A PUBLICAT ION OF THE NORTH CAROLINA LEAGUE OF MUNICIPALITIES 16 THE HOOPS: A CONVERSATION WITH REP. SETZER 19 MAYOR JOE GIBBONS: A LABOR OF LOVE IN LENOIR 28 ADDRESSING VACANT PROPERTIES AND TANGLED TITLES 32 MUNICIPAL LEADERS HAVE ROLES TO PLAY IN THE FUTURE OF WORK Volume 72 / Number 4 / 4th Quarter 2022 Municipal Diplomacy THE GROWING, FRUITFUL, AND CITY-FOCUSED RELATIONSHIP OF MOLDOVA AND NORTH CAROLINA
Southern City is a publication for and about North Carolina municipalities, published quarterly by the North Carolina League of Municipalities. Volume 72 Number 4 4th 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. ©2023 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 Winter 2022–23 19 MAYOR JOE GIBBONS: A LABOR OF LOVE IN LENOIR SC OITUYTHERN
5 INSIDE THIS ISSUE 10 12 14 16 19 22 28 32 6 8 36 38 32 28 WRITERS THIS ISSUE BEN BROWN NCLM Communications & Multimedia Strategist JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination The Wide Net Cast for Legislative Goals Through membership-wide involvement, the League is developing its legislative priorities. More Than Just Insurance On top of the coverages and benefits and services, it's the people that are our most valuable offerings. The American Rescue Plan in Action Lewisville’s citizen-minded, forward-looking approach had already proven itself successful. Through the American Rescue Plan, those accomplishments are now even more secured. The Hoops: A Conversation with Rep. Mitchell Setzer Through 25 years of lawmaking, Rep. Setzer brings a rich history of local leadership to the General Assembly. Mayor Joe Gibbons: A Labor of Love in Lenoir A lifelong public servant and dedicated Lenoir resident, Mayor Joe Gibbons has personified what it means to be a local leader. Municipal Diplomacy The growing, fruitful, and city-focused relationship of Moldova and North Carolina. Addressing Vacant Properties and Tangled Titles The problematic and oft-overlooked issue of heirs property. Report: Municipal Leaders Have Roles to Play in the Changing Nature of Work A pressing and ever-changing issue facing local governments. Board of Directors Speaking Out Counting Our Blessings, Thinking on Our Needs Taking the Field Your Success is Our Success Board of Trustees
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 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 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 4 2022 8 In the midst of this holiday season, the cities and towns of North Carolina have much to be thankful for. When we turn on our televisions or read the paper, we see distressing news from all around the world, and although the global and national economy appears to struggle, we need to be mindful to continue to count our blessings here in the United States. We are fortunate to live in a time of peace and bounty. Most importantly, people still show care and concern for one another. Looking past the news of the day, for many of us, life is good, and we work to make it better for one another. Let’s all remember to count our blessings! That is what being an elected official is all about—doing the best we can to make our communities, our state, and our nation better for all of our citizens. As municipal officials, we can truly be thankful for the transformational infrastructure money that has come our way, via the federal American Rescue Plan Act, as well as the actions of our NC General Assembly to put the focus on infrastructure. Together, we are working to make investments that will pay dividends for years and decades to come. We know that it is local infrastructure— water, sewer, and roads—that creates the foundation for successful local economies, that allows businesses to thrive and create jobs, and that helps improve everyone’s qualify of life. Of course, we are all thankful for the services and advocacy that the League of Municipalities provides, and we are committed to keeping an eye toward the future. In looking forward to the year ahead, one challenge that communities continue to grapple with is our transportation infrastructure. It’s no secret that state transportation funding has struggled to keep up with road building, road maintenance and other transportation needs in recent years. SCOTT NEISLER NCLM President We are all thankful for the services and advocacy that the League of Municipalities provides, and we are committed to keeping an eye toward the future. SPEAKING OUT Counting Our Blessings, Thinking on Our Needs This year, it has been my privilege to be a part of the Duke NC Leadership Forum where our topic has been “Revenue: What is the best way to pay for state and local government?” Transportation funding is on top of the list. Being a part of this group, as well as our area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Charlotte region’s Connect Beyond initiative, I have seen up close how the revenues are not meeting the needs. Currently in the state, we have $9 billion worth of needs with only $5 billion to fund them. Added to this is the fact that in the future, the gas tax will not be enough to pay for our road needs, due to better mileage cars and electric vehicles. The League remains connected to our cities in working on issues that matter to us. Our legislative policy process has allowed us to hear concerns over transportation from other city and town officials from around the state. Secondary state roads that serve as major local traffic arteries are often far down the list for state improvements, and Powell Bill dollars aren’t enough to keep pace with city street maintenance. An infusion of federal dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help, as will the state legislature’s decision to shift some car-related sale tax receipts from the General Fund to transportation spending; however, neither are long-term solutions. It’s quite possible that mileage-based fees and toll roads will be a part of the future. With all this said, I’m thankful that just like with other infrastructure needs, the cities and towns of North Carolina and your League stand ready in the next year to work with our state and federal partners to address transportation-related infrastructure needs in lasting ways. And I am thankful for being part of group committed to working to make our communities better in every way.
