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Special Districts Virtual Summit

The 2021 Special Districts Annual Virtual Summit focused on the future of digital infrastructure.

The 2021 Special Districts Annual Virtual Summit focused on the future of digital infrastructure. The event took a deep dive into how districts are addressing new cybersecurity threats, meeting rising expectations for mobility, innovating around service delivery and funding new projects in spite of fiscal constraints.

Nearly 100 special districts joined a live two-hour conversation on May 26, where industry experts and leaders from parks, water and transit districts discussed current challenges and identified emerging issues. The wide-ranging discussion covered topics such as promoting and funding innovation, protecting against sophisticated cyber-crime, collaborating to deliver new services and more.

Key Takeaways

-- Start small to innovate: District leaders pointed to small-scale pilot projects as an effective way to test new ideas and technologies. Pilots that prove to be successful can be expanded across the organization, and those that don’t show results can be quickly shut down.

-- Question your vendors about security: Growth in sophisticated cyber crime -- including recent supply chain attacks that distribute malicious code through trusted supplier relationships – means districts need to ask third-party vendors and contractors for proof of adequate security practices.

-- Build a culture of innovation before the next crisis: Organizations that were flexible and comfortable dealing with change reacted effectively during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now is the time to strengthen these cultural traits to improve resilience and responsiveness.

-- Be proactive about forging intergovernmental partnerships: Special districts often don’t receive direct funding from federal stimulus and economic recovery programs such as the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan. Therefore, relationships with city, county and state government agencies are an important mechanism for accessing these badly needed funds.

-- Get ready for evolving service demands: Special districts that provide essential public services such as water, power and housing should prepare for the end of special pandemic rules like the federal eviction moratorium or policies against shutting off utility services to customers who can’t pay. There likely will be a flood of families who still need help when these policies end, and districts must gear up programs to serve them.

-- Look for funding flexibility: Performance requirements associated with federal and state transportation funding programs have been loosened in some cases, giving transit districts more leeway to launch experimental programs that offer new mobility options and rebuild ridership.


Johnathan Cruz, Director of Financial Planning and Innovation, Moulton Niguel Water District
Brendan Daley, Director of Strategy & Sustainability, Chicago Park District
Dan Meyer, Principal Architect, State and Local Government, AT&T
Dustin Haisler, Chief Innovation Officer, Center for Digital Government
Brian Kelley, Chief Technology Officer, Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission
Carlita Mendez, CMS Director, Bremerton Housing Authority
Gloria Salazar, CEO, San Joaquin Regional Transit District
Patrick Robinson, AT&T Director of Cybersecurity
Steve Towns, Deputy Chief Content Officer, Content Studio, e.Republic
Devon Winthrop, Principal Architect, AT&T