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GMA Presses Forward to Best Serve Its Members

August 22, 2017  |  By Bill Thornton, GMA Interim Executive Director
This article appeared in the September 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Bill Thornton
 At our Annual Convention in June, we recognized the many contributions Lamar Norton made to our association and presented him with the Key Citizen Award, GMA’s highest honor, before bidding him farewell at the end of July. Many of you have inquired about the staff and how we’re faring during the transition. I want to assure you that while we will miss Lamar and his leadership, the staff here remains dedicated to the mission of GMA, and with the active engagement of the membership, we are delivering on it every day.
 
Our governmental relations staff is working with the Legislative Policy Council to lay the groundwork for a successful 2018 legislative session and anticipates various proposals of concern to city officials to be debated, ranging from preemption of city rights-of-way for broadband Internet deployment to limitations on increases in property assessments, and mandatory minimum pay for local law enforcement officers. With state-level and legislative offices in play in 2018, GMA will soon launch the “2018 Capitol Connection” initiative to highlight the issues important to cities during the election cycle via online communications, debates and various candidate forums statewide. Through this resource, I encourage local officials to be strong municipal advocates and educated on the positions of each candidate for higher office takes.
 
The association’s federal advocacy efforts also continue in earnest. With the support of the Federal Policy Council, we continue to promote our key legislative priorities of e-Fairness, preservation of the municipal bond tax exemption and infrastructure funding. On the regulatory side, we are actively involved in opposing efforts by the FCC to preempt local authority to regulate the public rights-of-way.
 
With guidance from the Member Services Advisory Council, potential financial management and information technology services will be among the initiatives evaluated in the coming months. The Municipal Workforce Development Task Force has transformed into an advisory committee that will focus on implementing a series of recommendations to help cities attract and retain qualified employees.
 
GMA also continues to provide workshops and regional training opportunities to meet the needs of its members. A workshop series to discuss the deployment of small cell antennas and the association’s model Master Right-of-Way agreement, as well as a summit focused on the role cities can play in addressing the alarming opioid epidemic are examples of events planned this month. These events are in addition to the many classes being offered through the Municipal Training Institute and professional development conferences.
 
Implementation of HB 146, the Firefighter Cancer Insurance bill, which becomes effective on January 1, 2018, is another key priority, and we’re pleased to be in the final stages of identifying a carrier that will provide the required coverage at the lowest possible costs with the best plan design available.
 
The Georgia Cities Foundation was recently awarded a $1.5 million federal grant that will allow it to provide even more low-interest loans to downtown projects. The foundation is also providing hands-on educational opportunities for city officials in the form of the new Heart & Soul Downtown Workshop.
 
Of course, we recognize that our ability to provide quality, responsive service to the membership depends on strong internal support. We are fortunate to have a team of dedicated staff members who, while not often visible to city officials, work diligently to ensure GMA is financially strong and has the needed tools and resources to operate effectively.
 
It’s an honor to serve such a great organization, and on behalf of the staff we salute the city officials who inspire us and work so passionately to make Georgia cities a great place to work, live and play.