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 10 ver a number of weeks this fall, the League of Municipalities legislative policy process kicked off in force with regional, online and affiliate listening sessions, collection of policy proposals online, and meetings of the Legislative Policy Committee. This process will ultimately lead to the establishment of NCLM’s Legislative Goals for the 2023–24 legislative biennium. The listening sessions began in late September as the NC Mayors Association and then another group of elected officials met over two days in Greensboro to discuss ideas that could lead to formal policy goals. During those sessions, as well as others that followed in Hendersonville and Rocky Mount, Government Affairs staff acted as facilitators in table discussion that essentially acted as focus groups. Elected officials discussed the challenges in their communities, with those comments then serving as the foundation for policy idea formulations. A similar process took place during online listening sessions that included the League’s general membership and some affiliate groups. In all, well over 400 separate ideas were collected as potential legislative goals, though not surprisingly, many similar threads ran through the submissions. Among some of the most commonly discussed ideas: roads and other infrastructure, difficulties in filling law enforcement and other key staff positions, housing affordability and a lack of housing stock, economic development incentives, assistance for grant-writing and the need for additional technical expertise, delays in utility line replacements when road and other construction requires it, broadband access, local revenue options, problems associated with the decriminalization of local ordinance legislation recently passed by the General Assembly, and heirs property. While those were commonly mentioned themes, many more ideas were discussed, and the conversations flowed freely. At the listening session involving the NC Mayors Association in Greensboro, one grouping of smaller town mayors from eastern North Carolina empathized with each other over the hurdles that they face when seeking grant funding. “One size does not fit all,” said Bethel Mayor Gloristine Brown. “They don’t consider the smaller towns when they are making these decisions about how municipalities qualify for grants. People forget about that. The qualifications for certain things can mean we get left out.” Similar discussions took place throughout these listening sessions, with representative municipal officials able to quickly recognize the common challenges that they face, and whether or not there might be state policy solutions to them. With the collection of ideas taking place, the League’s 65-member Policy Committee began meeting to distill those ideas into concise goal language and prioritize them. Those meetings were set to continue into November. Once the committee whittles the goals down to around 15 or so priorities, the O LEGISLATIVE UPDATE The Wide Net Cast for Legislative Goals SCOTT MOONEYHAM NCLM Director of Political Communication & Coordination League’s Board of Directors will examine them to further refine and make any changes. The full slate will then be put to the League’s full members for a vote. While there is no set requirement for the final number of legislative goals, it is expected to roughly mirror the number adopted for the 2021–22 legislative biennium, when 12 were ultimately approved. That number allows NCLM to present a list of focused needs to legislators, and one that it may reasonably seek to achieve. Meanwhile, the comprehensive policy process, involving well over 200 municipal officials from cities and towns, both big and small, from across the state, ensures that state legislators know this list is representative of the collective needs of cities and towns, including those from their district. It’s why the involvement of each municipal official in the process is so important to the League’s ultimate success. NCLM’s Director of Government Affairs Erin Wynia speaks to participants at a regional legislative listening session last fall. Photo credit: Ben Brown.
