This past Tuesday, I left the Kannapolis City Hall early and drove over to downtown Concord to watch a budget presentation to the Concord city council and mayor. The City of Concord was founded in the late 1700s. Whereas Kannapolis didn’t incorporate until 1984, Concord incorporated in 1806. My Granddaddy Fries used to tell me a story of how there had been a disagreement between Scotch-Irish Presbyterian settlers and German Lutheran settlers in Cabarrus County over where the county seat should be located. The settlers eventually agreed on a site that they called Concord, meaning harmony. On the different routes I take between Kannapolis and Concord, I pass landmarks that remind me of my family’s history. From the Chevrolet dealership that the Beasley family operated for over half a century to the big old house my Great Grandfather Barrier built, raised a family in, and ran his doctor’s office out of. I’m reminded of stories about “old Earnhardt land” and my Great-Great Grandfather John Henderson Earnhardt. Like Kannapolis, Concord was also a city dominated by the textile industry. Now, the City of Concord greatly benefits from the NASCAR industry. Charlotte Motor Speedway (formerly known as Lowe’s Motor Speedway) is located within the Concord city limits. Concord is also the home to one of North Carolina’s most visited tourist attractions, Concord Mills. Click here for a glimpse of some of Concord’s historic places.
I walked into the Concord City Hall about 20 minutes before the meeting began and saw a room buzzing with people and discussions. I was immediately welcomed by the deputy city manager of Concord, Jim Greene. City Manager Brian Hiatt also extended a warm welcome with a North Carolina shaped Concord lapel pin. The UNC MPA Career Services Director Susan Austin first introduced me to Jim at the UNC School of Government’s Public Administration Conference. It was then when I first heard about the joint internship that Kannapolis and Concord offered. The public administration conference is just one example of how the UNC MPA program provides opportunities to network and connect with alumni and current practitioners. Growing up in Concord, I had already met some of Concord’s city officials. The UNC MPA program provided me the opportunity to reconnect with them on a more professional level at the North Carolina City and County Management Association (NCCCMA) conference this past February.
The mayor of Concord, Scott Padgett, was my elementary school principal. I vividly remember him visiting my 2nd grade class and telling great stories. I also remember him as a great friend of my Granddaddy Fries while growing up. I already knew a few of Concord’s city council members before attending the budget meeting last Tuesday. Some of them are former students of my grandparents. While familiar faces can make an individual feel more comfortable, it increases a sense of accountability. I feel a greater need to exceed expectations. Many of the people that I see walking on the streets in Concord are not just another citizen. They are classmates, former teachers, members of my church, parents of my friends, people I have known my entire life. Such closeness to a community undoubtedly keeps local government officials more accountable than politicians or government officials who could be 378.5 miles away. The politicians who develop and the administrators who implement public policies on a local level see how those policies directly impact people that they actually cross paths with.
After the council meeting, I met the current director of Concord’s buildings and grounds department. In addition, I was directed to Concord’s first buildings and grounds director. The insight these individuals can offer will be a great addition to my research on buildings and grounds maintenance. I am especially excited to learn more about Concord’s past transition to a single buildings and grounds department. I will meet with the director of Kannapolis’ public works department next week for a second time to further discuss how buildings and grounds maintenance responsibilities are currently scattered across departments.
In addition to all the introductions last Tuesday at Concord’s budget meeting, another major event occurred at the Kannapolis City Hall. One of my office neighbors in the finance department quit her job this week. Her leaving was unexpected. The finance department has improvised with the small staff they have to take care of the city’s financial responsibilities. This situation has left much of the staff stressed. One way members are dealing with the situation is humor. A day doesn’t go by without everyone sharing a laugh. The finance department is made up of only 6 employees. I am confident that their strong ability to communicate with each other will help them through this present challenge. Shortly after the employee quit, the head of the finance department held a formal meeting with his staff. The formal setting of this meeting ensured comments and concerns are voiced and heard by everyone in the department. The department head further encouraged communication by taking all the members of the finance department out to lunch.
I am happy to intern in two cities that I care about and feel connected to. I am thrilled that this internship is presenting learning experiences that I never imagined. Check in next week for more updates on my research and other happenings. I’m now half-way done with my time in Kannapolis. I’ll spend three more weeks with Kannapolis before moving to the Concord City Manager’s Office. I look forward to new experiences.