NCLM Southern City, Volume 72, Issue 1, 2022


Southern City is a publication for and about North Carolina municipalities, published quarterly by the North Carolina League of Municipalities. Volume 72 Number 1 1st Quarter 2022 Executive Director & Publisher: Rose Vaughn Williams Editor: Jack Cassidy Writer: Ben Brown Writer: Scott Mooneyham Southern City (USPS 827-280) is published quarterly for $25 per year ($2 per year to member municipalities, $1 for single copies) by the North Carolina League of Municipalities. Phone: 919-715-4000 Postmaster: Send address changes to: Southern City 434 Fayetteville Street, Suite 1900 Raleigh, NC 27601 Advertising & Design: Advertising Sales: Ronnie Jacko Design & Layout: Jon Cannon For advertising opportunities and deadlines, contact LLM Publications at 503-445-2234 or ©2022 NC League of Municipalities All rights reserved. The contents of this publication may not be reproduced by any means, in whole or in part, without the prior written consent of the publisher. PUBLISHED SPRING 2022 20 MAYOR KAREN ALEXANDER: THROUGH LEADERSHIP, A LEGACY SC OITUYTHERN

5 INSIDE THIS ISSUE 9 11 13 16 20 22 26 30 36 37 6 8 40 42 22 11 WRITERS THIS ISSUE BEN BROWN NCLM Communications & Multimedia Specialist JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination Cities See Highly Successful Legislative Session The 2021 session of the General Assembly proved to be the longest in the state's history. CityVision 2022: Wilmington! A brief look at what's to come April 27–28. The American Rescue Plan in Action The American Rescue Plan offers a generational opportunity to our municipalities. Here's how communities across NC are making the most of it. Deep Ties: Senator Natalie Murdock Has Lived Public Service The League’s quarterly legislator Q&A. Mayor Karen Alexander: Through Leadership, a Legacy Through calmness and confidence and the overcoming of crises, Alexander exits her yearlong league presidency having made a significant impact. Firefighters Cancer Legislation Provides Help and Balance For several years, North Carolina firefighters have sought changes to the state's workers’ compensation system. Cities, Towns Grapple with Labor Shortage Public works, utilities among the hard-to-fill. Local Spotlight: Fuquay-Varina On a recent drive, Southern City rolled through the ever-growing Wake County town of Fuquay-Varina. 'Hometown Carolina' Highlights Diverse Character of NC Cities and Towns The individual character of North Carolina's cities and towns matters, and the NC League of Municipalities, working with WRAL-TV in Raleigh, is working to showcase how city officials are protecting and enhancing that community character. The Infrastructure Bill: What's in It and What It Means for North Carolina Cities, towns, and villages have been calling on Congress to get to work on an infrastructure package since 2016. Board of Directors Speaking Out A Year of Challenges and Opportunities Taking the Field Keeping Up with Pension System Demands Board of Trustees

SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 6 Board of Directors 2021–2022 IMMEDIATE PAST-PRESIDENT Jennifer Robinson Council Member, Cary PRESIDENT Karen Alexander Mayor, Salisbury SECOND VICE-PRESIDENT William Harris Commissioner, Fuquay-Varina FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT Scott Neisler Mayor, Kings Mountain WORKING AS ONE. ADVANCING ALL. UNDESIGNATED AFFILIATE REP. Chris Beddingfield, NC Association of Police Chiefs Biltmore Forest DISTRICT 1 Mayor Don Kingston Duck UNDESIGNATED AFFILIATE REP. David Phlegar, SWANC Greensboro DISTRICT 12 Mayor Lynda Sossamon Sylva DISTRICT 11 Council Member Phyllis Harris Mount Holly DISTRICT 2 Council Member Brian Jackson Jacksonville CHARLOTTE Council Member Larken Egleston DISTRICT 3 Mayor Walter Eccard Shallotte DURHAM Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton AT LARGE Mayor Don Hardy Kinston DISTRICT 4 Mayor Jody McLeod Clayton FAYETTEVILLE Council Member Johnny Dawkins AT LARGE Council Member Doug Matheson Blowing Rock DISTRICT 5 Mayor Pro Tem Carl Ferebee Roanoke Rapids GREENSBORO Council Member Sharon Hightower MANAGER Jeffrey Repp, City Manager St. James DISTRICT 6 Council Member Satish Garimella Morrisville RALEIGH Council Member Nicole Stewart CLERK Linda M. Christopher, Assistant Village Manager/Clerk Whispering Pines MANAGER Bob Boyette, City Manager Marion DISTRICT 7 Alderman Sona Cooper Spring Lake WINSTON-SALEM Council Member Jeff MacIntosh MANAGER Andrew Havens, Town Manager Duck DISTRICT 8 Mayor Melinda Bales Huntersville PRESIDENT’S APPOINTMENT Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall Albemarle DISTRICT 9 Mayor Neville Hall Eden PRESIDENT’S APPOINTMENT Mayor Bill Dusch Concord ATTORNEY Kimberly Rehberg, City Attorney Durham DISTRICT 10 Council Member Nellie Archibald Wilkesboro PRESIDENT’S APPOINTMENT Council Member Owen Thomas Lumberton


SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 8 Over the past year, cities and towns across North Carolina have faced monumental and unprecedented challenges due to the global pandemic. Those same challenges have extended to this organization, as it has sought to be responsive to the member cities and towns that it serves. As my term as president of your NC League of Municipalities comes to an end, I know that it has not been an easy year. In fact, future generations will reflect on this time and wonder how we got through it. Historic challenges, though, create historic opportunities. And I believe cities and towns, as well as this organization, have and are seizing those opportunities to lay the groundwork for a better future. As I reflect on this past year, I am proud of this organization. Through adversity, we have achieved incredible successes. The work that we—representatives of member cities and towns, and the staff— have done to make the case for the needs of cities and towns, doing so at the state and federal level, paid off in historic investments coming from the state budget, the federal American Rescue Plan Act and the federal infrastructure bill. Since passage of those measures, our organization has been laying the groundwork to help members understand, administer, and get the best bang for the buck out of these funding streams. That work is seen in informational webinars; our information- packed microsite,; our report demonstrating how to get great value from infrastructure investments, The American Rescue Plan and Local Infrastructure; and now setting the stage for consultations to help in implementation. These funding streams represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and the past year has been one of digging into the rich soil that has been created to seek the most fruitful rewards to improve the lives of our residents. The year also saw NCLM, under the leadership of past-President Jennifer Robinson and second Vice President Bill Harris, begin its DIRECT program to help cities and towns find ways to address racial inequities. Coming out of our Racial Equity Task Force, we believe this beginning can help bring about inclusive conversations, involving an array of community partners, that lead to lasting change. Finally, we have now set the path for our League property in downtown Raleigh, which will further position NCLM as an active, effective, and forward-looking organization. Our driving principles, as we have approached this work, have been to best utilize the ground that we have and focus on the present, and on where we are as a society today, as well as prepare for the future. KAREN ALEXANDER NCLM President Historic challenges create historic opportunities. And I believe cities and towns, as well as this organization, have and are seizing those opportunities to lay the groundwork for a better future. A Year of Challenges and Opportunities SPEAKING OUT In many ways, those same principles apply to the larger work of the League and the larger work of cities and towns in these times of unprecedented challenges. The world has changed. In my city of Salisbury, and many other cities and towns across the state, we have had to utilize the ground that we have, our traditional community partners in the business and non-profit world, but in even more productive ways to address the shifting and more urgent needs of our residents. We have also had to recognize that we cannot rely on what we did yesterday. To be bold and innovative today is to be prudent. It’s not wasting time on solutions that will not work, only to have to begin over again. And it is being focused on what is the best and highest use. Those same principles apply to how we can use these unprecedented infrastructure and other funding streams, to our traditional work as cities and towns, and to this group of cities and towns that we call the League of Municipalities, working as one while advancing all. Getting the best that we can from the firm ground that we have established should always be the goal. I am honored to have worked with all of you, my fellow members of the Board of Directors, League staff, and all who have been involved with and committed to this organization. I look forward to seeing the good work, on this solid ground that we have created, continue into next year and into the future. Thank you all.

