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Podcast: Supporting Main Street with Richard Berry, Kauffman Mayors Council

Posted on July 28, 2020



Richard Berry

Richard J. Berry
Consultant
Former Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico
Twitter | LinkedIn


Lessons from the Great Recession. Richard Berry, former Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico, joined the podcast to talk about the work of the Kauffman Mayors’ Council and the long term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. He shared what it was like to go through the Great Recession and the need to support local businesses. He also discussed how Albuquerque supported entrepreneurs through accelerator programs and changing the regulatory environment.

This interview is part of a four part series with the Kauffman Mayors’ Council. The Mayors’ Council harnesses the knowledge and experience of former mayors to support cities across the county in efforts to build equitable community wealth.

Host: Alyssa Dinberg

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Episode Transcript

Alyssa Dinberg

Coming to you from Denver, Colorado. This is GovLove, a podcast about local government. GovLove is produced by ELGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Alyssa Dinberg, and I’m excited to welcome the former Mayor of Albuquerque, New Mexico RJ Berry. Today we’re finishing up our four part series with members of the Kauffman Mayors’ Council. If you missed the previous episodes, we spoke with Mayor, former Mayor Sly James, Mark Stodola and Betsy Hodges. Former Mayor Richard Berry served as Mayor of Albuquerque from 2009 to 2017. During his tenure Albuquerque was recognized as one of the best cities in America. Richard guided the city through the Great Recession while maintaining a triple A rating from Standard and Poor’s, which makes him an ideal guest for today’s topic, where we have an in depth conversation about some of the lessons learned from the great recession and how those can guide us, those can guide our recovery efforts today. Welcome to GovLove RJ.

Richard Berry

Hey, Alyssa, good day to you.

Alyssa Dinberg

I’m super excited to have you on today. I know that I’m gonna learn a whole lot from you. And I hope our listeners enjoy it as well.

Richard Berry

Well, thanks for having me. I really appreciate the opportunity.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, so this episode is one in a four part series with the Kauffman Mayors’ Council. We’ve talked to all four members with a number of topics and the reflections on the current public health crisis and efforts on the economic recovery and we’re excited to round this off, round this series off with Mayor Berry. So let’s get started with one of GovLove’s signature lightning rounds. We do this with every episode. And these questions are just meant to be fun questions for our listeners to get to know you. Are you ready?

Richard Berry

Sure. All right.

Alyssa Dinberg

So the first one, if animals could talk, which animal would be the most annoying when testifying during a council meeting?

Richard Berry

Hmm. I’d have to go with a bird, a parrot. Got to tell you there’s nothing more meaningful when the public shows up to a community meeting, a council meeting in a town hall, expresses their opinion, puts their heartfelt thoughts and ideas on the table. But there’s nothing that’s more discouraging than someone that just shows up and just parrots one thing after another and doesn’t really have a thoughtful take. So I would have to go with the parrot.

Alyssa Dinberg

I actually, when I wrote this question, I was thinking the same exact thing. I think a parrot would be pretty annoying [laughter] yeah. Okay, so next question. And I’ve been asking this question to pretty much everybody that I’ve interviewed during this time, just because I think it’s helpful for not only me, but our listeners. What is your best self-care tip in the time of quarantine?

Richard Berry

Oh, short of being able to give yourself a good haircut, I would say, do something creative. Make something. I think we’re wired to, to make things. We’re wired to have projects as humans. And so, so take a little time. I mean, it’s really busy for lots of folks, if you’re working out of your house, if you’re taking care of your kids, if you’re, you know, homeschooling while you’re trying to work out of your house. I know time is short, but you know, we’re wired to create. So try to give yourself permission to take a little time to step aside and make something maybe play some music, right, learn something new. So, you know, post pandemic, you can look back and think about what you learned and taught yourself. Make masks, you know, we’re doing some of that as a family here. Do something for others. Use your hearts, your hands and your brain and I think that’s a, that’s a good advice to help you get through.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, I think, so I don’t know about your friend circle, but I know that a lot of my friends have taken up cooking and bread making and I think that’s probably one of the reasons just getting something being productive and making something and clearing your mind while you’re doing it. I know that I personally have been cooking a ton, which has been nice.

Richard Berry

Yeah, we love to cook. My wife’s a fantastic cook. I like to pitch in and, and I think you know, when we look back on this time, if we can say that we used it as an opportunity to expand ourselves a little bit during a difficult time, I think that’ll be a good thing.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, great answer. All right. So my next question, you’re sitting next to a stranger on an airplane, and they ask you, what do you do for work? How do you answer this question?

Richard Berry

Well, lots of times I’ll say I’m a builder, spent most of my career decades in the past, building commercial businesses, restaurants, shopping centers, homes for families, campgrounds, corps of engineers, projects, and others. And so once I got into elected office, I was a state legislator first. And then I was fortunate enough to be a mayor of a great American city. I enjoyed really building teams, you know, building teams of talented people, diverse groups of individuals to help us tackle some of these complex urban issues. And so then together we tried to build community bridges with consensus when possible and build initiatives that we thought would really help our community. So I guess, I guess builder, metaphorically and literally and figuratively would be, would probably be my answer.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s great. What do you do now that you are a former mayor?

