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Ideas spark at CityVision 2015: Ignition! 

by League Communications Associate Jessica Wells

Each October, municipal officials from across the state gather for the League’s annual conference. Nearly 1,000 representing more than 150 municipalities came to Winston- Salem Oct. 11-13 for CityVision 2015: Ignition! 

The Ignition theme reflects the takeoff of the Strategic Visioning process the League began last year. To mark the beginning of this ambitious plan that sets the vision for North Carolina cities and towns into 2030, League Board Members, Jennifer Robinson, a Cary Council Member, and Jody McLeod, Mayor of Clayton, gave an overview of the visioning process, which they co-chaired. 

At the heart of the plan are 10 challenges that cities and towns say they are facing now or will face in the future. From those challenges, six guiding principles were established after months of UNC School of Government-led meetings and discussions. Robinson stated that although 80 percent of the population is living in cities and many are rapidly growing, 49 of 100 North Carolina counties have seen a loss in population since 2010. 

“There are enough forces splitting us up – whether we are urban or rural – regardless of socioeconomic status, we are one North Carolina League of Municipalities,” McLeod said. 

League Executive Director Paul Meyer also took the stage to describe the work ahead of the League staff and membership in crafting the future described. According to Meyer, it’s imperative that the League build a process for effectively getting the message across that cities are North Carolina’s economic engines. 

“Legislators view municipalities as another special interest group. When I go speak to a legislator, I don’t say, ‘I’m from the Town of Cary.’ I don’t want them to think that I’m here representing an organization. I say, ‘I’m here representing the people of the Town of Cary,’” Robinson said. “That makes a big difference. I’m not there speaking for an organization. I’m not there looking out for my 1,100 employees. I’m looking out for 157,000 citizens. That’s who they need to know we’re serving.” 

For an in depth look at the Strategic Visioning process, click here

Attendees had an opportunity to participate in concurrent sessions that related to each of the 10 challenges municipalities are facing. The 10 concurrent sessions covered local government hot topics like economic development, attracting tourism dollars, adapting to the Affordable Care Act and the pros and cons of implementing police body cameras. 

Tuesday was reserved for personal development with half-day courses from the Local Elected Leaders Academy at the UNC School of Government. These courses were included in the cost of conference registration, and those who completed them earned credits toward Local Elected Leaders Academy recognition. 

Each year the League recognizes members who reach a new Academy level at the Delegate Luncheon on Monday afternoon. Municipal officials move through the Academy’s ranks from Practitioner, Master and Mentor levels culminating with the invitation-only Advanced Leaders Corps, which graduates eight municipal officials each year. More information about this year’s graduates can be found here

Wake Forest University Director of Athletics Ron Wellman joined the membership at lunch and spoke about the importance of change in achieving organizational success. Under his leadership, Wake Forest won four national championships, 17 Atlantic Coast Conference championships and finished 23rd in the 2007 NACDA Director’s Cup standings – its highest finish ever.  

“I want to thank you for what you do in our communities, the leadership you provide and for doing what is often a thankless job,” Wellman said. “The positive things that are happening in our cities are absolutely incredible to me.”  

Later that evening at the President’s Banquet and Inaugural Gala the League’s new officers and board members were sworn in by Elkin Town Clerk Cathie Tilley. Elkin Mayor Lestine Hutchens was sworn in as the new President after accepting the gavel from Immediate Past President and Burlington Mayor Ronnie Wall. Zebulon Mayor Bob Matheny will serve as First Vice President, and Jacksonville Mayor Pro Tem will serve as Second Vice President.

The League also awarded three legislative honors to individuals who supported municipal advocacy goals in the previous legislative session. Representative Stephen Ross, who is a former mayor, and Senator Joel Ford were named Community Champions, and Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Brown’s legislative assistant Elise McDowell received the General Assembly Ambassador Award for her professionalism and selflessness at the Legislature. Click here for more on the awards.

The League’s conference is also the premier event to network with other municipal officials during one-of-a-kind events. The City of Winston- Salem hosted a welcome event, which included dinner at the Benton Convention Center and entertainment by local jazz group, Piedmont Ladies Society. After dinner, guests were escorted to the Roger L. Stevens Center for a private performance of the award-winning North Carolina Black Reparatory musical, Glory of Gospel. The Broadway-style production was written, directed and choreographed by Winston-Salem resident Mabel Robinson and has been performed in Holland and Germany. 

“We’re transforming our economy to one based on innovation and the arts,” Winston- Salem Mayor Allen Joines said. “The past 15 years we’ve spent more than $1.2 billion on our center city, and I hope you have a chance to take in some of that while you’re here.” 

Winston-Salem wasn’t the only local town to roll out the red carpet for League members, though. Lexington hosted a mobile workshop to showcase its beauty and innovation. About 35 members boarded a charter bus led by Lexington Mayor Newell Clark and Lexington Tourism Authority Executive Director Robin Bivens. 

The tour included a meet-and-greet with Bob Timberlake at his gallery, stops at historic locations Conrad & Hinkle grocery and the Candy Factory, and new locations like Childress Vineyards and the site of the new Bull City Ciderworks, which recently signed a 5-year lease on the redeveloped Lexington Home Brands plant. 

“I am really impressed, and I am getting some really good ideas. I come to these tours to see what other towns are doing and possibly bring those ideas back to my own town. I have never been to Lexington before, and I am really enjoying it,” Conetoe Mayor Linda Ingram told a reporter from The Dispatch newspaper, which covered the tour. 

The grand finale was a performance by the band Jessie’s Girls after the President’s Banquet on Monday evening. Attendees danced the night away to music from the high-energy, 16-piece cover band, which shares a choreographer with Beyoncé. PowerPoint presentations from the concurrent sessions are available here.