NCLM.ORG 9 he 2021 session of the General Assembly proved to be the longest in the state’s history. Even as the year ended, legislators continued to pass legislation related to the 2022 elections and the creation of new electoral districts. Noteworthy as its length was, the successes for cities and towns were every bit as significant. In many ways, those successes were the culmination of years of work to make the case for the importance of the state’s municipalities to the economy and the need for both investments and local flexibility so that North Carolina can continue to thrive. The results, of course, were set against a backdrop of one of the most difficult periods in the history of the state and country. The global pandemic had created an extremely challenging year in 2020 for everyone. For local elected leaders, those challenges included uncertainty regarding local tax revenues, addressing public health concerns, and balancing those health concerns with attempting to encourage an economic rebound for industries hurt by COVID-19. Setting the stage for the legislative session, and the success that it represents for cities, was the passage of the federal American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, legislation focused on economic recovery, as opposed to the earlier federal CARES Act focused on COVID response. The ARPA appropriated $1.3 billion in direct assistance to North Carolina municipalities over the next two years, but also provided $5.5 billion for recovery funds to the state. Many of those dollars will make their way to municipalities, through the passage of a state budget, for both specific infrastructure projects and through existing programs focused on infrastructure and other needs. In combination, the assistance offers a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address water, sewer, economic development, and quality-of-life needs in cities and towns. NCLM President and Salisbury Mayor Karen Alexander said it was clear that League members and staff made a comprehensive and compelling case regarding the needs of cities and towns, and how meeting those needs would further the state’s economy and improve the lives of residents. “Legislators want accountability, but they left it to us. This is not one-size-fits-all,” Alexander said. FINALLY, A BUDGET DEAL A final deal on the $26 billion state budget only came about after weeks of negotiations that began in the summer and moved into the fall. In previous years, legislative leaders and Gov. Roy Cooper had not been able to agree to a comprehensive budget plan, resulting in first vetoes and overrides of those vetoes, and then smaller spending bills that eliminated contentious items once legislative supermajorities (veto-proof margins) had gone away. In 2021, the governor, House Speaker Tim Moore, and Senate leader Phil Berger appeared determined to not repeat the same process and to approve a comprehensive state budget. With an agreement reached in November, the state is poised to spend roughly $9 billion in infrastructure, with much of those dollars flowing directly and indirectly to cities and towns. One of the biggest beneficiaries of this budget plan will be struggling water and sewer utilities across the state, with $456.4 million pushed into the state Viable Utility Reserve and over $1 billion placed into a separate reserve that will flow through the existing Clean Water State Revolving Fund or the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs. Another $103.6 million is appropriated to provide local assistance for stormwater programs, while roughly $55 million will go to general storm resiliency and other water resource restoration assistance. Other infrastructure funding includes: $347 million for various storm mitigation and resiliency projects (mostly individually earmarked), $115 million for local airport projects, $50 million for a new Rural Downtown Transformation Grant program, and $24.2 million for the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. An additional $1 billion was put toward broadband infrastructure, although none of that money was provided directly to municipalities. In comparison to prior years’ spending levels, the budget also took large strides in providing more dollars for affordable housing. The most noteworthy appropriation is a $170 million investment in the Workforce Housing Loan Program, which provides funding to build affordable housing. By making the program a revolving loan fund, it should also grow the available amounts over time. POLICY: HERE, THERE, EVERYWHERE The budget bill also became the primary vehicle by which a lot of public policy changes were approved, with the bill ballooning to 628 pages of text as a result. For cities and towns, the policy changes included some positives and other changes that are simply noteworthy. The state Historic T LEGISLATIVE UPDATE Cities See Highly Successful Legislative Session SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination continues on page 10

SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 10 Preservation Tax Credit Program, so important to redevelopment projects, had the program expiration date extended several more years to 2030. A budget provision created a new employee benefit for firefighters by providing an insurance program for those with cancer diagnoses deemed to be work-related, providing state funding and avoiding a mandate on local employers, and doing so while not creating the cost uncertainty of making changes to workers’ compensation insurance. Other policy provisions would require the Local Government Commission to develop a new system for monitoring the fiscal health of local government units and prohibit state agencies and local governments from paying ransom associated with cyberattacks. By the time of its passage, the policy packed into the budget had also become noteworthy for what wasn’t there. After the House budget proposal included provisions to eliminate local stormwater programs, do away with local school siting authority, undermine local short-term rental rules, and eliminate local tree ordinances, all of those provisions were dropped. That success came only after a substantial effort by NCLM members to make their concerns known to legislators and how the policy changes would have detrimental effects in local communities. THE REST OF THE STORY While the state budget took up most of the chapters of this legislative session, other important chapters played out earlier. NCLM worked extensively with elections officials and legislators to put together a solution to the problems associated with delayed U.S. Census results and how delays in data would affect municipal elections in which councils are elected by districts. Substantial pieces of land-use legislation that would have damaged local decision-making also were defeated, failed to pass, or were modified—the most significant being a bill that would have continued from page 9 eliminated all single family-only zoning and put severe hurdles in the way of special use zoning that is crucial to mixed-use development. In the aftermath of 2020’s protest of police use of force, criminal justice reform became a key topic, with legislation approved that requires police departments to collect information about critical incidents, creates a statutory duty to intervene and report excessive force by law enforcement, provides additional mental health resources, adds screening requirements for law enforcement officers, and adds to training programs. NCLM Executive Director Rose Vaughn Williams reiterated how the legislative session’s high points came about due to hard work that occurred over several years. “This success would not have been possible without the work of our members engaging their legislators in positive dialogue for change. Our members set the highest priority goals for all cities and towns from across the state, and then followed up by working to make them a reality through the actions that occurred at the General Assembly,” she said. That hard work now continues with the utilization of these new resources to see lasting effects in communities across the state. Legislators want accountability, but they left it to us. This is not one-size-fits-all. » Karen Alexander, NCLM President Cities See Highly Successful Legislative Session