Richard Berry

Well, I’m fortunate enough to work with the Kauffman Foundation with three, three other mayors who did a fantastic job for their cities. I do some work on some Board of Directors. I work with one group that’s involved with one of our pueblos here in New Mexico. So we’re really thrilled about that from a business development standpoint. Still, still engaged and doing some consulting and then, of course, we’re always builders at heart. So we’re, we’re always puttering around with some project or the other.

Alyssa Dinberg

I love that you’re saying involved in the community. That’s really great.

Richard Berry

Yeah, I tell you, you know, it just gets, you know, it’s such a humbling and beautiful thing and a blessing to get to be a mayor, especially, you know, especially in a city that has a good heart like Albuquerque. And so yeah, you want to stay connected. I’m doing some nonprofit boards. I’m on the Boy Scout Board. I’m on the United Way board and some other things. So just really, it’s really nice when you’re finished being Mayor that folks would reach out and still ask you to be part of the community.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, absolutely. So my last question, I ask everybody that I interview this question, and I think that the listeners have started to expect it from me. If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?

Richard Berry

Go ahead. I didn’t mean to interrupt your question.

Alyssa Dinberg

Oh, no, go for it.

Richard Berry

Well, yeah, I’ve listened to some of your other work and I knew you might ask that, so as a direct, as a direct result of free time during the shutdown, I decided that I was going to go on the web and see if I could find a website that would quiz me to find out what my spirit vegetable is.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yes.

Richard Berry

I’m being completely serious here. So,

Alyssa Dinberg

I know people sent this to me. I had many listeners tweet just to me actually.

Richard Berry

Yeah, chalk that up to free time. So, as it turns out, according to this one website, after answering all these rather personal questions, I’m apparently a butternut squash.

Alyssa Dinberg

Really?

Richard Berry

Because according to the website, my answers led them to believe that I am, quote, a little mysterious on the outside. But once roasted, you’ll find these puppies are filled with more sweet goodness than a cup of honey, unquote. So I guess that’s better than my first thought, which was gonna be rhubarb.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s amazing. I think that’s like, one of the best answers. And honestly, that quiz is has probably been one of my favorite parts about quarantine. Like, I just love that somebody thought to make a quiz about what vegetable you were.

Richard Berry

You know, it’s all about farm to table these days, so why not get in touch with your and as it turns out, I do love, I do love butternut squash.

Alyssa Dinberg

I do too. It’s one of my favorites.

Richard Berry

My wife does a fantastic job cooking that.

Alyssa Dinberg

So good. Alright, so let’s shift our attention a little bit to the Mayors’ Council. So if you are ready, I have a question for you.

Richard Berry

Sure. Yeah please.

Alyssa Dinberg

All right. So you served as the Mayor of a major city in the southwest during our country’s last economic recession. Can you talk a little bit about what the cities will be facing soon in terms of navigating hard decisions they’ll have to make around budgeted services? And I guess, what are some of the lessons that you learned during the last economic recession?

Richard Berry

Well, gosh, yeah. So I think let’s start with there’s no question that many in most cities are going to face some tough sledding, especially when it comes to their fiscal year 21-22 budgets. That’s just going to be a reality like it was during the Great Recession, and I think the mayor’s are going to find themselves and their staff and their budget staff are going to find themselves really coming closer together during these difficult times, they’re going to create and forge friendships with other cities and, and staff and mayors that are going through the same thing. So I know some of my best friends in mayordom were folks that we, you know, we all struggled through the Great Recession together. So I think, you know, you’re gonna find that cities are strapped for revenues, they’re going to have to make some tough choices over the next couple of years. I think some of the choices are going to depend on the shortfalls in each individual city, it’s going to be determined by what their sources of revenues are. Most cities, as you know, are heavily reliant on some type of sales tax. And those have been significantly impacted by the shutdown orders that you know, most states are under including New Mexico. Counties, I think a lot of them have a property tax base that tend to be a little more stable source of revenue, but I think that each city is gonna have to make some of these policy decisions based on what their belief is, as far as how long the shortfalls will last. You know, during the Great Recession that myself and others governed through, we had to take a long term approach, you know, we really had the American family, it was upside down their balance sheet. It wasn’t going to be something that was a V curve. And I don’t think we know yet with this pandemic, what this this will be. But, you know, we had to basically look at this from the long term, meaning that, you know, we couldn’t do things on the short term, short term fixes. We felt like furloughs, for example. If you have a short term situation in front of you, for most makes sense. You can, you know, reduce your expenditures for the short term, and then when revenues pop back fairly quickly, you’re back, you know, you’re back in the saddle and moving forward. But in, in Albuquerque, for example, in 2009, we faced a budget shortfall that was exceeding 65 million dollars. So we had to cut recurring expenses quickly, which meant that we needed to have a new baseline budget. Other cities were in the same boat. I think you saw, if you look back at that time, you saw 10s of thousands of police and fire personnel laid off, you saw some really draconian things that that had to happen. In Albuquerque, we thought about layoffs, we thought about furloughs, we decided to take a little bit different approach. We thought, well, if we could, you know, re-balance our structural deficit by cutting pay across the board, that might be a way to keep people employed, keep services whole and cause you know, the least amount of harm to families. We didn’t have to lay people off and you know, they’d have to face that devastation. So we cut directors and myself and others 5%, firefighters and police officers took about two and a half percent pay cut. We tried to hold folks under 30,000 harmless and they took little or no pay cut. So you know, these cities are going to have to and towns and counties are going to have to make some, you know, difficult decisions, some of them will not be popular, certainly. But I think if they, if they take a shorter term approach, they’ll make different decisions than if they if they take a long drawn out recession approach, and that’s on the expense side. And I think on the revenue side, you’re going to see everything from tax increases to increased fees to maybe some cities will decide to do most things on the expenditure side and not do revenue enhancements. So it’ll be an interesting post pandemic study of how folks handle it.

