A PUBLICAT ION OF THE NORTH CAROLINA LEAGUE OF MUNICIPALITIES 18 FAITH LEADER: REP. AMOS QUICK PREACHES HOPE 22 COUNCIL MEMBER OWEN THOMAS GETS INVOLVED 32 KEEPING THE PACE WITH THE URBAN FOOTPRINT VOLUME 72 / NUMBER 3 / 3RD QUARTER 2022 2022 Town & State Dinner a Memorable Success
Southern City is a publication for and about North Carolina municipalities, published quarterly by the North Carolina League of Municipalities. Volume 72 Number 3 3rd Quarter 2022 Executive Director & Publisher: Rose Vaughn Williams Editor: Jack Cassidy Writer: Ben Brown Writer: Scott Mooneyham www.nclm.org 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 email@example.com. ©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 FALL 2022 22 COUNCIL MEMBER OWEN THOMAS GETS INVOLVED SC OITUYTHERN
5 INSIDE THIS ISSUE 9 12 14 18 22 24 32 36 38 6 8 40 42 32 18 WRITERS THIS ISSUE BEN BROWN NCLM Communications & Multimedia Strategist JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination A Less Than Dramatic Legislative Session Congressional Luncheons Bring Together Local Leaders and Federal Lawmakers 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. Faith Leader: Rep. Amos Quick Preaches Hope for Communities’ Futures The League’s quarterly legislator Q&A. Council Member Owen Thomas Gets Involved If there’s a leadership position available, Owen Thomas is likely to step in. Now, as a local leader for the city of Lumberton, he’s utilizing his go-getter mentality to move the community forward. 2022 Town & State Dinner a Memorable Success A photo gallery of the League’s 4th Annual Town & State Dinner. Keeping the Pace with the Urban Footprint What if NC cities had been restricted from growing their urban footprint over the last decade? Cities in the Northeast and Upper Midwest provide an answer. NCLM Takes American Rescue Plan Expert Tour on the Road The traveling one-stop ARP shop makes four stops this fall, working its way west to east across North Carolina. Municipal Equation Is on the Air NCLM’s podcast is back in 2022, covering some of the most interesting and important topics around the League and around the state. Board of Directors Speaking Out We Have More Work to Do Taking the Field State and Local Partnerships Propel North Carolina Forward Board of Trustees
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 6 MANAGER Tasha Logan-Ford, City Manager High Point IMMEDIATE PAST-PRESIDENT Karen Alexander Mayor, Salisbury SECOND VICE-PRESIDENT Mark-Anthony Middleton Mayor Pro Tem, Durham FIRST VICE-PRESIDENT William Harris Commissioner, Fuquay-Varina PRESIDENT Scott Neisler Mayor, Kings Mountain Board of Directors 2022–2023 WORKING AS ONE. ADVANCING ALL. UNDESIGNATED AFFILIATE REP. Chief Chris Beddingfield, NC Association of Police Chiefs Biltmore Forest DISTRICT 1 Mayor Elizabeth Morey Southern Shores UNDESIGNATED AFFILIATE REP. Commissioner John Ellen, Resort Towns & Convention Cities Kure Beach DISTRICT 12 Mayor Lynda Sossamon Sylva DISTRICT 11 Council Member Phyllis Harris Mount Holly DISTRICT 2 Council Member Brian Jackson Jacksonville CHARLOTTE Council Member Malcolm Graham DISTRICT 3 Mayor Terry Mann Whiteville DURHAM Council Member Leonardo Williams AT LARGE Mayor Don Hardy Kinston DISTRICT 4 Mayor Jody McLeod Clayton FAYETTEVILLE Council Member Kathy Jensen DISTRICT 5 Council Member TJ Walker Rocky Mount GREENSBORO Mayor Pro Tem Yvonne Johnson DISTRICT 6 Council Member Satish Garimella Morrisville RALEIGH Council Member Nicole Stewart CLERK Brenda Blanco, Municipal Clerk New Bern 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 Neville Hall Eden DISTRICT 9 Mayor Michael Horn Lewisville PRESIDENT’S APPOINTMENT Mayor Walter Eccard Shallotte ATTORNEY Karen McDonald, City Attorney Fayetteville DISTRICT 10 Mayor Teross Young, Troutman PRESIDENT’S APPOINTMENT Mayor Dwight Lake Mayodan AT LARGE Mayor Pro Tem Martha Sue Hall Albemarle AT LARGE Council Member Owen Thomas Lumberton
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 8 The General Assembly in 2021 recorded the longest session on record, but what a fruitful time for our state. Huge amounts of money were put toward local infrastructure that will help improve aging city water systems. This past Legislative Session was a quiet one for most of our cities and towns. In both sessions, your League, through staff and members, spent many hours engaging with our local legislators discussing important policies, working together on local projects, and just plain getting to know one another. More than ever, our state legislators understand that we are all in this together, all trying to better our communities. Many are familiar with city challenges while there are still others that haven’t had any experience with city issues. In effect, our efforts are paying off, but we have more work to do! There are a couple of issues that bubbled to the surface on Raleigh’s Jones Street this year that all city elected officials and staff should be concerned about. First, several local bills were filed that either would have undermined local land-use planning, restricted extraterritorial jurisdiction or affected local control of water systems. The second was the continuing focus on local governments on the Local Government Commission’s Unit Assistance List. It will always be better for us to self-regulate and come up with common sense solutions with the General Assembly. Regarding the local bills, Lexington saw bills approved that removed the county airport from the town corporate limits and that restricted zoning on county- owned property within the city where a jail is planned. The Town of Leland, near the southeastern coast, saw a measure approved restricting voluntary annexation as a condition of providing water and sewer service. It is important to note that the bills affecting Lexington and Leland came about due