NCLM.ORG 11 The Wide Net Cast for Legislative Goals Elected and appointed officials participate and share their legislative goals at a session in Rocky Mount, NC. Photo credit: Ben Brown.
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 12 More Than Just Insurance ON TOP OF THE COVERAGES AND BENEFITS AND SERVICES, IT’S THE PEOPLE THAT ARE OUR MOST VALUABLE OFFERINGS. LEAGUE UPDATE t’s been the League’s calling card for decades. Not only does NCLM provide the critical coverages that the private market so often does not, but we do so through offerings specifically geared towards the needs of cities and their staffs. THE MOST VALUABLE PIECE OF THOSE OFFERINGS IS THE PEOPLE. Throughout the year, it is not uncommon for NCLM to receive testimonials from members, recapping the high-quality service that they received in their times of need. Ranging from medical emergencies to local crises to natural disasters and everything in between, it is these times that personalized, attentive service is most important. And though it is not a surprise that League staff members answer the call, it is still inspiring and rewarding to hear their stories. Below, we’ve shared three of these testimonials, all sent in 2022. We’ve removed the names of towns and of non-NCLM staff members and edited for clarity. Otherwise, these accounts have been published in full. I Lisa Ervin, NCLM Health and Benefits Consultant Lisa Kinsey, NCLM Senior Business Services Consultant I wanted to be sure you were aware of how much Lisa Ervin (NCLM Health and Benefits Consultant) and a representative from Medcost helped my husband last week. As background, several months ago Lisa Kinsey (NCLM Senior Business Services Consultant) and Lisa Ervin worked tirelessly with my husband and I, as well as several folks at Medcost, to ensure a specialty infusion my husband must receive was cleared and covered. This past week, we traveled more than three hours to Duke Hospital for his infusion only to be told less than 24 hours prior to his appointment that it would be canceled due to it not being covered. We were in a panic because he needed the infusion. It also takes a lot of work scheduling and travel arrangements to make these appointments possible. We knew that both the infusion center and my husband’s doctor had a letter of approval from Medcost. I contacted Lisa Ervin and she jumped on the crisis immediately. She and the Medcost representative were in touch with us constantly, remaining calm and in control in our very dynamic situation. Even though the appointment was canceled for a short time, because of Lisa’s perseverance, we were able to reschedule it for the same date and time. We are so grateful for the folks at the League. I have experience working professionally with your organization because of my job. I’ve always been impressed with the level of service I’ve received. I know the employees in your organization are top notch, but they continue to impress me. TESTIMONIAL 1
NCLM.ORG 13 More Than Just Insurance It is not uncommon for NCLM to receive testimonials from members, recapping the high-quality service that they receive in their times of need. And though it is not a surprise that League staff members answer the call, it is still inspiring and rewarding to hear their stories. Charlotte Martin, NCLM Property & Casualty Claims Adjuster Patrice Adams, NCLM Senior Underwriter Brian Eichelberger (NCLM Property & Casualty Field Adjuster) assisted our town with approximately 60 initial claims and 20 supplemental claims related to Hurricane Florence. Brian was an integral part of the success of our claims reporting and cross referencing to FEMA. Brian assisted from the initial claim (Fall 2018) through February 2021 in which there were a multitude of questions from FEMA, NCDPS, FEMA PA consultants, and myself. Brian was essential in communication and settlement of information between FEMA, NCDPS, the FEMA PA Consultant, NCLM and our town. Brian helped me navigate flood zones and insurance coverage. He was always available for questions, knowledgeable, and responsive. I owe a huge amount of gratitude to Brian for his help during this event and the multiple years after navigating all things insurance related. Although I do not normally submit property claims as I have in the past, there is one person that I regularly worked with, and I