Alyssa Dinberg

Are there, if you could go back in time, is there anything that you would have done differently?

Richard Berry

Well, yeah, that’s a that’s a great question. It’s a tough question. And hindsight is always 2020. I think, I think from the standpoint in Albuquerque, of not having to do these mass layoffs, and devastate families with pink slips and to try to go out in the community and, and keep services intact as much as we possibly could during a very difficult time. I think I look back on that and I feel good about that. And I think that was the right thing to do. We were able to, you know, when things started to improve, we were able to try to make, especially the collective bargaining units whole, there were several lawsuits involved. And we, you know, did what we said we would do, which was when things get better, try to get you back to as much as possible, still able to, you know, give our police officers raises throughout the recession of almost gosh, 19% maybe, would be the number I recall over the years. So, I just think, you know, there’s always something you could do differently and people are going to and are actually currently, you know, criticizing some officials around the country now for the way they’re handling certain things. But look, when you’re in the middle of a crisis, you do what you what you think is right. You do what you think the science is pointing you towards. And then you just stand up in front of your community and say we’re doing the best we can and if you have ideas, we’re listening and then pass those on to us.

Alyssa Dinberg

Absolutely. So my next question, I’m really interested to hear your response is, because a, it talks directly to my generation and a lot of the conversations that my peers and friends are having right now. And so there’s been a lot of focus on millennials lately. And as a generation that’s seen two critical shocks now in our early adult life, the recession had a huge impact on student loan debt, marriage, home ownership and families. I mean, I know that I personally was a, I guess I was a freshman/sophomore in college when the great recession hit. Umm, how important is it that the well being of the millennial generation to cities, and what can be done to offset these setbacks?

Richard Berry

Well, you’re it. I mean, your leadership is going to be paramount, not just today, but moving forward. You’re taking this place over and by this place, I mean, your cities, your state, your country and the world. Here’s the good news. When I was mayor, I had an incredibly bright staff full of millennials. And I had a community full of creative individuals, many from the millennial generation. And so I built this tremendous belief that your generation has everything you need to get through this and look, lots of generations, most generations have had setbacks, whether its wars, pandemics, pestilence, whatever it happens to be. And I don’t think there’s any generation that’s any more capable or virtuoso than any other and that includes millennial’s. And so, you know, as Americans, we’ve always shown that we’ve had the grit and frankly, the ability to know suck it up and handle the challenges that we have at hand. And I just, I just know in my heart that millennials will rise to that challenge. Now, that being said, there’s absolutely things we can do to help. When we had our veterans returning from war, we had the GI Bill, it was designed to help with lots of things, lots of challenges that come about when that generation had to postpone their dreams and ambitions to go serve their country. There’s no question that our country’s done a poor job in making higher education affordable and that excessive student loan debt is frankly just robbing many in your generation of opportunity. So let’s take a look. Let’s get creative. Let’s do some of the things and learn some lessons from the past. Let’s figure out some incentives. If you’re a millennial and you’ve got student loan debt, and you’re willing to step up to the plate and start a new business, maybe take over a family business, maybe you know, we’ve incentivized teachers in the past, tell we’ve forgiven student loan debt if they’re willing to move to rural areas or areas that are more challenging than others. I think that that our folks at the state and federal levels should really be looking at some kind of a package to offer to your generation to help offset some of those student loan costs, help you get capitalized for your futures, and, and make things you know, access to capital and all the things that that other folks need, like entrepreneurs. And so it, there’s things that can be done, but I just I just go back to this idea that I just have a ton of confidence in your generation and as someone who’s in my mid 50s now, I know as you know, as I move out of the workforce, and you guys all take over, that things will be, things will be good. You’re you’re capable and you’re passionate and I’m looking forward to watching you lead.

Alyssa Dinberg

Thank you. Hearing that from somebody from a generation above me definitely gives me hope and I, I am constantly reminding myself that every generation has had had, has had upsets. And this just happens to be ours.

Richard Berry

Yeah, my son’s is just coming out of college. And I just, you know, I see him and his buddies and his friends and just, once again whether, you know, he may be a little young to be a millennial, but you’re all gonna be fine. And we’re gonna be fine with your leadership.

Alyssa Dinberg

Well, thank you. And so we have a lot of data now that shows deep variations in places that were covered and places that didn’t. Some of it is geographically based and some of it is industry based. Can you talk a little bit about why cities were slower to recover and why the numbers are not always the best indicator of the whole story?