SCOTT NEISLER NCLM President More than ever, our state legislators understand that we are all in this together, all trying to better our communities. Our efforts are paying off, but we have more work to do. We Have More Work to Do SPEAKING OUT to some fairly unique circumstances, so this may not represent a statewide trend. At any rate, some of the committee discussions about these bills were troubling. At times, those discussions ignored how local planning, extraterritorial jurisdiction and the provision of water and sewer service all work together to allow for orderly growth and how that orderly growth keeps communities attractive to businesses and new residents. Two other controversial bills that did not pass include one that temporarily prohibits voluntary annexation in Salisbury and another eliminating extraterritorial jurisdiction in Haywood County municipalities. As for towns facing financial struggles, legislation was approved that would require more local borrowing approval from the Local Government Commission for those on the Unit Assistance List, a listing of those local governments in financial trouble. The bill comes a year after the General Assembly approved legislation, with League input and support, that provided for more transparency for local government finance, more assistance for the Local Government Commission and more pathways for financially troubled municipalities to work their ways out of trouble. There is no question that the League, state lawmakers, the LGC, the state treasurer and other partners need to continue to work to find ways to help financially troubled municipalities that have little or no resources, as they face a wide range of circumstances, including job and population losses that diminish public and private-sector resources. Each example of this legislative action demonstrates that we have more work to do to advance the reality that strong cities and towns, created around the visions of local residents, make for a stronger and better North Carolina, and that together we live up to our mission: Working as One. Advancing ALL!
NCLM.ORG 9 fter the 2021 legislative session that saw cities and towns reap tremendous infrastructure and other funding, this year’s follow-up was, well, a bit of a bore. At least as much as any legislative session can be. That doesn’t mean that Mark Twain’s admonishment about always being aware while a legislature is in session was able to be ignored in 2022. But relative to most recent sessions, state lawmakers focused most of their attention on issues— Medicaid expansion, state employee pay raises, sports betting, and legalization of medical marijuana—not of immediate relevance to municipal governance. And even for issues that garnered all that attention, most were unable to get over the finish line to becoming law. Like most years, the biggest task before the General Assembly was passing a state budget plan. But even that task was filled with fewer roadblocks because the evenyear session involved mostly tweaks to the two-year spending plan approved in 2021 and because legislators mostly avoided placing major policy provisions in the bill. As a result, they had approved the plan in a bipartisan vote just as the fiscal year began on July 1, with Governor Roy Cooper signing it into law shortly after. As forecast in the two-year budget approved last year, this year’s spending plan beefed up the state programs that fund water and sewer investments, and also provided for some other key priorities of cities and towns. Here are a few of the budget items benefiting cities: Affordable Housing: The budget puts another $20 million into the state’s Workforce Housing Loan Program after the previous two-year budget put $170 million toward the program for 2022–23. Infrastructure: In total, $1.5 billion will go toward infrastructure, a figure that does not include the state’s two separately funded road building and maintenance funds, the Highway Fund, and the Highway Trust Fund. There are a number of appropriations targeted for specific local government projects sprinkled throughout the plan. These include grants for parks, trails, public buildings, and other public works projects. Four municipal airports will have a total of $24 million directed to them. The state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will receive an additional $230 million from the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Resiliency/Disaster Recovery: Legislators moved $15 million from the State Emergency Response and Disaster Relief Fund to meet the state’s matching share for FEMA Public Assistance for pandemic- related expenses. It also provided $5 million of that money for debris removal for areas impacted by Tropical Storm A LEGISLATIVE UPDATE A Less Than Dramatic Legislative Session SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination Fred. Canton, Lillington, and Colerain will receive substantial sums for storm recovery and resiliency efforts. Transportation: Federal receipts for state transportation projects increased $298.6 million due to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, bringing the total surface transportation federal aid programs receipts from the federal government to $1.4 billion. Total funding in the Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund is expected to increase by $933 million, with a $109 million one-time transfer from the Highway Trust Fund to the Highway Fund to speed up right-of-way purchases for Strategic Transportation Investments Prioritization (STIP) projects. Within the $1.9 billion allocated to the Highway Trust Fund, $1.7 billion is for STIP projects, a $106 million increase over last year. This increase in continues on page 10
