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Choosing her path 

By Jessica Wells, NCLM Communications Associate

At 10 years old, Jennifer Parsley was planting campaign signs in front yards and attending political rallies with her father, Kannapolis City Council Member Roger Haas. In their household, serving was a given, but the path was up to her. 

Even with her local government participation, she said she never expected to serve as a council member herself. But, in 2014, she was appointed to the Concord City Council to fill the seat of longtime Council Member Hector Henry III. 

“I never realized how much that foundation was laid for me, and how I would mirror what he did,” she said. “Recently he told me, ‘You feel like what you do is a success if your children mimic what you do.’” 

Parsley and her father filed for the 2015 election together – her first filing and likely his last. 

“It’s been a unique experience for me because I have someone who knows the parameters of confidentiality, but I can also talk freely and openly about issues I don’t understand,” Parsley said. “It feels like Concord and Kannapolis have always had a great relationship, but this takes it to the next level.” 

Parsley described the difference between serving and watching her father serve as driving a car versus being the passenger. The passenger, she said, gets to enjoy the scenery, hear about things like turning left and right, but doesn’t have to pay attention to the details. A driver, though, takes on the responsibilities of understanding and working within limitations. 

“I’m not listening to a story – I’m part of it now,” she said. “The more I learn, the more I learn that I need to learn. That can be daunting, but sometimes I step back and say, ‘Wow, look how much I have learned!’” 

When she was appointed to council, her fellow council members each had decades of experience and relationships, which could have been an intimidating experience for a newcomer, but Parsley and the council saw it differently. She was able to bring a fresh perspective and circle of influence as the only woman on council with a child.

“After my first council meeting, I called my dad and said, ‘I sat through that closed session and had no idea what they were talking about.’ He kind of laughed and said there was only one person at that table who thought you should know all of those things. And I said, ‘Who?’ He said, ‘You.’ So I realized very quickly how blessed I was to sit at a table next to people who not only had the experience but wanted to pull our ideas and experiences together,” she said. “To have your ideas respected makes you a little more comfortable.” 

According to Parsley, involving her 10-year-old daughter, Alex, in local government has been a highlight of serving. During her campaign, Alex and her classmates helped put out signs and volunteered at polling locations where one of the girls commented that she wanted to volunteer because she wanted to see a familiar name on the ballot. 

“I just think it’s so cool that this is giving them an understanding of what government is,” Parsley said. “I feel as if it’s teaching her to go out into the community and say, ‘How am I going to make my community better?’” 

Since Parsley’s husband sometimes travels for work, their daughter spends more time at city hall than the typical 10-year-old – she often does her homework during council meetings and attends ribbon cuttings and networking events with her mom, where she hands out her own business cards. 

“I will say she’s probably the only 10-year-old in Concord who knows what a closed session or consent agenda is. While this position is extraordinarily important to me, my family comes first, so there are a lot of times when you’re balancing priorities, but I’ve been very blessed to get her into the fold of what I’m doing as well,” Parsley said. “I try to focus on the value that I’m bringing as a parent. It’s hard, but it’s hard for everybody. Everybody makes a sacrifice, so that’s how I choose to look at it.” 

In addition to her responsibilities as wife, mom and council member, Parsley has been heavily involved with the League since she was appointed to council. She volunteered to serve on the Planning and Environment Legislative Action Committee, which is an integral part of the League’s member-driven legislative goal development process. Less than a year later, she co-chairs a Legislative Action Committee and serves as a member of the League’s Board of Directors. 

Although Parsley was unsure about serving on the committee at first, she said she quickly realized it’s really about what she knows best – relationships. 

“They need people who can sit with the legislators to say, ‘Can I please explain to you why this is important?’ Not just ask, ask, ask, but develop a relationship with our legislators,” she said. “That’s what life is about –connection. That part I get and I’ve always gotten. The rest? I’m working on it. It will come.” 

Her connection to the community is an asset as a business owner as well. Parsley heads AIM Tours, a company started by her father, which provides guided tours related to the motorsports industry. Her father worked for US Tobacco Copenhagen Skoal, which was Harry Gant’s sponsor, so she grew up at the speedway and continues to build relationships in the industry. 

While she said the tour company is more of a part-time venture now, Parsley highlighted how her day job is to say to visitors, “Look at all the amazing things we have!” and her night job as council member is to say to citizens, “Look at all the amazing things we have!” 

“There’s no difference because the citizens are our customers, and it’s our duty to serve them,” she said. “I think it’s our job to say, look what the city is doing for you. We’re being good stewards of your  money.” 

From a walkable downtown with shops and restaurants to businesses in other pockets of the city, Parsley said the city is committed to providing infrastructure and community support to business owners, so that there is something for everyone in Concord. 

“We know we can’t be all things to all people, but we know we’re a suburb of Charlotte that really gets its citizens and wants to listen and respond,” Parsley said. “I would venture to say most people who live here feel like they will be heard, and I feel like that’s really important. It provides my family a lot of opportunities, and you just have to decide what path you want to take.”