Richard Berry

Sure. Yeah. No, I think that we’re gonna be in the same boat with COVID-19. You’re, you know, cities are being hurt economically, and one of the things you learned as a mayor is that as much as we all like to think we’re unique, many cities are the same. But as much as you want to think that cities are the same local economies are very diverse, and everyone has a unique thing. That’s why cities are so great, you know, every place is its own place. So I think one of the things that that we learned during the Great Recession is that no two cities were impacted exactly the same. If you came from a city that had manufacturing based economy, you were impacted differently than places that had agrarian economies and cities with high tech industries and universities were impacted differently than tourism based economies. We’re seeing the same thing now. And you’re going to see different recovery timeframes, just as certain cities, you know, fell into the economic crisis. You know, with COVID-19 faster than others, you’re going to see people recover differently. I was reading recently, some information from Brookings, and they talk about the job losses through mid March really concentrated in very large metro areas and those job losses were concentrated. Some of them and lots of them in the West, certainly New York as well. And you know, cities that that took early measures to to stop the spread of the virus like Seattle took an early hit, cities that have specializations such as tourism like Las Vegas and Reno took a hit, energy based economies like you know, Bakersfield, Houston, Beaumont, Texas, folks that have an economy based on what happens with oil prices, you know, have suffered a lot. One of my former staffers is the, the CAO in New Orleans and New Orleans has had its set of challenges as I as I’ve watched them through the local news and they’re working really hard and doing a great job to try to bring back you know, their local economy that’s built on tourism and travel and, and things like that. So I think that you will see places that have lesser declines, maybe folks that are built around technology and healthcare. So as we start the recovery, I think the good news for some of the hardest hit cities is as they went in faster and deeper because of the shutdowns that were put in place. I think when we start to rebound, and once some of those restrictions are lifted, and once people start feeling more comfortable gathering together again, whether that’s after a vaccine or some other breakthrough, I think they will, they will see some, some quicker up side than some of the cities that took a longer deeper trench in and that will take a longer path out of, of the pandemic. So I think one thing you know, this comes from a Kauffman perspective, certainly, as being on the Mayor’s Council, I think entrepreneurs are gonna lead the way and there’s going to be people that say spent decades building wealth and building businesses that are going to see that wiped out overnight. So all of us can help with mainstream local business, you know, local governments can set policies and help with, you know, bridge loans and, and, and, and some, you know, grants, states can help, the federal government can help. But I think like most downturns its going to be entrepreneurs and Main Street businesses that that really forge our path forward. So I think we should all be trying to support local businesses and doing everything we can on that front as well.

Alyssa Dinberg

So I know you’re not an economist, but based on your experience being a mayor in a large city during the last recession, how does this compare and how do you feel? How long do you feel like it’s going to take for us to get back to “normal”?

Richard Berry

Gosh, you know, I think that that’s changing every day. What I was thinking, what I was thinking, I’m on a board for an organization, and the discussions that we were having two months ago are much different than the discussions we’re having today. And, and so I think we recognized early on, you know, when I took office in 2009, we had just lost oh, my gosh, 23,000 jobs in the metro here in the MSA in Albuquerque. And because of the nature of that recession, we really felt like it was going to be a long haul. With COVID-19 I think it’s science dependent. I think it’s dependent on how folks interact with each other and how good of a job we do. Getting ourselves in a place where we can get back together more often. I certainly think there’s going to be a new normal as this goes on. I think you’re going to see a lot of innovation happening. Well, you know, we’ll talk about that hopefully a little bit during this our time together today, but you know, there’s going to be changes, things are going to be different. I don’t know, if in a couple of years we’ll look back and it’ll be a distant memory. Or if we will look back and say, gosh, remember, we didn’t wear masks in public. Remember when we used to get together at a concert and jam ourselves elbow to elbow in the in the, you know, at the front of the stage. I hope we get back to that, because I’m such a fan of just being with people that, that we can do that. But I think psychologically, there’s going to be a big impact that may take as long or longer than the medical side of things.

Alyssa Dinberg

Absolutely. Yeah, I would definitely agree that the psychological impact of this is going to be huge. I know that me personally, like the thought of going to a concert right now is, no thank you. I’m good.

Richard Berry

Yeah, yeah, we went my wife and I went to church for the first time in a couple of months, you know, this Sunday, and we, you know, every other pews marked off and one family per row and, and, you know, 25% capacity per our Governor’s orders, and it was great to have some normalcy and get back to church. But on the other hand, you know, looking forward, I think you’re going to see, you’re going to see things different. And like I say, even when we get past this and we will, like I say, whether that’s through a vaccine or through the, you know, the herd immunity or all the things that we hear the scientists and doctors talk about. That’ll be one thing, but I think people, certain people will get used to certain things, and their behaviors will change.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah. So as everyone knows Coronavirus has not just impacted the United States, it’s impacted essentially every single country, especially countries with very dense cities. And what impact do you see this having on urban policy and development and will we see a migration out from cities as a result?

Richard Berry

That’s a really good question. And as a student of you know, even post mayor’s a student of cities, i just love to read newspapers, study what’s going on around the country with different metro areas, you know, we’ve seen we’ve seen lots of things, migration ins into cities, migration out of cities, to the suburbs back to the inner cities. And I think, you know, going back, I’m old enough to remember, you know, as a young man coming out of college, you know, New York City, for example, is a much different place than it is today. And people were not as interested in living in certain cities. Well, over the last number of years, you’ve seen lots of folks really wanted to live in cities, they wanted to be around public transportation, they wanted to be in walkable environments. They wanted to have, you know, dozens of great restaurants within walking distance, they wanted that lifestyle, they wanted a smaller footprint for their for their living space. And so what we started to see was poverty, heading to the suburbs and concentrating there because it was more affordable place to be. It was it was a place where property values were declining while the inner city property values were climbing. So with this, starting to read some articles about folks wanting to move out of the congestion of cities, moving back to the suburbs, that will be another shift, whether that’s a long term thing, or a short term thing based on how the pandemic you know, goes from here forward, I think is yet to be determined. But I think that cities have been really concentrating on their on their urban cores. I think that’s important. We certainly did that when I was mayor. Almost every Mayor that I knew around the country had some effort going to improve the core of their cities. I think you’ll see that continue. I think as we start to innovate around built environments, based on the pandemic and those lessons learned, I think you’ll see some changes. But I think in general, as long as cities, the folks that live in cities, their elected officials concentrate on their urban core, I think I think their recourse still has a bright future.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, it’s definitely interesting to think about how our planners are going to be designing cities moving forward, because as you mentioned earlier, like, are we going to be wearing masks for the next five to 10 years? Are we going to have to be socially distant for the next five to 10 years? Who knows? And that’s going to drastically impact the way that we build buildings, it’s going to drastically impact the way we build everything around us.