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 10 funding is recurring. Also, the budget begins a transfer of state sales tax revenue, which had flowed to its general operating budget, to its road construction and maintenance, with the transfer to grow to 6 percent of general sales tax revenue by the 2024–25 budget year. Outside of budget and funding considerations, the legislative session did include consideration of a handful of local bills looking to restrict voluntary annexation, end extra-territorial jurisdiction or otherwise compromise local land-use planning. Ultimately, bills affecting Leland and Brunswick County and Lexington were approved, though local officials did have some input on final legislation. NCLM advocacy staff worked with local officials regarding these pieces of legislation, but also has begun to look at any broader implications and how the League can share with policymakers and the public the importance of local land-use planning when it comes to orderly growth and the provision of needed utilities to serve that growth. In a similar vein, more legislation was approved that focused on the financial continued from page 9 struggles of cities and towns, and their financial transparency. SB 265 Bond Info Transparency/LGC Toolkit II will lower the borrowing threshold for cities and towns on the Local Government Commission’s Unit Assistance List to set the amount at $50,000 when LGC approval is required. It would also increase bond requirements for some municipal finance officers. Following concerns expressed by NCLM and the NC Association of County Commissioners, a bill provision was dropped that would have penalized local governments that were late with audit reports by holding back sales taxes equal to 150 percent of the cost of the audit. A Less Than Dramatic Legislative Session Finally, the City of Greenville was added to the list of cities that can hire civilian traffic investigators to investigate traffic accidents to better utilize police resources. The issue garnered significant interest in the General Assembly, with some initial pushback eventually replaced by wide support as long as those investigators’ powers were limited. The interest created by local bills may set the stage for statewide legislation in the future. Relative to most recent sessions, state lawmakers focused most of their attention on issues not of immediate relevance to municipal governance. And even for issues that garnered all that attention, most were unable to get over the finish line to becoming law.
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 12 Congressional Luncheons Bring Together Local Leaders and Federal Lawmakers LEAGUE UPDATE n the spring of 2022, NCLM hosted two Congressional Luncheons, bringing together our local leaders with our federal lawmakers to discuss the most pressing issues facing both our cities and our state. The League first hosted Rep. David Price and Rep. Deborah Ross in Raleigh for a discussion moderated by Raleigh Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin. Next, NCLM hosted Rep. Patrick McHenry in Hickory for a talk moderated by Hickory Mayor Hank Guess. With both covered in local news outlets and with both covering a broad array of important issues, these Congressional Luncheons developed relationships between local and federal leaders, and allowed nationwide topics to be discussed in the context of local communities, said NCLM Executive Director Rose Vaughn Williams. “We were thrilled to have so many NC cities and towns represented for key discussions,” said Williams. “These strong relationships and the opportunities we discussed have the potential to usher in transformative change across our state.” Photos from the events can be seen below. Stay tuned to League announcements for additional Congressional Luncheons planned in your area with your member of Congress. I All photos by Ben Brown.
NCLM.ORG 13 Congressional Luncheons
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 14 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. SYLVA GETTING A LOT OUT OF A LITTLE Sylva, NC Population: 2,696 Funds Received: $872,000 Plan • Bridge Park beautification and stormwater improvements • Pandemic related investments, including upgraded building ventilation, new audio-visual capabilities, and outdoor recreation Strategy Like many towns in western North Carolina, Sylva regularly plays host to far more than just its 3,000 permanent residents. As much becomes clear the moment you step foot downtown among the bustling shops, breweries, and restaurants all nestled beneath the sight of the mountains and historic hilltop Jackson County Courthouse. For American Rescue Plan purposes, however, it’s only the full-time residents that count for funding totals, leaving Sylva with a relatively small appropriation to serve a quickly growing community. They succeeded in that goal through a single major project: Bridge Park, one of the town’s most well-used public spaces, regularly hosting gatherings, events, weekend concerts, food trucks, and more. “It gives us another feather in our cap to attract visitors, but it’s a plus for our residents,” said Mayor and NCLM Board Member Lynda Sossamon. “It makes them feel proud of our downtown.” The project is two-fold, strategically addressing both the improvement of a community asset and the needed investment into local infrastructure. First, in regards to the community asset, the Bridge Park project will address a largely unused gravel lot that lies adjacent to the park. Sylva bought the property in 2014. This project will renovate that area to double the parking availability, create greenspace, introduce landscaping, add a walkway, and construct a pier over Scotts Creek, which runs through downtown. It will be a total makeover of Sylva’s flagship park. T