cannot say enough about Charlotte Martin (NCLM Property & Casualty Claims Adjuster) and how helpful and truly enjoyable she was to work with. Charlotte was one of the first representatives that I worked with regularly from NCLM and this was also when I was relatively new to insurance as it relates to the more particular details, and she guided me and always answered any questions I had (even when they were newbie questions). One other individual that has always been an enormous help to our town and to new staff members that take over the insurance renewals and handling additions and deletions throughout the year is Patrice Adams (NCLM Senior Underwriter). Patrice demonstrates a high level of knowledge and is always helpful in all our questions and requests. Patrice’s assistance throughout the year helps our organization and efficiency in multiple aspects. Brian Eichelberger, NCLM Property & Casualty Field Adjuster TESTIMONIAL 2 TESTIMONIAL 3
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 14 ARP CORNER The American Rescue Plan in Action ewisville’s citizen-minded, forward-looking approach had already proven itself successful. Through the American Rescue Plan, those accomplishments are now even more secured. KEY FACTS Lewisville, NC Population: 13,800 ARP Funds Received: $4,024,000 As an infusion of support and resources, the American Rescue Plan can stand as a magnifier of a community’s present circumstances. It speeds up the process for growing towns and expands projects for towns pursuing large investments and altogether amplifies cities’ unique situations. For Lewisville, the present circumstances are of a town firmly following a strategic long-term vision. This approach had served the town well since its incorporation in 1991, establishing it as a residential haven in North Carolina’s Triad region. Now, bolstered by the support of ARP funds, Lewisville’s method is marching forward with reassurance, seeming to create a near-guarantee of future success in Lewisville. To understand the town’s goals for its ARP allocation, it’s important to first understand the town as it stands today. Just west of Winston-Salem, the Town of Lewisville is an enviable residential community that has steadily earned its strong footing in the community since its incorporation. “Just through organic growth, Lewisville is an incredibly desirable community to live in,” said Mike Horn, Mayor of Lewisville. Horn has served on the Town Council since 1993, and credits Lewisville’s success to the vision set forth by the town from its outset: to recognize the town’s smalltown character and to maintain that character through intentional and closely managed planning. It’s been an effective strategy, Horn says, noting that the town’s upward trend has been fueled almost entirely by residential growth. Through its organic growth and financial discipline, the town has not raised property tax rates in 19 years. In fact, the most recent adjustment to the tax rate was a decrease. “We had a vision of what we wanted to do, and we had the ability to budget and fund those investments every year over through a rigorous planning process and a shared vision by successive councils,” said Horn. “What we’ve done as a town has been remarkable.” The town has used its American Rescue Plan funding as general fund revenue replacement to be able to fund specific projects, including: • Roadway, sidewalk and landscaping improvements to the town’s gateway • Enhancements to The Great Wagon Road throughfare construction • Construction of intersection roundabouts • Extension of sidewalks • Rewriting of the town’s Unified Development Ordinances • Matching funding for a recently awarded PARTF grant • Establishment of a capital reserve to fund a new public works facility • Installation of solar panels on the town’s new community center • Installation of EV charging stations in the town square Strategy • Spend in areas that further Lewisville’s already-established long-term strategic vision L 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? 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-toend impressive work of our municipalities and to share best practices with other cities and towns. Mayor Horn holds the ‘Most Entrepreneurial Town’ honor, awarded to the Town of Lewisville at NCLM’s CityVision conference in 2022. Photo credit: Ben Brown.