Richard Berry

Yeah, yeah.

Alyssa Dinberg

I mean to see how it evolves.

Richard Berry

You know I was involved in the design, build business as a contractor. And I know there are architects currently working on new designs for restaurants. There are new designs for office plate spaces. I mean, you’re seeing like the really early and rudimentary signs when you go to the store. Now you know, pieces of Plexiglas lapped up between you and the cashier. You’re going to see a you know, and in from an economic and an innovation standpoint, you know necessity is the mother of invention, and you’re going to see some really cool and interesting things happening. And people I think, are going to concentrate on normalizing those things. So it won’t be just a piece of plastic between you and your fellow human. It is going to be a better filtration system, air changes, things, you know, heppa filters is going to is, you know, as we learn more about how the virus is transmitted, we’ll be, you know, less interested in one area more so than others, and you will see people step up to that challenge and, and, you know, I’ve got a nephew that works for one of the big three out there, you know, you can, you know, you know, I won’t say the company name, but he works for one of the mega corporations, and they’ve told him that he’s gonna be working from home for a long, long time. Maybe for further, you know, for not just the foreseeable future, but that just maybe the new normal. So I think you’re going to see interesting home office applications coming around. You’re going to see just, you know, the upside of a crappy situation is you’re going to see some cool things come out of it.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah, I think one of my favorite things that I’ve seen so far, so I live in Denver, we are known for our fantastic weather. And one of the things that the City and County of Denver has done is shut down a lot of the streets to not only allow, umm allow more room for people to walk and recreate, but also for restaurants to expand their outdoor seating. And I personally love being able to sit down, sit out on a patio and eat and so the concept of expanding further out, it’s just it’s really exciting to me. A really great way to innovate.

Richard Berry

Yeah, say hi to Mayor Hancock, if you see him.

Alyssa Dinberg

I will.

Richard Berry

And, and I think so, and you know, it’s an opportunity maybe to get rid of some of the asphalt we’ve got around everywhere. We’ve got these enormous parking lots. And we’re going to need to maybe do some more social distancing. So let’s use that as an opportunity. I think you’ll see when you go to the grocery store, now you see one way aisles, I think we’re gonna see some of those kinds of efforts put into place as well. So I think the restaurants have suffered mightily, of course, during these shutdowns because you, you know, you’re, if you’ve lost two months of serving people meals, those people aren’t going to come back and eat two, two months worth of meals in one siting and they’re going to it’s gonna take a long time, and that money’s just gone. So I think, I think you’re gonna see some pretty creative things happening there as well. But urban planners are going to have an out sized importance. You know, they’ve always been incredibly important, but they’re going to, they’re going to really be having to step up here and talk about how we tackle this thing moving forward.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about the stimulus packages. I’m curious to hear what you think. So direct city relief funding has very largely favored large cities, and the two major stimulus packages we’ve seen from the federal government to this point, only cities over 500,000 were allowed to apply directly for the stimulus funds and the Cares Act. Can you talk a little bit about why this could be problematic?

Richard Berry

Sure. Let’s go back a little bit to and let’s talk about some of the lessons learned from the Great Recession. I think, I think one of the things that myself and other mayor’s really recognized and really pushed for, we and did not get done during the Great Recession was more local control. So much of that stimulus money during the Great Recession went to states and that was then filtered down to the metros. I think it would behoove all of us, including Congress and the folks that are that are appropriating these dollars in the administration to really think about, get those dollars directly as much as possible to the local folks. They know their communities. They have their finger on the pulse, of their cities, and it will help. It will help accelerate some of the recovery. Nothing wrong with states but don’t forget about getting that money down locally. So the Cares Act, what $2.2 trillion of that Cares Act. That’s a lot of money. Billions of that is coming to cities. The initial response, I think was pretty well thought out. Let’s, you know, cities are where people are going to go, including from rural areas if they get sick with COVID-19. So let’s concentrate on the populations that have trauma one centers, places that have facilities that can help us navigate through this because you can’t just send dollars to smaller communities that don’t have capacity on the medical side and expect that to work. So I don’t know why they picked a half a million in threshold on that. I know the US Conference of Mayors is fighting mightily to try to get that threshold moved to 50,000, which, you know, that coincides with CDBG funding thresholds, if there isn’t another supplemental. And so I think these massive dollars went to cities of a half a million and more. And I think what we’re starting to see is some evidence that not all of that money was used, or need it was needed for the exact criteria that was spelled out in the Cares Act. So I think I think there’s an opportunity moving forward to have the federal government step in and say, okay, we’re going to ease some of those restrictions. We’re going to allow you to use that maybe for some, you know, revenue replacement. And a lot of folks are advocating for that. I think that you’re going to see a lot of people step up in cities less than half a million and really voice their, well they’re already stepping up and voicing their concerns about you know how that was originally done. Let me just give an example. So Albuquerque is a half a million. We’re over half a million in population. I think I heard on the news lately that we received $150 million in Albuquerque to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. I grew up in Nebraska. Omaha is under a half a million as you read the Omaha World Herald out, you know, I don’t believe they, they got any of that that, you know, in their local area, it went to the county. So now the city and the county are trying to work together to figure out how to spend some of those dollars. But in the long run, they’re going to have to do something, the feds are gonna have to do something for cities that are under a half a million or re-purpose some of those dollars or come up with some new supplemental to help smaller communities because if we don’t, you know, it’s just gonna help drive the inequity equation that we saw during the Great Recession that we continue to see, you know, pre pandemic, and they’re gonna have to make some adjustments, I think on on what that threshold looks like.