NCLM.ORG 15 Second, and perhaps more importantly, the impacts of the renovation will go far beyond just the surface-level appearance of the park. It will also address critical stormwater concerns for downtown. In 2016, Sylva received a grant from North Carolina’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund to study Scotts Creek. Sylva used those funds to hire an engineering firm, which evaluated the area and drew up the plans Sylva is now pursuing. The park serves as a central tool in Sylva’s stormwater approach. By building the bio-retention pond, creating greenspace, and completing all other elements of the plan, Sylva isn’t just making the area more attractive—it’s also increasing its stormwater capacity to better protect downtown and the local watershed. And because of Sylva’s years-long preparation for this plan, this project is shovel ready. “The park is an asset to our town, but it’s really the stormwater aspect that’s going to have a long-term impact,” said Mayor Sossamon. “This helps the community.” To fill out the rest of their ARP funding, Sylva made several investments to directly address the ongoing risks of the pandemic, included upgraded ventilation systems in all public buildings and investments into their audio-visual capabilities to allow public meetings to be streamed virtually to the public. The town also made a modest investment into a skate park to both serve the local appetite for outdoor activities and to further attract tourists. “This is a generational chance to do something really good for our town,” said Mayor Sossamon. Administration Preparation: Sylva had already laid the groundwork for the Bridge Park project when they first bought the adjacent land and then later commissioned a study of Scotts Creek. With that information available and a professionally developed engineering plan on hand, they simply needed to work on acquiring the necessary funding. ARP filled that gap. Efficiency: As a tourist community, Sylva’s local government serves many more than just its 3,000 full-time residents. Yet, it’s that 3,000 number that determines funding. Sylva stretched each dollar through the Bridge Park project, as it serves multiple uses: stormwater infrastructure, public space, and a downtown asset. Treasury Compliance: Mayor Sossamon was clear in noting how Sylva made sure to strictly follow U.S. Treasury guidance regarding American Rescue Plan funds. “Treasury clearly emphasized water infrastructure and pandemic-related investments. We wanted to honor that,” said Mayor Sossamon. WAYNESVILLE QUICKLY, EFFECTIVELY TARGETS BIGGEST NEEDS Waynesville, NC Population: 9,869 Funds Received: $3.23 million Plan Government services and equipment • Law enforcement dispatch center upgrade – $124,870 • Police department vehicles – $250,000 • Fire service vehicles – $82,250 • Tractor with snow removal equipment – $35,000 • Column lifts for garage – $40,000 • F350 for garage – $62,000 • Small excavator – $30,000 • Garbage and recycling upgrades – $310,141 Public infrastructure, non-water • Greenways for bridge – $265,911 Public infrastructure, water, and sewer • Storm project, Kentucky Avenue – $90,000 • Water project, Pigeon Street – $398,500 • I&I mitigation – $150,000 • I&I and manholes – $240,000 • Water plant upgrades – $300,000 • Sewer slip lining – $300,000 Community Assistance • Homeless assistance – $70,000 • Future Capital – $483,238.78 Strategy • Utilize previously created Capital Improvement Plan to efficiently and effectively target projects • Support ongoing investments into water and sewer utility • Address staffing concerns to improve ability of local government to deliver services Waynesville’s American Rescue Plan story is a case in solid, foundational government administration. Their strategy and planning efforts were firmly in place well before ARP monies became available, making it so that the additional funds could be quickly put towards established needs and strategic efforts. Not even one year after receiving their first tranche of funds, Waynesville has invested nearly all of the appropriation into the community. “It’s being used, and it’s already making a difference,” said Town Manager Rob Hites. Waynesville’s strategy towards the American Rescue Plan is both far-reaching and targeted, said Hites. The town’s investments touch several areas of town, including public safety, homelessness, sanitation and recycling, parks and greenways, town staffing and most notably, infrastructure. These projects were not chosen at random. Rather, they’re part of a strategic effort by the town to address their most pressing needs and make best use of every ARP dollar received. The American Rescue Plan in Action continues on page 16
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 16 At the foundation of their efforts is the town’s Capital Improvement Plan, which lays out the town’s needs and direction over the next five years. It was established prior to the passage of the American Rescue Plan. And once that additional financial support became available, it served as a roadmap for Waynesville on how to proceed. “We recognized that this is a windfall,” Hites said, speaking of the strategy pursued by Waynesville’s Mayor and Board of Alderman. “With our plan, we were able to see clearly what needed funding.” Two priorities rose above all others: water infrastructure and government service delivery. Waynesville is presently in the midst of a $25 million water and sewer project, and while the town’s $3.2 million ARP allocation cannot cover the entire investment, it will make headway towards some of that project’s most pressing concerns. And towards the issue of service delivery, Waynesville, like many other local governments around the state and country, has faced challenges in recruiting and retaining employees. To address that concern, the town provided salary increases. Only a short time into that investment, the payoff has already become clear. “We’re so much