions and roundtables provided an array of best practices. Networking events offered fun laid-back evenings for 500+ conferees to build collegial relationships in an atmosphere of good food, good friends, and great entertainment. A highlight for many was hearing remarks from former astronaut and NFL player Leland Melvin as the keynote speaker for the closing session.
The annual Finance Forum prior to the start of the General Assembly provides an excellent opportunity for local elected officials and staff to learn about fiscal issues. The 2017 event was held Jan. 4 at the Omni Richmond. Topics included the state budget and a state revenue outlook; a Virginia economic forecast and its possible effect on local budgets; the effect of changes in employment on Virginia’s economy; the maker movement and its implications for local economies; and how local officials can weigh in on the 2017 session of the General Assembly. The forum is a joint effort of VML and the Virginia Association of Counties.
Virginia Leadership Academy
For 2017, VML updated the name of the Virginia Elected Officials Leadership Academy to Virginia Leadership Academy, reflecting the program’s benefit for local appointed and elected officials. Through an interactive curriculum of specialized instruction, the academy develops the knowledge and enhances the leadership abilities of those who serve the localities of the Commonwealth of Virginia. With three levels of achievement, the Leadership Academy promotes continuing education, advanced training, and participation in regional boards and task forces. To date, nearly 700 people have participated in Academy webinars and in-person events. Join VML in congratulating 2017’s Academy graduates at the VML conference, Oct. 3, and check the conference packet for dates of 2017-2018 seminars and webinars.
Institute for Local Officials
Recently-elected officials and veterans of local service alike can benefit from training and education on critical issues for leaders. To support that, VML updated the Newly Elected Officials Conference to the Institute for Local Officials in 2017. The two-day event in March covered topics such as comprehensive planning, council/manager relations, the Dillon rule, and budgeting. It also addressed the Freedom of Information Act, Conflicts of Interest Act, and public officials’ liability.
For several years, VML has conducted supper meetings around the state to provide local government officials with timely information. In spring 2017, VML visited Appomattox, Culpeper, Emporia, Marion, Onancock, and Williamsburg. Each of the regional suppers addressed an issue of importance to the region, such as downtown revitalization, tourism, or short-term rentals. They also included a review of the 2017 legislation session. In addition, VML staff used the meetings to learn about issues affecting members and gathered ideas for ways the league can better serve cities, towns, and counties across the Commonwealth.
VML is continuously evaluating its communications strategy to respond to changes in technologies and readers’ preferences. Virginia Town & City is published 10 times per year and highlights people, programs, and organizations who are making positive changes across Virginia. VML also publishes an email newsletter twice a month and email alerts as needed to communicate time-sensitive information to subscribers. For those using newer media, the VML Facebook page and VML app are other avenues to learn about important topics and events in government. Training webinars are another new communication tool from VML which provide the same valuable information as our in-person events but from the convenience of the participant’s office.
The Innovation Awards recognize outstanding achievements in local governments across Virginia. Formerly the VML Achievement Awards, the program is 40 years old and is recognized as Virginia’s highest honor in local government management. While all of the 2016 nominations were inspiring examples of strong local government in action, a few excelled in wowing VML staff and the judging committee.
The Town of Bridgewater won the Economic Development Award and the top honor, The President’s Award, for their Generations Park – a regional recreation destination. In the Infrastructure category, the City of Norton took top honors for a community gateway and walking trail. The City of Newport News received the Public Safety Award for a summer training and enrichment program. A student postcard project earned the Town of Warrenton the Working with Youth Award. The City of Harrisonburg’s Safety Sally initiative took home the Communications Award.
Congratulations again to the 2016 recipients. 2017 awardees will be announced Oct. 3 and published in the October issue of Virginia Town & City.
Financial process upgrades
During the 2016-17 fiscal year, VML saw their financial procedures upgraded and expanded. The League now accepts online payments for events by credit card. The majority of accounting processes are also paperless allowing for quicker access and less storage space. The 2015-2016 fiscal audit was completed timely with positive results; the 2016-2017 audit is in the final stages.
For three years, VML has invited Virginia seventh graders to describe what they would do as mayor to make their cities and towns great places to live. The If I were Mayor essay contest provides students the opportunity to reflect on the important role of elected officials in their own city or town. In January 2017, VML recognized eight winners, awarding each a $150 cash prize and plaque. Of those, Trey Mitchell of Lawrenceville was designated the statewide winner and received a $250 prize. The winners, along with their teachers, attended a special ceremony in Richmond with Governor McAuliffe. To date, nearly 3,000 children have participated.
Healthy living: 2017 president’s priority
Gordonsville Mayor Bob Coiner made promoting healthier lifestyles the focus of his 2017 VML presidency. VML partnered with the Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Cities & Towns Campaign to share ways local governments can adopt policies that stem the obesity epidemic and create healthy, prosperous communities. HEAL contributed monthly articles to Virginia Town & City throughout 2017. VML also added a community health category to the annual Innovation Awards to recognize programs that encourage active lifestyle programs, nutrition education, and improving access to healthier food choices.
Early childhood education: 2016 president’s priority
A passionate advocate for early childhood education, Blacksburg Mayor Ron Rordam chose it for the theme for 2016 during his presidency. VML established Stairway to Success to encourage and recognize initiatives that give children tools to enter schools ready to excel. A friendly competition among VML member localities, the program awards points to localities for specific actions that enhance early childhood experience. In October 2016, VML recognized 23 localities that achieved Gold Status in the first year of the Stairway to Success Program. 2017 recipients will be announced next month at the VML annual conference in Williamsburg.
Executive mansion ornaments
In the past two years, nearly 200 localities contributed stunning handmade ornaments to adorn a holiday tree at the Executive Mansion. Thousands of visitors from across the country toured the mansion and viewed the ornaments, learning about the diverse heritage of Virginia’s cities, towns, and counties.