Alyssa Dinberg

So if there was a third stimulus package, this is a hypothetical question. Umm, if there was a third sample ls package and you were in charge of determining what was included, what would be some of the top things that you would make sure to include in it?

Richard Berry

Hmm. So let me put my Kauffman hat on. Main Street, Main Street help. You know, as I said earlier, help entrepreneurs, help people who are going to have to pick up the pieces and start over. You may have, you may have worked at a restaurant for a long time and that restaurant is not there anymore. So maybe now’s your time to step up and start a restaurant, take the restaurant over take over the family business that your parents and grandparents spent decades building they saw it wiped out during the pandemic. Concentrate on Main Street, concentrate on entrepreneurism, access to capital. You know, so much of the inequity in this country has been driven by the you know, the inability for people to access capital and you know, work on that. I think cities are going to be loud. And you know, they’re going to be boisterous about helping replace revenues that have been lost. And I don’t know, if Congress or the administration or the Senate will, will do that. But I think that would be you know, there’s some, there’s some benefit to being able to do that. If we want to hold, you know, hold services in our cities harmless, and help maintain public safety and maintain normalcy, I think that has to be considered. And then I think that you’re going to have to look at some kind of a metric in each state, based on population hubs, healthcare hubs, you know, where do people go in Kentucky, for example, versus Illinois or in California versus Idaho for their services and their health care and let the states in the local officials help determine where some of those dollars are and create some flexibility so that they can, they can really be surgical about where they put those dollars to work.

Alyssa Dinberg

Absolutely. Yeah. So we talked a little bit about this earlier. What do you think some of the opportunities are for new businesses and industries coming out of this pandemic?

Richard Berry

Well, re-imagining restaurants, I think re-imagining you know, public gathering spaces, movie theaters, concerts, venues, places that we go, churches. So there’s a lot of work to be done on the design side, lots of work to be done in the construction side, city planning, urban planners, people who are experts at the built environment, I think are going to have a lot of opportunities. I think there’s tremendous opportunities in the in the realm of education, how we teach our kids, I think we’re exposing a tremendous lack of connectivity across the country, especially in in areas of, you know, people, you know, areas with a lot of poverty that just don’t have the connectivity that other folks have. I think you’re going to see some things happen to disrupt higher education, you’re going to see, you know, that that whole world is going to change. Now, whether that’s more distance learning, or more education online, or the built environment of schools and universities, and helping teachers do their job more effectively. Being on the ready for the next thing that comes along, and there will always will be something that comes along after this. Just being a little bit more suited to pivot and be agile. I think we’re also going to have to rethink our supply chains. I mean, you know, how’s that search for toilet paper and masks been going for you? Yeah, probably not, probably not very good. And as people start thinking about and talking about stockpiling medical supplies, well, one thing we know about medical supplies is they expire. So rather than just working on stockpiling things, why don’t we work on a, you know, micro manufacturing hubs in every city that can, you know, make things. We’re a nation of makers. Let’s make things in non pandemic times and non emergency times and support those micro manufacturers even at the neighborhood level, to turn and make things that we need during pandemics. Now that’s a little bit of a magic wand there. You can’t just, you know, retool, you know, manufacturing overnight, although we’ve seen you know, Dyson, vacuum companies done things with ventilators, Ford Motor Company, a lot of these big manufacturers have done a nice job of retooling to help, you know, get us through this, but I think we’re going to see our supply chain get a lot more inside the lines of the United States, we are going to be less reliant on international supply chains, I think out of necessity, and I think if we can help promote micro manufacturing at the community and neighborhood level, I think that’s going to be an opportunity to create some of the jobs that are lost and that just aren’t going to come back.

Alyssa Dinberg

You hit on two things that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, education and entertainment. I think that those two areas have been hit. I mean, everyone’s been hit pretty heavily. But those two areas are have historically been less flexible with evolution. And so it’s been really interesting to see how quickly the education, education industry has adapted to doing eLearning. But I’m, it’s not sustainable what’s going on right now. Like parents working full time while having to home school their kids, that’s just not sustainable and it’s not realistic. So I’m very curious to see what happens with that and then entertainment, like we the thought of going to a movie theater right now, I just couldn’t do it. The thought of going bowling, the thought of going to a concert and those are all industries that that are really struggling and so they’re going to have to evolve. I’m really curious to see what’s going to happen.