more competitive in hiring staff. There’s still room to go, but where we used to have eight police officer vacancies, now we have two. It makes a difference for the community.” Other success stories include: Recycling investment: In using ARP funds to upgrade the town’s recycling bins, Waynesville has increased its recycling rate by 65 percent, according to Hites. The upgrades additionally provide for a safer work environment for the sanitation employees. Greenway bridge: Nestled in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, Waynesville is one of western North Carolina’s beloved tourist destinations. It’s a core element of the local economy. The town furthered its attractiveness to tourists and residents alike by investing in the construction of a bridge that connects segments of its public greenways. Future flexibility: Despite the array of investment categories pursued by Waynesville, the town was still able to save almost $500,000 in ARP funds for future use. Administration Preparation: The American Rescue Plan monies did not catch Waynesville by surprise. Rather, with a Capital Improvement Plan already in place, town leadership was able to quickly and efficiently invest in the most pressing areas of need. Expediency: Waynesville, just over a year after the passage of ARP and less than a year after first receiving funds, is already making a difference in the community, especially as it relates to one of its biggest concerns: staffing. The town’s upgraded recycling program also serves as an example of the already-achieved impact, as Waynesville’s recycling rates have jumped nearly 65 percent since its ARP investment. MARION MAKES IMPORTANT, ‘ICONIC’ INVESTMENTS Marion, NC Population: 7,853 Funds Received: $1.51 million Plan Decided • Purchased downtown building to become future City Hall – $300,000 à Building is a key downtown landmark, and is the image seen in Marion’s town logo • Employee bonus – $50,000 • Water and Sewer projects – $950,000 Considering • Grant and Project Manager, three-year funding period • Firefighter hiring • Infrastructure: Street projects and street repairs Strategy Marion’s approach is two-pronged: one part acting now, and one part exercising patience. continued from page 15 The American Rescue Plan in Action
NCLM.ORG 17 On the act-now front, Marion is making a notable investment in purchasing a key downtown building. The acquisition serves two purposes. One, the building is an iconic landmark in Marion’s downtown. “It literally is our logo,” said City Manager and NCLM Board Member Bob Boyette. “The City Council wanted to preserve it.” And two, Marion’s local government operations needed more space. Prior to ARP, Marion’s choices were to either invest in renovating their current City Hall or pay to move to a different facility. Through ARP, the city was able to easily choose the latter option, while at the same time preserving an important piece in its community. The building previously housed a bank, which had gone out of business. Marion was able to purchase the property for a relatively cheap sum of $300,000—a transaction that speaks directly to the relationships the city had built with its local businesses over the years. “We were not the high bidder,” Manager Boyette said. “But we shared our story and our vision, and they got behind it.” Along with many towns across North Carolina—and the country— Marion also saw areas of need in its water and sewer systems. These included line replacement, repairs, plant repairs, inflow and infiltration study across system. “It’s important and necessary, but it’s something that wouldn’t qualify for grant money and something we didn’t want to go into debt for,” said Boyette. Marion has already expended some of its ARP funds towards those projects and has earmarked additional funds for later identified water infrastructure needs. On the patient side of things, Marion has reserved money to potentially invest in a few select priorities but has not made those decisions yet. Possible investments include a few staffing hires—a Grants and Project Manager to help the town both manage its current ARP allotment and to acquire additional funding; and the hiring of firefighters. The town is looking into ways to stretch its ARP funds in these categories by utilizing additional matching The American Rescue Plan in Action grants or other programs. “Once we knew we were getting ARP funds, this was identified early on,” said Manager Boyette. “We’re just waiting now to see how best we can leverage all available funding.” If all of the planned expenditures and staffing additions are made, Marion would still be left with a significant amount to invest into street repairs. Before pursuing that option, however, they are presently waiting for the conclusion of a pavement condition assessment, underway with an engineering firm. “ARP has allowed us to do things that we need to do but would absolutely would not have been able to do without a burdensome tax increase,” said Boyette. “It just wouldn’t have been feasible in our community.” Administration Relationships with Community: Marion’s purchase of a downtown building—its iconic logo—allows for both a new City Hall and the preservation of a key building. And yet, it may not have been financially possible if not for the relationships developed with the business owners over time. Marion was not the high bidder, yet still was awarded the purchase. Patience and Prioritization: Towards some projects, Marion has already acted. Towards others, the city is waiting to organize the most efficient and cost-effective approach. This strategy indicates a level of preparation in both understanding the city’s needs and prioritizing the most impactful possible investments. Keep up to date on all of our ARP case studies on Here We Grow, at herewegrownc.org/case-studies.
