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Moving Fast at CityVision 2016 Accelerate 

By Scott Mooneyham, NCLM Director of Public Affairs

When the League dubbed CityVision 2016 with the thematic add-on "Accelerate!," it turned out to be appropriate. This year’s annual conference, held in Raleigh from Oct. 23-25, was fast-paced, with a new programming format that covered a lot of ground and provided all conference attendees with a taste of each topic before allowing them to choose which Breakout Sessions to attend.

In all, nearly 1,000 people attended this year’s event, and the League saw more than a 10 percent increase in the number of municipal officials attending over the previous year. Those municipal officials represented 175 municipalities.

The Accelerate! theme grew out of the League’s Vision 2030 strategic visioning process, which began in 2014 and is now focused on achieving the goals set through that process. As a result, programming was tied to those goals and to begin to help cities and towns reach them. That programming included speakers focused on discovering meaningful ways to bring new business and economic development opportunities to individual municipalities, responding to demographic and cultural changes, and turning them into an advantage, and demonstrating the value that each city and town provides to its residents through citizen engagement.

Two speakers from the Blue Zones project, Dan Burden and Tony Buettner, discussed that organization and their push to help communities become healthier and happy. For Burden, a planning expert who has worked with municipalities all over the country and the world, much of the focus was on transportation – how to help communities become more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly to accomplish that goal. Burden, in a 10-minute "Town Talk" before a general conference session, showed how easily road planning could be an impediment to pedestrian traffic, and how easily changes could make the same road pedestrian-friendly. Buettner focused on measurable results that municipalities can convey to residents to get buy-in for improvements that improve quality of life.

On the economic development front, consultant Hilary Greenberg discussed all that goes into making the revitalizations of downtown and central business districts successful. The Charlotte-based principal of Greenberg Development Services went through the range of activities and preparation that leads to public and private-sector support for those types of projects. And she talked about how important it is for cities and towns to sell what they doing and what they offer. "If you take nothing else from this talk, go home and look at your website and see if it tells your story," she said during her hour-long Breakout Session.

Charlotte interim City Manager Ron Kimble and Parker Poe attorney Mac McCarley also took to the stage to discuss what the private sector looks for from local government when putting together economic development projects. Consultant Jack Ryan, a police liability expert, covered the causes and possible solutions to controversial police shootings, wading into how to strengthen trust between police and the communities that they serve. Ryan told Winston-Salem City Councilwoman Denise Adams that addressing the issue had to involve a combination of improved training, leadership, education and policy changes.

Attendees also had the opportunity to hear public relations consultant Harris Vaughan discuss his firm’s involvement in the League’s Here We Grow promotional campaign and how League member involvement is crucial to the effort. (See Here We Grow is Here! pp. 25-26.)

League Executive Director Paul Meyer took the stage at the conference’s annual business meeting to move through where the organization has been with its strategic visioning process, what has been accomplished and what is to come. "If city and town leaders don’t know where they want to go, they are certain not to get there," Meyer said. "When we all don’t act cohesively – that cities and towns get more by working together – the municipal level of government is guaranteed to get less than was possible."

The conference was capped off with the election and swearing in of new officers and board members, with incoming President Bob Matheny taking the gavel from outgoing President Lestine Hutchens. (See pp. 33-34.) Hutchens, the mayor of Elkin, was emotional as she said her farewells as president. "Getting to know so many of you, working with you on difficult issues, and then finding resolution to those issues, has been one of the great parts of serving in this position," she said. "Keep doing the good work. And keep being involved in representing the interests of your town or city and the people who live there."

For the first time ever, the League’s Advocacy Goals Conference was incorporated into the annual conference, leading to more participation by more cities and towns in the setting of policy goals for the 2017-18 legislative biennium. (See League Members Approve Priorities for 2017-18 Legislative Session on pp. 21-23.) The event included a short briefing from Gov. Pat McCrory on hurricane recovery efforts.

Of course, CityVision always provides a prime opportunity for municipal officials to network with one another, and the Sunday night Host City reception held by the City of Raleigh at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts saw hundreds of League members gather for food and conversation. The reception was followed by a performance of the Broadway musical "Pump Boys and Dinettes."

More musical entertainment came on Monday night, at the President’s Dinner and Gala, when Night Shift provided some rollicking rock ‘n roll to end the evening.

Tuesday was focused on affiliate meetings and professional development, with the UNC School of Government holding ethics training classes, public-private partnerships for revitalization projects and strategic planning.

All in all, CityVision 2016 Accelerate! hopefully gave attendees a bit of everything: fellowship with other municipal officials, new knowledge and learning to apply in their towns or cities, and a bit of entertainment to go with the rest.