Richard Berry

No, I agree and just you know, shout out to all the parents at home with the kids, you know, I’m an empty nester, but God bless you. I mean really, I mean, just Amen. I just, I just, I just really, really you know, but it’s just another example. We just rise to the challenge. We will rise and families are rising to that challenge but no, you’re right, we are either going to have to significantly change the built environment or we’re going to significantly change wearables. We’re going to have to you know, we’re not going to get all get our Tyvek suits and respirators on and go see you know, Jack White but you know, or whoever you know, you want to go see I you know just watching some Jack White on YouTube last night that’s why its in my mind I guess, but anyway, but the point is, its going to be a combination of everything. And then I think it’s interesting. Let’s say they come up with a vaccine very quickly. The big question is, will things change overnight? And I don’t think they will. And I think there’s just gonna be long lasting effects of people. I mean, look at look at some of the Asian countries, post SARS and post, you know, post some of their previous pandemics, they’ve really changed their behavior. And I think you’re gonna see some of that just natural and then you’ll see some folks that just don’t care, they’re just going to go out and hang out and do their thing. So there’s going to have to be some agility to how we approach that, but yeah, I think higher education has been in need of a reboot for quite a while and, and it’s just, you know, as a parent who’s just spent significant resources getting my kid through college and being happy with his education and all those things, there’s just a lot of work that needs to be done. And I think you see some universities really, you know, leading the charge on some of that, you know, ASU, you know, President Crowe and ASU have done some very interesting things, even pre pandemic, and you’re going to see some of those things, I think taking, taking hold around the country and other places. But a lot of great American universities, it’s a foundation of our economy is the foundation of our culture, no need to scrap, scrap anything, but I think it’s time to really think about a reboot and how that works and how to make it more affordable.

Alyssa Dinberg

Absolutely. So how do you think cities can support the entrepreneurs that are innovating new businesses and industries? And what are some, what are some ways that the cities can support these, these people?

Richard Berry

Well, I think let’s just not talk about electives. Let’s talk about you and I, patronize your businesses. I mean, there’s, there’s, there’s ways today you can you know curbside delivery. You can’t go sit down at restaurants yet but you can support, you can support your local businesses. In New Mexico now, as our governor has eased some of the restrictions, you can have people in your businesses again on the retail side. Just get out there and do your best to support to support those folks. I think from a local government standpoint, you’ve seen a lot of cities do grant programs, you’re seeing loan programs, forgivable loan programs, you’re seeing lots of things happen. When I was mayor, we were fortunate to stand up six different types of accelerators. We didn’t have a lot of accelerators. And then when Bruce Katz and the folks came out with Metropolitan Revolution, a lot of us you know, read his work and work with him and his co author on that book and you know, we started thinking about innovation districts, we started taking, you know, taking initiatives to the forefront that created built environments and places to, to exchange ideas  and to accelerate ideas. I think cities should continue to continue that, you know, continue that work in some form or fashion. And I think we can also talk about some regulatory reform, let’s, let’s think about what it looks like to make it easier to start a business. Let’s look at some educational opportunities to help people, whether it’s through accelerators or incubators, or just online or whatever that looks like to help the person who’s never run a business but finds out of necessity that they need to, a little smoother path towards getting started getting opened and surviving those difficult first year. So there’s just there’s lots of things that we can do. Overburdening with regulation and, frankly, increasing fees on small businesses and some of the things that cities might be inclined to look at least as an opportunity for revenue enhancements, I think right now, that’s, that’s probably not something I would be looking at. But you know, just get out there and be supportive and do you do your best and then locally, just get out and help the folks in your town.

Alyssa Dinberg

I think that’s a really good reminder. Is New Mexico doing that, I forget what day it is here. I think I want to say that it’s Tuesdays in Denver, but one day a week, there’s this citywide movement to encourage people to eat out locally. Are you seeing anything like that in New Mexico?

Richard Berry

Well, pre-pandemic we had, you know, we had initiatives a lot like that. Yes, I think in short, in short to New Mexico and each individual community is doing their thing to make that happen. We had, we have a very robust market that happens at our rail yards on Sundays and that that really took off during the my administration and the people that run that have taken it to way past where we hadn’t even. So that’s great news. Well, I noticed that a new story the other day, and I didn’t get a chance to go down this Sunday, but they’re doing curbside delivery at that market now. So you can go down and get locally bought produce. And they’ve, they’ve managed the logistics to be able to get, to get what you need, and to let the local farmers get their produce to the market, and other crafts and goods and things that people bring to that. And so yeah, I think it’s not a Tuesday thing here, but it’s certainly at the top of everyone’s mind and, and there’s some interesting things happening here.

Alyssa Dinberg

Fantastic. That’s a good, that’s something good that I think our listeners can take away. It’s figuring out ways to encourage residents to shop local, eat local, stay local within their community, because it’s it’s going to, it’s going to benefit everybody.

Richard Berry

Absolutely. And this is where we all have to pitch in. I mean we’ve got, you know, got parents in their 80s. And so they’re not just interested in going to the grocery store. So we’re, we’re going down to the local grocers and, and trying to, you know, get produce for them and you maybe have an elderly neighbor or someone who’s at you know, highly at risk, just, you know, as you’re thinking about ways to help your neighbors think about incorporating a local slant on that and, and try to get the things that you need, as locally as you can.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s great. So I have one more question in for our interview. And one point that’s been discussed extensively in the aftermath of the Great Recession is the extent to which inequality grew at a rapid pace. And I know we briefly touched on it earlier. But how do we address that issue this time around? And what can we learn from the Great Recession to inform our response and focus on equity gaps?