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 18 Faith Leader: Rep. Amos Quick Preaches Hope for Communities’ Futures BEN BROWN NCLM Communications and Multimedia Strategist Meeting State Rep. Amos Quick at his vocational office was enough on its own, without a word yet spoken, to convey his deep connections to well-being and human potential. Quick is a pastor, and his office is within Calvary Baptist Church on Hilltop Road in High Point, where a sign outside bears Quick’s name, welcomes congregants and proclaims that “Great Things Happen” inside. Each Sunday, Pastor Quick has the opportunity to click with the congregation and understand members’ varying needs and places in life, a community context that layers well with his broader community callings and optimism for positive outcomes. Rep. Quick invited Southern City inside for some Q&A about the 2022 legislative short session, what cities and towns can do in such dynamic times, and why he has faith that North Carolinians are in for bright futures, despite some sharp divisions in the population. ˘˘˘ Let’s start with the 2022 short session—your general thoughts on it? AQ: Well, I was pleasantly surprised at the brevity of the short session, particularly with there being so many hot button issues that came up during the time that we were in session and how we could stay focused on budget corrections in that time frame. Not a lot of headline-making policy decisions. There were some, but we mostly stayed away from the major hot button issues. I think with the budget corrections, we could have done a lot more. I think there could have been more investment into our recovery out of the pandemic. So again, I was pleasantly surprised at the brevity of it. But also, a little bit disappointed that we weren’t able to do a little more as far as helping North Carolinians coming out of this pandemic. What ideas or policies are on your mind? AQ: Medicaid expansion absolutely has to be mentioned in any discussion when you’re talking about North Carolina politics. It is amazing that, even going through a global pandemic, we didn’t have enough motivation to expand Medicaid, with the hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians who don’t have Medicaid insurance coverage… And then, policy decisions—first of all, we’re not completely out of the pandemic—policy decisions that keep us safe and that we can make investments into making sure that we continue to stay safe as we navigate our way through this pandemic. Then also with the over $6 billion in opportunity dollars that we have; that’s what I call them: opportunity dollars. You mean the state’s fund balance? AQ: The fund balance that we have. Of course, saving for the rainy day, but also making investments that continue to move North Carolina forward. How about with the state’s cities and towns? AQ: I think cities and towns must plan for the future at a rate that perhaps we haven’t been doing before. As we begin to come out of the pandemic, the one thing that we have to realize is we’re not the same. We’re different. New issues have been identified. New ways of dealing with issues have been identified. Some people who have been in the shadows have come out of the shadows, and we see them. And how do we deal with the issues that they bring forth? What does the future look like? We have young people—I have two daughters, 30 and 31 years old. They’ve never known anything but stress and turmoil and chaos and confusion and they see the world differently than I do. They lived through September 11, they lived through the war on terror, and you come out of that and you have the Great Recession, and you come out of that and you have the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve not had an opportunity to breathe, and I think that makes them think differently and expect differently from government. Whether it be local government, state government, or federal government, the expectation is different. Is the government going to help us? Or has the government said, “You’re on your own?” What do you think cities and their leaders can focus on to help? AQ: Infrastructure is important. Affordable housing is always going to be important. I think that cities must do things to not add to the divide that’s happening between haves and have-nots. We’ve forgotten about the middle class to a large degree, and cities can do things to help promote the growth of the middle class. I think cities need to consider that it’s the citizens that pay for things … and citizens expect some return on their investment into our system, and for it not to go to the already wealthy when we see areas of our cities that are becoming more unsafe. Crime definitely has to be a consideration. How do we combat crime? While not saying that the only answer is let’s add more police officers. Because the truth of the matter is not a lot of people are going into law enforcement. THE LEAGUE’S QUARTERLY LEGISLATOR Q&A continues on page 20
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 20 Q&A with Rep. Amos Quick So, what do we do to keep communities safe and not rely so much on law enforcement and that one-size-fits-all answer to the issues? That demands a further delving into the issues. So, we have a crime, and we have a person who has committed a crime, and that person must deal with the consequences of that. I’m certainly not saying we take away consequences, but we also delve into the data of the specific areas of our cities where this is more of a problem than other places. How do we fix that? And not just turn a blind eye and put some uniforms and some guns into these communities—and I’m talking about law enforcement. That just doesn’t work anymore. Not only are we losing people and property when you talk about murders and property crime, but there is tremendous brain-drain that we’re not tapping into. There are people in these communities who have some solutions and will tell us what could work. Speaking of community, we’re sitting in the church where you pastor, in a place where people similarly come for answers. How did you come to that? AQ: It’s truly a calling. The longer I’m in it, the more I realize it is absolutely a calling. It is not something for someone to choose. If you’re not called into it, it’s not what it looks like. We can talk about it in the same breath as dealing with the issues of our community. Every Sunday, as I look out over the congregation, there are people there in need of something. It could be a spiritual need, financial need, emotional need, relational need—they’re coming because they’re in need of something and the church has to be part of the solution for our wider community. Particularly the Black church. If you look at what the Black church has meant to this nation, colleges and universities have come out of the Black church, social safety nets have come out of the