Last week, I had the privilege of attending the North Carolina City & County Management Association (NCCCMA) Summer Seminar in beautiful Asheville, NC. I know you all wish you were there, so allow me to share my experience!
Thursday evening, I attended a reception to network and meet the conference attendees, as well as greet some familiar faces. It was a great way to kick off the weekend and mingle a little before the sessions on Friday!
Speaking of sessions, Friday’s first one was an overview of NCCCMA’s recommended strategic plan. After that, there was a general session called “Building Trust through Citizen Engagement”, presented by Andrea Surratt, Assistant City Manager of Hickory, NC. This session focused on Hickory’s mission to increase economic development and the importance of citizen engagement in that endeavor. “Boost Hickory”, a grassroots citizens group who are extremely engaged in Hickory’s well-being, made presentations to many different groups and people, which helped Hickory to get a voter referendum for $25 million in transportation bonds and $15 million in economic development funds. This presentation highlighted how crucial grassroots efforts are to increasing economic development and the importance of finding people who will champion city projects.
The next session I attended was “Maximizing the Use of Technology” to increase the number of quality applicants to positions, as well as maximizing ways to reduce the time to hire. This session focused a lot on being transparent and courteous with applicants every step of the way, even in terms of rejections. I think it is very important to engage well with applicants, as this is a major determinant of public image and how your organization is perceived.
The final session of the day, Diversity and Inclusion, featured Rocky Mount. The city has been engaged in the process of understanding diversity and inclusion (you can read more about that here), and the lessons learned throughout this process were highlighted by VISIONS, Inc., the consulting group who provided diversity training for the city’s leadership team.
The VISIONS, Inc., team provided great information on what diversity and inclusion is, as well as giving meaningful feedback to managers who questioned how to make their communities more inclusive. The wonderful thing about this session was that it was a very comfortable environment. It was clear to me that managers spoke freely, and they genuinely desired to adapt to change as needed. I walked away with a better understanding of how difficult it can be to recognize when change needs to occur, and the responsibility these managers have to remain cognizant and lead their organizations towards new practices.
After the Diversity and Inclusion session, the fun really began! The evening was dedicated to Catawba County Manager Tom Lundy, who will soon retire after over 40 years of public service. In addition to just being a stellar public servant, he’s kind of a big deal simply because he’s known as being a good manager who has worked tirelessly for Catawba County. It was awesome to see him honored for his service, as well as watching all the managers kick back and enjoy each other’s fellowship.
The final day of the conference on Saturday focused on a message from International City/County Management (ICMA) President, Pat Martel. She spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion in local government, as well as how crucial it is for leaders to take the initiative. The most significant part of her speech to me was her insistence that managers must build collaborative relationships, not only with people who can help their communities in the near future, but the emerging leaders following their footsteps. She urged managers to help new leaders see what they can be with the support of the current leadership, reminding them of how they each had mentors, so they should organically cultivate those relationships with the next generation as well.
Overall, I really enjoyed the conference. It was great to see what local government managers are doing well, as well as areas that need improvement highlighted with possible solutions. So what was the key takeaway, you ask? I can sum it up in one meme:
Really, guys. Great managers do not just magically burst into existence. They are made. Conferences like these are where the brilliant minds of our local government leaders come together to learn from one another. The common denominator in each of those sessions was the feedback surrounding the tough questions each manager faces, and how they were able to help one another. It’s important for the managers of our communities to have a community amongst themselves. A safe space where they can speak freely and wade through the issues that they face as one. Observing our city and county managers work and play together over the course of the weekend was an amazing experience that will remain a favorite part of my summer spent with the City of Rocky Mount, and one I will take forward in my professional experiences.