Richard Berry

Well, look, what we can what we can learn is it’s inexcusable and we have to do a better job. I mean, you know, one of the things that came out of the Great Recession was that inequity and gaps expanded. And I don’t think it was done intentionally. And I don’t think it was, it was done by lack, you know, through lack of effort, but we just didn’t get there for generations. And for decades, we’ve been working on equality in this country. And once again, just like with higher education, I think it’s time that we start rethinking how we approach that. Lots of foundations, lots of people are working on it, contemporaneous with a with a COVID-19 pandemic. And I think that’s really important, but you don’t have to look any further than your local newspaper to see that, you know, look at the death rates in African American communities, Native American communities, you know, around the country, you know, areas in poverty, people, people who have health disparities because of long standing generational inequities are suffering mightily. So let’s, let’s really think about what that looks like. Let’s think about people who traditionally have not had access to capital, getting the capital that they need to start businesses to create wealth for themselves and their families. And let’s think generationally in those terms. And so, if we don’t, if we don’t get really aggressive, really quickly, it’s gonna get way worse before it gets any better. So, hopefully, one of the upsides with this pandemic is that the voices of those who have been working on this for a long time, will rise to the forefront and be heard more and won’t get lost in the din of, of just, you know, more folks out there trying to do good things but not really moving the needle. Let’s really think about that. And to do that we’re going to have to sit down with communities that are that are that are suffering, listen to them, get very micro in each community, in each neighborhood about what that looks like, and take their advice. You know, let’s not be so prideful as to set policy based on just what we think is best, let’s really incorporate the wisdom and the lessons learned and the generational understanding that comes from communities that live in poverty. You know, to just learn, and kind of be quiet for just a little bit and listen, and I think if we do that, and if we’re intentional, and we put the resources, put our money where our mouth is and where our hearts are, I think we can make a difference, but there’s no time to waste.

Alyssa Dinberg

Right. I have said this on a previous episode that I recorded during COVID. This is the most perfect time to reset. And I don’t know if we’ll ever get another opportunity like this to reset  and to move forward in a more equitable way. So I hope communities around the country and honestly around the world are using this opportunity to the best of their ability.

Richard Berry

I think so. An urgency creates, urgency creates opportunity. And we just, we’ve kicked the can too long. And we should not, you know, we shouldn’t have any illusion that closing the equity gap is going to be fast or that its going to be cheap. But I think if we look at it morally, and economically, there’s no choice. And, like I say, let me just restate I don’t it’s not been through lack of effort. There’s so many people for so long, so long, they’ve been working on this. It’s not, you know, it’s not that it hasn’t been worked on, it’s just that we’re going to have to use this as an opportunity to hit the reset button and really think about what has been working, what hasn’t worked, get rid of some of those, you know, some of the sacred cows that are gonna have to go away. We’re going to have to really think hard and long about how to do it. But on the other hand, we can’t just, we can’t just, we can’t take too long, but there has to be an urgency involved. Otherwise, otherwise the opportunity that’s created through the pandemic will pass us by and we’ll find ourselves right back where we were.

Alyssa Dinberg

Yep, I completely agree. So I have one last question. And this is how we end every episode. If you could be the GovLove DJ for the day, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Richard Berry

Let’s go with Andra Day, Rise Up. You know, it’s just such a beautiful song. She has an acoustic version of that song. It’s just, it’s just so beautiful. I think it’s really emblematic, you know, of our ability to rise up and overcome great challenges. And we’ve shown that we can do that as a nation and as a world and as a communities but we have to do that, and we come together and love and support each other and do it collectively and, and just lean on each other at a time where we you know, we all need a hand and I just think it’s a great song and really speaks to what we’re going through today and it speaks to a brighter future.

Alyssa Dinberg

That’s great. That’s a really good pick. Well, thank you so much, RJ for coming on the podcast and talking with me. It’s been an absolute joy to get to know you. And I wish you the best of luck in the Mayor’s Council and everything that you’re doing.

Richard Berry

Well, Alyssa, thanks to you. Thanks to ELGL, thanks to everything you’re doing to to spread knowledge and inspire all of us and just be well and look forward to talking to you again sometime.

Alyssa Dinberg

Well, thank you.

Richard Berry

Take care.

Alyssa Dinberg

As we mentioned, one of the big focus areas of the Mayor’s Council is helping with Kauffman Foundation’s Mayors’ Conference on Entrepreneurship. The conference is going to be held virtually this year on September 17th and 18th. For our listeners interested in learning more about the conference or registering you can visit them at mayorsconference.kauffman.org. You can also reach out to the Kauffman Mayor’s Council by emailing [email protected] That ends our episode today. GovLove is hosted and produced by a rotating cast of awesome ELGL volunteers. For our listeners, you can reach us at elgl.org/govlove or on Twitter at @govlovepodcast. GovLove is hosted by ELGL. ELGL is the Engaging  Local Government Leaders network. We’re a social startup with the mission of engaging the brightest minds in local government. Please subscribe to GovLove through your favorite podcast service and leave us a review so more people know that GovLove is the podcast for local government topics. And if you have a story for GovLove, we absolutely want to hear it. Please send us a message on Twitter or email us at [email protected] Thanks for listening. This has been GovLove, a podcast about local government


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