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Mayor Miles Atkins: Connecting the dots for an engaged community 

by: Jessica Wells, NCLM Communications Specialist

Work in the motorsports industry brought Miles Atkins to Race City, USA, in 1997, but it was the lake that made him stay. After one pontoon boat outing with a friend on Lake Norman, Atkins knew Mooresville would be home.

“I was like, ‘This is heaven. I’m on vacation,’ and the next day I talked to my wife about moving here,” said Atkins, who has served as mayor since 2011.

The outskirts of Mooresville near Lake Norman offer a quiet lifestyle with a traditional, suburban feel. But when Atkins’ wife Kim opened her own shop on Main Street, he noticed the contrast between the downtown and lake lifestyles.

“I felt more connected to the lake, and it wasn’t until I moved downtown when I realized downtown was the real heart and soul of the community,” he said.

They fell in love with a 1906 Queen Anne Victorian home on one of Mooresville’s main thoroughfares with a wrap-around porch and “a real soul.” Atkins and his wife are the third owners of the house where they’re raising their two children, Liam and Rett.

 

Mooresville's Main Street is a mix of local businesses and a place for community events. Photo credit: Jessica Wells

Being part of this new community inspired Atkins to find a way to get involved, which he said wasn’t difficult at all.

“That’s one thing I think is really special about Mooresville – so many people have relocated to Mooresville from all over the country, and it’s so easy to get connected and welcomed and have a voice,” he said. “If you have a passion, you can make things happen here. You don’t have to wait for someone else to do it. You can easily get connected, and you’re off to the races.”

The Mooresville Citizens’ Academy was his entry to municipal government – he was connected to elected officials through the Academy who appointed him to city committees, and he was then elected as a commissioner in 2007. Atkins is one of several Academy graduates to serve as an elected official.

The course gives a behind-the-scenes look at how the town runs and engages citizens. Its graduates become ambassadors in their own neighborhoods forging connections between the downtown and lake communities. Participants have a greater understanding of what it takes to run a town and know who to call when they need something.

 

 Owners of Sugar Pop's, a Main Street candy shoph and party venue, talk about the upcoming events in downtown Mooresville. Photo credit: Jessica Wells

“Whether you’ve lived here all your life or are a brand-new transplant, you can get first-hand knowledge,” Atkins said. “I think that’s kind of empowering for some residents.”

Mooresville has an active and engaged population from adolescents to seniors with a student-run youth council, several citizen-created nonprofits and packed senior center schedule.

According to Mooresville Public Information Officer Kim Sellers, Mooresville has always been focused on engaging its citizens, but with Atkins as mayor, it’s all about engagement and how to make services easier to access.

“What we see with that focus is more people saying ‘I may not go vote, but I’m going to be part of that ministry that’s feeding the hungry, or I can help at the veterans’ coffee shop, or I can clean up the street,’” Sellers said. “When you have elected officials who push that engagement, people just keep coming.”

A volunteer veteran gives a tour of Richard's Coffee Shop, a non-profit coffee shop and living military museum. Photo credit: Jessica Wells

Mooresville hosted its first Veterans Day celebration this year, which was a result of a conversation between the mayor and a veteran who wanted a way to honor veterans. Mooresville is a perfect fit for the event because veterans from everywhere come to visit Richard’s Coffee Shop, non-profit coffee shop and living military museum.

The coffee shop is filled from floor to ceiling with keepsakes, newspaper clippings and records from  every American war and staffed by volunteer veterans. The shop is full on Thursdays, when veterans can get free coffee, and Saturdays, when several veterans get together as a musical band. The volunteer veterans not only serve the community by sharing their stories and experiences, but serve each other by offering a place for support.

What started as a conversation and grew into large event that started with a somber ceremony at a local cemetery and culminated with a parade down Main Street and a celebration on the Town Green. 

“The mayor is really good at engaging and connecting dots – the town, veterans, downtown commission, police and fire departments– all came together so the veterans in Mooresville can say, ‘This is our event,’” Sellers said.

As Atkins walks down Main Street, he doesn’t pass a stranger. People often ask how he’s doing and what’s going on in Mooresville. The store owners know him well – an olive oil and vinegar tasting bar on Main Street, The Enchanted Olive, worked with the mayor to create the “Mayor’s Blend Olive Oil.” The Mayor’s Blend is an Italian herb and garlic mix, which is the shop’s best seller.

The owner of the Enchanted Olive explains the variations in olive oils and shares recipe ideas. Photo credit: Jessica Wells

Dr. Mehmet Oz of The Dr. Oz Show took home a bottle of the Mayor’s Blend during his to Mooresville in early October to raise money and awareness for free medical and dental clinics.

Atkins’ job as Corporate Affairs and Government Relations Director for Iredell Health affords him an opportunity to wear both hats in working toward a healthy community and get to know Mooresville and South Iredell County.

“In terms of wearing my hats, it’s great, but I have to be careful with keeping my affiliations separate,” Atkins said. “I don’t want to wear my mayor’s hat to open up doors for my health care hat.”

However, Atkins finds a way to balance his professional, municipal and family roles. He runs a tight meeting to get home on time to see his family, which was a priority for him coming into the role of mayor.

“I’ve sat through too many meetings that went on to 11 p.m. or 1 a.m., and I said I’d never do that. I keep it moving at a good pace. I think if you set expectations up front, and someone is out of order, you let them know you’re not afraid to use your gavel to keep everyone on track and focused,” Atkins said.

He recently graduated from the Advanced Leadership Corps, a week-long training on leadership skills at the UNC School of Government offered to elected officials who have accrued a certain number of Local Elected Leaders Academy credits.

 Atkins stands outside Richard's Coffee Shop while he explains the significance of the nonprofit to veterans and civilians. Photo credit: Jessica Wells

His participation in the Corps opened the door to working more collaboratively with the county government located in Statesville.

“Instead of having an us-and-them approach, we realized we both want the same things,” he said. “We have a very productive, engaging meeting about how we’re going to do things together. We’re all of a sudden knocking down barriers, and before there was a perception that our wants weren’t the same.”

The town now has two commissioners designated as liaisons to the county board to allow for more proactive planning. Mooresville is also working with three North Mecklenburg cities (Cornelius, Davidson and Huntersville) in the Lake Norman Region on transportation and economic development issues.

Atkins’ greatest opportunity identified by the Advanced Leadership Corps was his ability to engage others and model the way. 

“I found out I get very excited about ideas and I hit the ground running, but I can’t expect others to catch up with me. I’ll be more successful if I get their buy in and support first,” Atkins said. “My growth in this role will come from pulling people along with me.”