NCLM.ORG 11 remarks from Maurice Smith, CEO of the Local Government Federal Credit Union, on leadership as a service. Networking opportunities among members and a full slate of events are to follow. The day-one agenda includes (but isn't limited to) a talk on 10 Critical Elements that will Make Tomorrow's Communities from Mitchell Silver, former commissioner of the New York City Parks Department; an emerging-issues talk featuring NCLM's DIRECT (Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity for Cities and Towns) program; and discussions about the American Rescue Plan that's bringing $1.3 billion in federal money to North Carolina municipalities. The afternoon will break the right way with an ice cream social and time to check out the event sponsors before a relaxing, proper visit with downtown Wilmington, including strolling time on the city’s attractive riverwalk. ou can stroll one of the top riverwalks in the country, absorb emerging issues, network with colleagues from around the state and tour the Cape Fear—it's all part of CityVision 2022, NCLM's annual conference, scheduled for an in-person agenda over April 27–28 in beautiful downtown Wilmington. (Some activity will begin April 26, when several League-affiliate groups, like Black Elected Municipal Officials and Young Elected Officials, are scheduled to hold their annual meetings.) The Wilmington Convention Center, positioned along the Cape Fear River downtown and view to a memorable sunset, will be the venue for this exciting event. The conference will kick off properly with opening ceremonies the morning of the 27th at the fabulous complex, where the opening general session will take place with Y LEAGUE UPDATE CityVision 2022: Wilmington! A Brief Look at What’s to Come April 27–28 NCLM STAFF continues on page 12 Don't miss this in-person opportunity to experience the best event for League members. CityVision 2022 will be a great time for all.

SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 12 The evening's remainder will be food, fun, and music at the Port City’s newest riverfront venue park, as hosted by the City of Wilmington. The conference will resume April 28 with a breakfast followed by more sessions on emerging issues and community growth-planning. The afternoon will include a lunch, a networking dessert social, time to view the abundant exhibit hall, and more relaxation and tour options in downtown Wilmington as the evening draws near. At dinner time will be the main event, the President's Reception at the convention center, followed by dinner, awards and entertainment. Don't miss this in-person opportunity to experience the best event for League members. CityVision 2022 will be a great time for all. Visit for event registration and a full look at the agenda. continued from page 11 CityVision 2022: Wilmington!

NCLM.ORG 13 ARP CORNER The American Rescue Plan in Action he American Rescue Plan offers a generational opportunity for our municipalities, not just to recover from the pandemic, but to thrive well into the future. It is this forward-looking aspect of the ARP that is most consequential. How best can we utilize this money to create a lasting impact? All across North Carolina, cities and towns are developing plans and programs specifically geared towards this question, and history shows us that these projects will be successful. When our municipalities receive financial support, they achieve substantial successes. Cities get the job done. This ongoing series will showcase those projects, plans, and transformational investments, both to highlight the end-to-end impressive work of our municipalities and to share best practices with other cities and towns. MOORESVILLE: MEETING BOTH IMMEDIATE AND LONG-TERM NEEDS Mooresville, NC Population: 50,193 Funds Received: $12.47 million Plan • Capital Investment: Liberty Park Outdoor Recreation Improvement • Employee Premium Pay • Employee Vaccination Incentive • Funding outside organizations most affected by the pandemic Mooresville’s decided-upon investments will be made solely with the town’s first tranche of ARP funds, totaling approximately $6.2 million. Additional projects, if approved, will be funded using the town’s second tranche. Ideas under consideration include cybersecurity, transportation, and additional support to organizations serving those most affected by COVID-19. Strategy • Make long-term impact through investments in infrastructure • Address immediate pandemic-related needs • Promptly allocate first tranche of ARP funds; leave second tranche of funds flexible and continue to consider local needs Mooresville is a rapidly growing town that has seen its population balloon more than 53% over the last 10 years. With that level of growth comes both challenges and opportunity. There is the need for significant infrastructural investments to meet the demands of the growing population, and through those needed investments, there is the unique occasion to set the town up for success through well-planned and transformational improvements. Local leaders are proving up to the task. Mooresville’s ARP plan hits the mark on both long- and short-term issues. “We have tremendous capital needs for the next five years as a growing community, so we look for opportunities where the ARP funds could fill in the gaps,” said Assistant Town Manager Beau Falgout. “How can these funds be leveraged to do those capital projects to have a long-lasting impact?” Towards the long-term vision, the majority of first tranche funds is going towards a capital project—Liberty Park. That project has been a long-held goal of the town, and will include trail improvements, playground improvements, water features, multi-use facilities, and overall site improvements. The rapidly growing community necessitated increased and improved public space, and that goal took on added significance with the need for outdoor places due to the pandemic. In the short-term, Mooresville focused on COVID-specific actions: vaccine incentives, employee premium pay, and outside funding to areas of the community most impacted by the pandemic. Both these initiatives and the Liberty Park project are funded by Mooresville’s first tranche. The town’s second tranche has not yet been allocated. “We’ve developed a plan, then left some flexibility for the second tranche,” said Falgout. “The first tranche addresses immediate needs and closes some funding gaps to have long-term impact.” Administration Website. Mooresville’s plan has been transparently communicated to its citizens through the town’s ARP webpage. This site contains both information on the federal legislation, exact funding amounts towards each project, and contact information for public input. Citizen engagement. Funds in both tranches are dedicated towards funding outside agencies addressing those most impacted by the pandemic, and the town has created a website to receive feedback on that topic. The town has accepted public T continues on page 14

SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 14 input throughout the process, and that contact information has been made readily available. Decision-making process. “We did not create projects out of the blue,” Falgout said. The Liberty Park project was already a decided-upon investment prior to receiving ARP funds. Additionally, the town put together an internal committee to vet each proposal, and each idea was thoroughly discussed by the Town Board of Commissioners. Justification. To meet the requirements of eligible expenditures under U.S. Treasury guidance, Mooresville has provided justification for each approved expense in its Grant Project Ordinances, which are linked below. Accounting, reporting, oversight. Mooresville tentatively plans to either hire or contract out assistance to oversee the reporting requirements associated with ARP. HIGHLANDS: TACKLING CRITICAL WATER INVESTMENTS Highlands, NC Population: 1,065 Funds Received: $312,000 Plan • Moore Wood Waterline Replacement Project Strategy • Focus on the area’s biggest need—water infrastructure—by completing a critical capital project • Focus on previously targeted projects, to provide budget relief Highlands is one of western North Carolina’s preeminent tourist destinations. However, with a limited number of full-time residents, the total ARP funding for the town is relatively small, especially considering the scope of the community’s economic activity and the infrastructural network that supports it. So, local leaders focused only on the most important project: water. The Moore Wood Waterline Replacement Project was already in the plans for Highlands. It will replace and upgrade a water line in a critical area. The town has dedicated all of its ARP funds to the project. “We didn’t get as much as some places did,” said Town Manager Josh Ward. “But, like a lot of municipalities, we have water needs.” ARP funds will cover about three-quarters of the total project’s cost, said Ward, and it is clearly eligible under ARP guidance. Additionally, since the project was already budgeted for, these funds will provide relief for other infrastructure projects in the town’s plans. “We had this project in the budget,” said Ward. “We were going to have to pay for it anyway, so it was perfect receiving the money when we did.” Administration Efficiency. While a booming town for visitors, Highlands hosts only about 1,000 fulltime residents. Thus, its ARP distribution was relatively small. To get the most of those funds, town leaders leveraged their pre-ARP preparations and targeted a project already in focus for the community. By doing so, they saved on resources, did not need to hire outside accounting or consulting help, and quickened the decision-making process. Most importantly, they ensured that every ARP dollar received went directly to the infrastructure investment. Reporting and accounting. Though not the only infrastructure project in Highland’s plans, the Moore Wood Waterline Replacement was the one most clearly eligible under ARP spending guidelines. By prioritizing it, Highlands has simplified its reporting responsibilities, while still freeing up budget space for other nonARP expenditures. ANGIER: LEVERAGING FUNDS, PARTNERSHIPS TO MEET GROWING NEEDS Angier, NC Population: 5,265 Funds Received: $1.72 million Plan • Increase sewer capacity Strategy • Provide the necessary infrastructure to support the community’s rapid growth by focusing on critical service line: sewer capacity • Partner with Harnett County • Leverage additional money appropriated in state budget to complement ARP funds Angier has seen approximately a 30% population increase over the past 10 years. That level of growth provides opportunities in regard to economic and community development; and it also brings challenges, as the municipality works to meet increased service needs. If there’s one thing local governments do, it is provide the infrastructure needed for communities to succeed. That is Angier’s goal, too. continued from page 13 The American Rescue Plan in Action

NCLM.ORG 15 Receiving more than $1.7 million in American Rescue Plan funds, Angier has made plans to invest in its sewer capacity. It is one of the most pressing needs of the area, and Town Manager Gerry Vincent estimates that Angier has fewer than five years left before its present capacity is exceeded. “We’re running out of capacity,” Vincent said. “We know that based on our growth.” Presently, sewer service is provided by Harnett County through an agreement with Angier, and this additional investment will proceed through that same partnership. More than 1.25 million gallons of additional capacity is needed to meet Angier’s estimated growth, according to Manager Vincent, and that investment will cost approximately $8.75 million. Angier plans to leverage a few funding sources for this investment. In addition to the local ARP funds, Angier received $10 million of North Carolina’s ARP funds, appropriated by way of the 2021 state budget and to be spent towards water and sewer infrastructure projects. Administration Prioritization. Infrastructure needs take centerstage, especially for a growing community. Manager Vincent expects most, if not all, of the town’s ARP distribution to fund this sewer expansion. Partnerships. As seen throughout the state, funding goes further when partnerships are formed. It also allows for streamlined administration of funds. While the exact means of sewer capacity expansion have yet to be determined, the existing partnership allows both Angier and Harnett County to pursue the most efficient route for that investment, whether that be the simple purchasing of additional capacity or an expansion of the county’s facilities. Keep up to date on all of our ARP case studies on Here We Grow, at The American Rescue Plan offers a generational opportunity for our municipalities, not just to recover from the pandemic, but to thrive well into the future. It is this forward-looking aspect of the ARP that is most consequential. How best can we utilize this money to create a lasting impact? When our municipalities receive financial support, they achieve substantial successes. Cities get the job done. The American Rescue Plan in Action

SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 16 Deep Ties: Senator Natalie Murdock Has Lived Public Service BEN BROWN NCLM Communications & Multimedia Specialist In talking with Sen. Natalie Murdock, a Democrat representing the Durham area, it doesn’t take long to recognize her enthusiasm for legislative service. She describes herself as a policy wonk and is closely familiar with governmentese, local to federal. She’s worked in the areas of transportation, economic development, agriculture, childhood education, and more. Her appraisal of 2021, one of the longest legislative sessions in memory? “I’ve actually enjoyed all of it,” she told Southern City during a recent visit to her legislative office in Raleigh. At the time of this interview, the marathon session for the senator was just winding down. ˘˘˘ Your 2021 legislative session was a long one. How would you evaluate it? NM: It has been a long session, even though it was a difficult time to come in as a new senator. I actually came in at the height of COVID, so since I was appointed to finish out the term of my predecessor, Senator Floyd McKissick, I was aware of the basics of how session runs. We were actually appropriating all those COVID dollars at the time, and obviously for the local governments they were patiently waiting for all of that, and so I came into this year with a lot of the veterans letting me know “long session is long session and it could be very long.” We didn’t anticipate it would be quite this long, but as a self-proclaimed policy wonk and previous bureaucrat, I’ve actually enjoyed all of it. It’s just been a great way to jump in and learn more about topics during a long session, since so many different bills come before you around so many different topics and working with various groups and organizations, meeting with them to learn more. I filed a lot of bills, and so I had a lot of fun this session. It would be nice if more of our bills would move forward, but I have had a really good time filing and just getting that feedback from the public that they’re excited about the work I’m doing. I was able to get a few things into the state budget that are good for my district and the people of North Carolina. So, long, grueling, but I definitely have learned a lot during the long session. And I do want to add, I have it easier than some of my colleagues since I reside in the city of Durham. I actually live in the (Research Triangle Park area), so I am around 25 minutes away from this building. So, for me I have the ability to come here, do my work, my work office is on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh. For some members, the long session has been really, really hard on their families. For me, being based in Durham … I’m able to have some level of normalcy throughout the session. I’m lucky; all of my colleagues don’t have the same luxury. You mentioned all the different topics that come into play during the session. I know you have a varied professional background. How has that helped you to acclimate to all of this? NM: It has been really helpful. And that was a big reason why I ran, to file and to have the opportunity to talk with my now-constituents, back when they were my voters, about my background, which is why I felt I was uniquely prepared to serve. I tell folks—now I’m 37—but then a 35-year-old, with a resume of someone that was 55, I have been a regional transportation planner, I have worked in economic development. And to dig into transportation a little bit more, I’ve worked at the municipal level. I’ve worked for the Town of Chapel Hill, I’ve worked for Go Triangle regional transit agency, I was with the council of governments out of Asheville, Land of Sky Regional Council, I was working on their metropolitan planning organization as well as their rural. I was there when we rolled out the first prioritization process for transportation … STI, Strategic Transportation Investments. I’ve been through all of that. In economic development, grants for Black Mountain to become an entrepreneurial community. That sign is still on I-40 to this day: “Welcome to an entrepreneurial community.” I wrote that grant along with their town council. So, deep ties to local government. Done a lot of work with agriculture and with farmers … we had a grant to work with local farmers. I even have a reference point with housing, also at my time with the council of governments. We received one of the sustainable community grants that was a partnership with USDA, HUD, and EPA. In transportation, you learn a lot about air quality. So, really a lot of interaction with a lot THE LEAGUE’S QUARTERLY LEGISLATOR Q&A continues on page 18


SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 18 Deep Ties: Senator Natalie Murdock Has Lived Public Service of different topics. A little bit of everything is in my background, so that’s been helpful to come here. So, full circle, being on the Transportation Committee, as well as (the) Agriculture, Energy, and Environment (Committee). I have deep, deep backgrounds in those topics and now I get to serve on those committees. Also, to go all the way back, I worked in early childhood education… A lot, a lot of different things in my background. That’s a lot there that overlaps with local government. How does that help, in terms of understanding that context and using it as a legislator? NM: It is huge. And first with the relationships. I’ve worked a lot this year on the CROWN Act so that folks are not discriminated against because of their natural hair. And being fully aware of the composition of our General Assembly, I knew it would be difficult to get that legislation passed, but knew that we could do a lot through local ordinances and working through the governor’s office. So back to those local relationships, I was able to call (a number of local government leaders) and be able to talk to our local leaders. So, being that I worked in transportation before coming here, I worked for Durham specifically, our board of commissioners, our city council, I’ve worked with a lot of the Chapel Hill council members, as well as knowing how Orange County moves, as well as Wake County. At Wake County, at Go Triangle, at the end of my time there we were working on their transit plan, so I was able to work with their county commissioners. So, really having those relationships. Working with a lot of different local officials has been really, really helpful, because as state legislative members, that’s where the rubber meets the road. We have to know how our statutes and laws work; how will they have an impact on local government? And so having that awareness. I also try to be proactive, to talk with them first. “How will this impact you? If it it’s an issue, let me know and I will bring it up to my colleagues in those committee meetings.” What kinds of issues do local officials tend to bring to you? NM: As you know, preemption has really been a popular one. If a local government, i.e. Durham, wants to have more strict regulations around development and its impact on stormwater, I personally believe that is a right to do that. If we want to have an ordinance around tree planting, we should have the right to do that. And believe it or not, the tree planting issue, not only from local elected officials but also from everyday citizens and constituents, that is one of the top issues I receive letters and emails about. Working with local government, the context is nonpartisan. One thing I’ve noticed is, outside of floor debates, there’s a lot of camaraderie between legislators no matter their party. How does that come into play in terms of legislative success? NM: Of all the talks I have with organizations and community members, they’re always shocked to hear that. Especially in the Senate. We keep a certain level of decorum and professionalism on the floor … I’ve met colleagues for lunch and had coffee outside of the chamber. I have no issue saying I’ve enjoyed working with (Republican) Senator Kathy Harrington out of Gaston County. Working with her and (fellow Republican) Senator Deanna Ballard, one of the budget items I was able to get across the finish line was about how one in five young people that menstruate do not have access to menstrual products, and so doing a lot of research on the topic and found out that in Georgia, which is red—they can say that it’s blue but those state houses are red, they are in a superminority, Democrats in both chambers—they were able to get a million dollars in funding. And I said, “How in the world did they do that down there?” So, I did some research on that and shared with my colleagues this session … Since Senator Ballard was Education (Committee) chair, my strategy was to figure out a way to get those funds to DPI. Talked with DPI, they thought it was a phenomenal idea. Senator Harrington fought for it to the continued from page 16

NCLM.ORG 19 Deep Ties: Senator Natalie Murdock Has Lived Public Service end. You learn about seniority very quickly here. You have got to have someone on that (budget) conference committee who cares about the issues you care about. And she fought for it, it remained, and it is in the state budget. I’ve definitely been able to work with my colleagues (across the aisle) on a number of issues. There’s a way. NM: And I think, unfortunately, we focus on this perceived rural-urban divide—I mean, I am a senator of an urban district; I’ll be gaining Chatham County (through redistricting), which I’m thrilled about. What I’ve found is there are still a lot of similarities. A lot of overlap. Particularly when it comes to socio-economic status. If you do not make a lot of money, your challenges are not that different from someone that lives in a rural community. When you look at broadband access, a lot of those dead zones that we have in our county, we still have those in Durham County, so we can relate to that in the northeast or the far west. Food insecurity. Those are issues we can relate with. There are still a lot of urban school districts where a lot of kids are on free and reduced lunch. So, what I’ve found is finding those commonalities with my colleagues serving in rural area to say, “Guess what, that’s an issue for Durham County as well.” I really come at it from a perspective of being very practical. And just finding what it is that we agree on. We were able to provide Medicaid coverage for women 12 months post-partum. And back to something we can all agree on. If we can agree on when someone decides that they want to have a baby, let’s work so that mother stays alive, and that child is born healthy. And I find that is something I can agree with my colleagues on. So, I’ll continue to do a lot of work around maternal health. And in that final budget we were able to provide Medicaid for women 12 months post-partum (versus the previous limit of 60 days). So that’s a huge, huge win. All of those were issues I’ve been working on with the majority party. What else would you like local officials to know? NM: Just for them to continue to reach out to their legislators and let us know the impact that legislation will have on them, locally. Sometimes we hear about those concerns and it’s too late. I would definitely encourage mayors, city council members, county commissioners to be really proactive, bring those issues to us early on. Every area is different. In Durham, we have weekly meetings with our mayor, our chair of the county commission, our school board members. Reach out to your legislators early and often. I would also say work with someone to get access to the legislative calendar and make sure that, before bill filing opens, when we really have the opportunity to file legislation (as requested by a locality) … we can’t do it if we don’t know about it. Lobby your legislators. We want to advocate for you. I will say the League of Municipalities and the NC Association of County commissioners do a great job keeping us informed. Reach out to your legislators early and often. Work with someone to get access to the legislative calendar and make sure that, before bill filing opens, when we really have the opportunity to file legislation … we can’t do it if we don’t know about it. We want to advocate for you.

SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022 20 Mayor Karen Alexander: Through Leadership, a Legacy JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate THROUGH CALMNESS AND CONFIDENCE AND THE OVERCOMING OF CRISES, ALEXANDER EXITS HER YEARLONG LEAGUE PRESIDENCY HAVING MADE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT. This project becomes the visual for our commitment for growing and responsibly creating cities. This job will involve every aspect of what cities have to offer in terms of infrastructure and services. We're going to experience as an organization why we advocate for the needs of cities. It will be the culmination. Karen Alexander’s year as the NC League President is bursting with the notion of legacy. For the Salisbury Mayor and architect by trade, it is something she’s used to. Alexander builds monuments. What she leaves behind stands for generations. In this case, the testaments pursued, managed, and developed over the past 12 months are both physical and symbolic. She is overseeing a significant step forward for the League in constructing its new downtown building, after its former home was destroyed in the Raleigh fire of 2017. Less concrete, but equally if not more important, are her advances on the critical issues, which she calls the trifecta: COVID, racial equity, and the economic recovery of North Carolina communities. On top of all that is the forward momentum of the League, growing in both size and scope and navigating a new, pandemic-created landscape. Alexander views it all through the perspective of opportunity. “Out of the worst possible disasters and challenges, if you’re looking at it from a positive lens, you start to see not just the devastation,” she said. It’s an approach that has yielded significant successes. Alexander has led the League through a period of significant refortifying—growing both in size and stature, reaching more members than ever, providing more services, and on the advocacy front, coming off its most successful legislative session in a decade. As to her own legacy, it’s not something Alexander believes can be personally defined. Rather, that is for others to decide—others, who, with even just a quick glance, will see a series of significant issues successfully managed by a devoted public servant, creating long-lasting impacts that will in no small part define the NC League of Municipalities for years to come. Mayor Alexander knew she was entering her year of League leadership at a trying time for North Carolina cities and towns, and she was intimately familiar with those challenges through her work back home in Salisbury, where she has served on the city council since 2013. Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, Alexander was instrumental in coordinating regional partnerships, establishing health measures such as testing and vaccination clinics, and distributing support through different community programs and grant opportunities. Upon taking over as League president in 2021, Alexander leaned fully into those talents to continue that pattern of partnership, and led the organization into a fruitful period of virtual connectivity. “I don’t think we understood how powerful it could be,” Alexander said of the League’s online approach employed throughout the past two years. Educational events and webinars have enjoyed record-high attendance, and in the face of rapidly changing situations, the ability to quickly meet with colleagues across the state to share ideas and experiences proved invaluable. “The availability

NCLM.ORG 21 of bite-size educational opportunities that would help our local leaders learn best practices and develop professionalism and leadership skills, without having to leave their home… It’s amazing. And it happened by necessity.” Alexander has been a mainstay in the development of many key League advancements. On top of the aforementioned educational courses, she has overseen the launch of the League’s racial equity program DIRECT, which stands for Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity in Cities and Towns, and she also led the organization’s advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session (page 9). From a broader perspective, she has served in leadership roles at the League during what she believes to be a transformative period. Remembering the strategic sessions, the creation of the organization’s key values (“service, self-determination, inclusiveness, collaboration, and responsiveness”) and slogan (Working as One. Advancing All.), and the steady bolstering of services from advocacy to information sharing, Alexander sees an organization miles ahead of where it stood only a few years prior. Serving on the NCLM board since 2016, she has seen it firsthand, and she credits it to the people—to the local leaders from the mountains to the coast and every big and little town in between. Seen through the eyes of an architect, the result is a resilient structure. “When you put up a building, whether the building blocks are made of stone or granite, if you don't have that cement between the building blocks, you don't have a strong structure that can withstand the challenges that come along,” Alexander said. “It’s the same when you're building organizations. It's all of these wonderful pieces and parts that are coming from all these diverse minds and intelligence and personal experiences. That is the connective cement that holds it all together in a very strong way.” Perhaps above all else, Alexander’s legacy will be tied to a literal building: the forthcoming League home, still in the early stages of its planning process. Alexander has been a part of the League’s building committee since, as she recalls, the start—that start being the end of NCLM’s longtime downtown Raleigh offices, consumed in a five-alarm fire considered to be the city’s largest in nearly a century. The goal quickly became to recover and to rebuild. “It is an opportunity. It is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Alexander said. “And with that opportunity, we also have a huge responsibility. It is a legacy decision.” At present, the damaged structure has been demolished, and the property is serving as a parking lot. Future hopes are far more upward-looking. Though those plans still require a great deal of development, Alexander is clear about the tremendous prospect the property offers not just the League, but the cities and towns of North Carolina as a whole. Even more than that, she’s clear about the experience it promises, too. Mayor Karen Alexander: Through Leadership, a Legacy “This project becomes the visual for our commitment for growing and responsibly creating cities,” Alexander said. “This job will involve every aspect of what cities have to offer in terms of infrastructure and services. We're going to experience as an organization why we advocate for the needs of cities. It will be the culmination.” This level of thoughtfulness pervades Alexander’s entire approach to public service, as does the calmness with which she wields it. “Within that calmness, though, I'm very pragmatic,” Alexander said. “I like to listen. I like to hear every single voice. I don't need attention or press or anything. “I just like doing the work. That is my reward, to see it come together.”

SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination Firefighters Cancer Legislation Provides Help and Balance For several years, North Carolina firefighters have sought changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system to create a legal presumption that certain cancers were caused by exposures related to their work. continues on page 24 22 SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 1 2022