Black church. Then you look at church in general. The church has been a social safety net. We’ve fed people, we’ve clothed the naked, we’ve provided childcare for families. And so, the church has a part to play in the development of our communities, but it’s getting more difficult because the data says that fewer and fewer people are engaging with the church. Is there a natural bridge from there to your focus on elected office? AQ: I spent 12 years on the Guilford County Board of Education. And my initial run for office is because I was a youth development professional and was a chief administrator for the Boys & Girls Clubs and eventually CEO of all the Boys & Girls Clubs in Greensboro. And I just felt that there was a role that I could play in helping to develop youth, and so I ran for the school board. After being on the school board for 12 years, I realized there are some decisions that come down from the state level to the local level. Mandates that the school board has to function under, and they don’t necessarily match the reality that’s on the ground. So, I said I’d run for state House. But in running for state House—and I’ve absolutely enjoyed being there—some of the policies that I think would be effective have been enacted, educationally. But I think there’s more that could be done. And I think that being in the minority party, and being able only to yell and complain about the direction, I would absolutely love to be in the majority and have some of these ideas that I think would absolutely work, see how they play out in the education of our children. How do you convey your ideas and local government experience to fellow lawmakers who might come from different angles? AQ: Just never stop bringing it up. You just never have to stop pointing at your resume, almost. “I know something about this,” whereas you may know something about that, and I need to listen to you on that issue. For example, the environment; I’ve been educated on environmental concerns to a degree that I didn’t have when I first came there. But I know some things, too, particularly about local government and education and how decisions affect people at the local level. You just have to keep bringing it up. Let’s look at the actual implications of what the decision may be. You have to keep lifting your voice up. Never saying, “Well, it’s not going to happen.” Surrendering, almost. You never surrender. You continue to lift your voice. You continue to bring your ideas forward and recognize that because there’s a diversity of thought and opinion and intelligence at the General Assembly, my ideas can be tweaked into better ideas… The fearful thing that we all see happening in this state and in this nation right now is people are just making a determination based on political party or something that doesn’t allow for us to have the great intelligence of North Carolina play itself out. With my Republican colleagues, the one thing that I try to do is to listen to where they’re coming from and hear where they’re coming from. We can disagree all day. But I think that the main thing that we have to do is to keep in mind that we’re all trying to get to a certain place. We just disagree on the way to get there. But I think we’re losing that. I think that we’re not even trying to get to the same place anymore. I think that we’ve come to this place where “our idea is the best idea, and if you’re against our idea, then forget about you, we’re gonna run roughshod over you and your ideas and our idea is the only idea that gets championed.” You’re never going to win with that. What’s your personal background? Are you native to this area? AQ: I am. I grew up in Greensboro, I graduated from Dudley High School, I’m Guilford County born and bred… I love Greensboro. What does your connection to your community do for your style or views on public service? AQ: I think as the third largest city, Greensboro is often overlooked on the state level. And so, myself and our delegation, we try to make sure that, hey, don’t forget, we’ve got a lot of people living in Guilford County as well. So, let’s not forget about that. I also think the profile can be raised. We’re called the Gate City for a reason. You look at our major interstates in North Carolina: I-40 and I-85 come through Greensboro. We are the Gate City for a reason. And so, I’m a homer in that respect. And I want to see Greensboro’s profile be raised, because I believe it also raises the profile of the state, and what benefits Greensboro will benefit North Carolina. High Point as well. We’re sitting here in High Point, where I pastor. We’ve got the furniture market here. But that’s not all that’s in High Point. High Point has a great manufacturing tradition and history, and I’d like to see those jobs come back. If those jobs aren’t coming back, then we have a great opportunity to invest in the education and workforce training for the citizens of High Point. We have over 100,000 people living and working in High Point. Just think about continued from page 18
Q&A with Rep. Amos Quick what happens if you lift the profile of High Point other than the furniture market? We don’t want to lose the furniture market. In fact, we want to enhance the furniture market. But we also need some workforce training and development. We’ve got some things happening around here with the megasite coming, and then we’ve got the car manufacturer down in Chatham County, which is not too far of a drive from here. So, things are happening. But we have to train the workforce so we can be able to take advantage of some of those opportunities. And rebuild the middle class. When we were a manufacturing community, in Greensboro and High Point, there was a middle class. Cone Mills developed a middle class. My grandparents worked at Cone Mills and provided a comfortable living. By no means were we rich; we were probably categorized as the working poor, but we were working. Some of my family was able to go to college because of my grandparents working and having a stable income. Same in High Point … where people could look forward to the next generation having a comfortable living. Comfortable—again by no stretch wealthy, but a comfortable living. There was a stepping stone to upward mobility and we just don’t have that anymore. We have almost a sense of despair because there’s no middle class. It really becomes depressing, and a situation with a lot of despair, and we don’t have to go there. We’re a great state, we’ve got a great history, we can build on that history and build a great future, but we all have to work together, and we have to get rid of this division that is now falling on political party, to a degree that is quite frightening, to be honest with you. Do you see us coming out of it? Out of these divisions? Do you see a brighter future where we’re working together in a better way? AQ: As a pastor, I have to have hope. I preach hope. I preach faith and I preach hope. And so, I do have hope. And I think that happens—it sounds cliche, but it is true—when we focus on what we have in common more so than what divides us. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t want their children or grandchildren to have a better life than what they had. We all have that in common. That’s an ideal we all have. We all want safe communities. I don’t know anyone who says, “I don’t want to live in a safe community.” We have that in common. What divides us and has been exploited is: we disagree on the way to get there. I think if we focus on the goal—the goal is safe communities, well-educated population, and the chance for everyone to reach their full potential as North Carolinians—I think if we focus on that, then what we have in common will prevail. How we get there is we just never stop hammering that message home. We never stop keeping the goal as the main thing. We can do it. I have hope that we can do it. This dark period that we’re in right now? It has a shelf life. We have to see the light. That’s something that sounds pastoral, and in a lot of respects is, but it’s the truth. If we focus on the goal—the goal is safe communities, well-educated population, and the chance for everyone to reach their full potential as North Carolinians—then what we have in common will prevail. How we get there is we just never stop hammering that message home. We never stop keeping the goal as the main thing. We can do it. I have hope that we can do it. NCLM.ORG 21
SOUTHERN CITY QUARTER 3 2022 22 Council Member Owen Thomas Gets Involved JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate IF THERE’S A LEADERSHIP POSITION AVAILABLE, OWEN THOMAS IS LIKELY TO STEP IN. NOW, AS A LOCAL LEADER FOR THE CITY OF LUMBERTON, HE’S UTILIZING HIS GO-GETTER MENTALITY TO MOVE THE COMMUNITY FORWARD. The theme that runs through Owen Thomas’ public life is one of maximum involvement. Starting as early as his days as a college student, Thomas found roles in need of filling and tasks in need of completing and volunteered himself each time. Through that approach, he has continually gained positions of leadership. Something needs to be done, some organization needs to be led— Thomas does it. Consistent in his background is a go-getter mentality and an unfailing proclivity to take action. It has all led to a council seat in his adopted hometown of Lumberton, where he’s facing significant issues with both the firm resolve to pursue critical goals and the flexibility of approach needed to make it happen. Summed up by Thomas in a single line: “I’m the right person for the job.” ˘˘˘ Thomas’ route to Lumberton began on the other side of the country. Born in California, Thomas did not reach North Carolina until after his middle school years, when his family moved to Morrisville and then later settled in Cary. He made his way to the eastern part of the state in 2006 where he attended UNC Pembroke, receiving both his undergraduate degrees and an MBA from the university. It’s at this stop that Thomas settled into the mantra of involvement that still defines his work today. He double majored in the school of business, played five years on the football team, was the president of his fraternity, and then, while pursuing his MBA, served on student government, observing how policies and procedures had such a large impact on the UNC school system as a whole. “It was that position in student government that really got me started,” says Thomas. The experience was amplified through his involvement with the Association of Student Governments, which allowed him to network with and observe many different student government bodies. “I traveled around all the different schools just learned a lot about government. Learning the ins and the outs. And I just kind of took interest in the thought of being able to make an impact through policy.” Upon graduation, his appetite to get involved did not lessen, especially as it pertained to public service. After earning his MBA, Thomas moved to Lumberton in 2015 and started a job in the insurance industry. Naturally, he found leadership again quite quickly, this time through local government. Initially he considered a different venue for public service—the state legislature. “I wanted to get in involved and have a seat at the table, and I figured that would be at the state level. That was just my plan at the time,” Thomas said. He had built a network of mentors and colleagues to rely on, the most notably being Sen. Danny Britt, who won election to the North Carolina legislature in 2016. Those confidants agreed that Thomas should pursue public service. Only, they felt it would be better directed towards the local level. “Thankfully I had great mentors that pushed me towards local government. They said, ‘This is where you can really make a difference. Where you can really impact your community.’ They were exactly right. It was definitely the right decision.” Thomas didn’t waste time upon receiving the advice. He ran for council seat in 2017, won, and then almost immediately maximized his involvement again by running for the NC League of Municipalities Board of Directors. “My path, from California to Lumberton, it’s sometimes so hard to grasp. But it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. The Lord put me in this situation for a reason.” The promise of Thomas’ mentors—to make a difference—now consumes most of his efforts. Making a difference is difficult work. In Lumberton that work primarily goes towards the issue of crisis management. Thomas was thrown into this issue headfirst almost immediately. Within his first year on council, Hurricane Florence made landfall on the coast of North Carolina and inundated the eastern portion of the estate with record-setting amounts of rainfall. Lumberton, just two years after suffering devastating flooding due to Hurricane Matthew, found themselves devastated once again. “Our infrastructure was damaged, our roads flooded. Even my house flooded,” said Thomas. The National Weather Service classified both of those hurricanes as “1,000-year” events. Then, two years later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, unleashing yet another round of destruction on the community. Still, Lumberton marches on. It’s a spirit that, similar to Thomas’, finds a way to keep getting it done. “It is amazing to me how the community has come together in all of this devastation,” Thomas said. As an example, Thomas points to Lumberton’s municipal staff, nearly all of whom had little to no training on hurricane recovery, and yet put in many months of overtime to help rebuild the town after Hurricane Matthew—only to have their efforts foiled two years later with Hurricane Florence. And yet, they started right back on hurricane recovery again.nclm.org