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Speaking Out: Finding Motivation in our Collective Challenges 

By NCLM President and Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny

Over the past three decades, I have had the fortune of being mayor and council member in a town that has seen tremendous growth and change. Zebulon sits not far outside of Raleigh, and certainly benefits from the economic activity of one of the fastest-growing cities in America. But as home to its own base of business, including GlaxoSmithKline, our town is far from just a bedroom community to a neighboring, larger city.

As mayor, I recognize that the challenges of responding to growth are good problems to have. Not all areas of North Carolina are seeing this kind of growth, even as cities and towns across the state embark on downtown revitalizations and other projects designed to spark economic development. Obviously, the decisions about how to pursue these kinds of efforts get a lot tougher when a community’s tax base isn’t growing.

But everybody is coming to recognize, as was pointed out by Hilary Greenberg, one of the presenters during CityVision 2016, that doing nothing is not an option.

As I begin my term as president of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, I believe it is important to reflect on that statement and think about its implications. When accepting the president’s gavel from outgoing League President Lestine Hutchens, I spoke to annual conference attendees about how the world is changing and how the League and its member cities and towns have to change with it.

I see that change as motivating. But again, all of our cities and towns have some similarities and some differences. Those differences create dissimilar challenges and the need for different responses.

But at the risk of repeating myself, we cannot allow challenges to become obstacles. We have to see them as opportunities, and use those opportunities as motivation. In my speech that night, I quoted tennis great Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can."

We don’t all start from the same place, but that doesn’t mean we cannot all do what we can.

One of the great aspects of the League is that this organization provides municipal officials with the great chance to learn from each other but also to draw on the staff resources and help to pursue both the collective and individual goals of member municipalities.

The League is adapting to the changing world, and is more ready than ever to help you adapt, whether that means communicating your value to residents, helping work with other government partners and the private sector to tackle tough problems or tapping resources and services that promote good government.

All of that only works, though, because of the involvement of members. Each of us has to be committed to being involved. Just to name a few, that involvement can take the form of communicating with a legislator, serving on a policy committee or taking advantage of the tools provided by the League to promote the efforts of your town.

The League staff is there to help you, so take advantage of that help.

Over the next year, I look forward to working with all League members, and in that work, help to move all of our cities and towns forward.