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Newly elected mayors start term with orientation 

by League Communications Associate Jessica Wells

After each election in December of odd-numbered years, the League and the UNC School of Government jointly host an Orientation for New Mayors course to prepare newly elected mayors for their term. In December, more than 80 mayors attended the full-day courses offered in Raleigh, Greenville, Asheville, Cornelius and Kernersville.

The orientation is designed to help new mayors understand the nature of their role before presiding over their first council meeting, as well as learn techniques to deal with council confrontations.

UNC School of Government Lecturer Vaughn Upshaw reviewed mayoral duties including presiding, calling special meetings, breaking ties and other powers conferred by council. Assistant Professor Trey Allen conveyed how to comply with statutes and board rules when guiding a cordial council meeting.

Newly elected Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander attended the first session in Raleigh to get a head start on her upcoming term.

“I wanted to go ahead and do anything that might help me as a mayor,” Alexander said.

Alexander, who is the founder and president of KKA Architecture, said she hopes her skill set as an architect and planner will help the city continue its trend of innovation. Salisbury’s municipal-owned broadband system, Fibrant, rolled out 10 gigabits-per-second Internet service in September.

As one of the first places in the country with Internet speeds that fast, Salisbury plans to attract businesses with high-speed broadband connectivity. Alexander said she was fascinated to see how the League’s discussions to assist cities and towns tell their economic success stories fall in place with Salisbury’s goals.

"With what we are doing with broadband and in other ways in Salisbury, it dovetails perfectly with what you (the League) all are doing," she said.

In addition, attendees learned about the state Open Meetings Law and Public Records Law. The presentations also covered being a spokesperson for their cities, including best practices for building a relationship with the media. League General Counsel Kim Hibbard gave a presentation on open meetings and public records requirements, while Director of Public Affairs Scott Mooneyham discussed working with the media.

During his presentation, Mooneyham recounted an experience in his former career as a journalist to demonstrate that a leader’s best course, when faced with adverse publicity, can sometimes be to simply acknowledge mistakes. He recalled how, approaching a press conference called by former Fort Bragg commanding Gen. Jack Keane to address a highly publicized crime committed by soldiers, he came loaded down with reports and information that he planned to use to pepper Keane.

"I came loaded for bear," Mooneyham said. "General Keane stepped to the stage and said, ‘Mistakes were made. We missed signs.’ Boom. I had nothing. He decided what the next day’s story would be, not me. He was trying to bring finality to Fort Bragg’s part in this story and did a pretty good job doing that."

Alexander said her entire board plans to attend one of the Essentials of Municipal Government courses intended for all elected officials and their managers. The course builds on what mayors learn at the orientation to include roles municipality-wide and presents an opportunity to create a good working relationship before the first meeting takes place. (Read more about Essentials of Municipal Government courses in the Member Relations Corner column here.)

The Orientation for New Mayors course is not considered a substitute for the Essentials course and the League encourages new mayors to attend both, which are part of the Local Elected Leaders Academy. The Academy is a recognition program for officials who demonstrate a commitment to learning through attending specified courses at the UNC School of Government and participating in League or National League of Cities boards and activities. Attendees of either course will receive credit toward their next level of recognition.