NCLM.ORG 15 • Invest in in long-term needs of the town now, while still reserving funds for future needs • Allow for citizens to participate in the process through the boards and committees The ARP money is spread across town. It won’t be evident in just one or even two large projects. Rather, Lewisville will be investing in new and ongoing projects that fit within Lewisville’s comprehensive approach to meeting the needs of residents and a growing community. It’s a testament to the town’s planning and financial stability. The American Rescue Plan dollars will address the town’s current needs and support the town’s vision for the future. For its first round of investments, Lewisville looked primarily to support transportation and public spaces that are central components of Lewisville’s network of community spaces. “To maintain and grow a sense of community, you have to have spaces where residents can come together,” said Horn. “Our investment in parks, programs and events, particularly at our town’s centerpiece facility Shallowford Square, has created a welcoming atmosphere you can only find in small-town America. “I think all of us look at this funding as an opportunity to do things sooner rather than later for our residents,” said Horn. “Eventually, we would do a lot of these projects, but it would be stretched over a longer period of time. We’ve been able to accelerate our schedule.” The American Rescue Plan in Action Looking ahead, and again due to the town’s already-achieved foundation, Lewisville was able to keep a portion of its ARP allotment available in 2023 for potential new ideas. The town will go about that process in a citizen-led way through its boards and committees. Led by residents volunteering their time, Lewisville will encourage these board and committee members to submit investment requests. This process aims to capture new ideas not already floating around Town Hall and to allow the citizens their say in the use of these once-in-a-generation funds. “In addition to the priorities established in our comprehensive plan, we ask our boards and committees to submit requests during our budget cycle for the things they want to do,” said Horn. “While we do this every year, the ARP will make additional money available to do those things.” Mayor Horn offers examples of the Public Safety Committee, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Board, Environmental Sustainability and Conservation Committee or Beautification Committee that may recommend additional resources or projects to enhance the safety and well-being of our residents. “We made a promise, to maintain Lewisville as the place you really want to come home to at the end of the day,” said Horn. “That’s what this council and the many councils before us have been doing. And that’s what we will continue to do.” Keep up to date on all of our ARP case studies on Here We Grow, at herewegrownc.org/case-studies. All of us look at this funding as an opportunity to do things sooner rather than later for our residents. We’ve been able to accelerate our schedule ... We made a promise to maintain Lewisville as the place you really want to come home to at the end of the day. That’s what we’ve been doing. And that's what we will continue to do. » Mike Horn, Mayor of Lewisville Mike Horn. Photo Courtesy of the Town of Lewisville. Shallowford Square. Photo Courtesy of the Town of Lewisville.
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 16 The Hoops: A Conversation with Rep. Mitchell Setzer BEN BROWN NCLM Communications and Multimedia Strategist “I’m available. That’s the key function of being here. You’ve got to be accessible to people, and people have got to feel like they can call you.” In the legislative office of Rep. Mitchell Setzer, front and center on his desk, is an iron ornament that depicts what it can at times be like to serve in public office—especially for those who’ve had as much longevity and variety in the government sphere as he has. It’s a series of hoops with anthropomorphic figurines jumping through them, the meaning pretty clear. “Sometimes you’ve got to jump through the hoops,” said Representative Setzer, who has served 12 going on 13 terms in the NC House, the second-longest tenure of anyone currently in the chamber. This is to say he’s familiar with the challenges of public decision- making. But he says he finds it all worthwhile for the chance to help North Carolinians, to be personally available not just to fellow elected officials, but also to everyday people from individual walks of life who have real-world needs. For a man who also runs a family business back home in Catawba, 12 House terms and counting is a long commitment to service. But it didn’t start at the state level. Representative Setzer’s public leadership began in local government, where he served as a town board member and later mayor, helping to inform his style of service, accessibility to the people he represents, and understanding of the General Assembly’s diverse effects. Southern City recently visited Representative Setzer in his office to learn more. ˘˘˘ We’ve come off the 2022 legislative session and are gearing up for the 2023 legislature. What keeps you busy in the interim? MS: My family owns a pipe company. We make storm drainage pipe. My grandfather started it, and that’s where I work in the real world. I go back to my real-world job once the Assembly adjourns. This particular interim—it’s more like it used to be when we had an interim. We haven’t had to come back for committees or for floor votes. So, this has been a pleasant return to having an interim between sessions. You’ve served in the legislature a long time… MS: 24 years. I start my 25th in January. What initially interested you in lawmaking? Or any other public seat before you became a legislator? MS: When I was growing up, my uncle was elected county commissioner in Catawba County. And that’s sort of how I became involved. The family was involved in politics at that point. Time passes, I graduate from college, I move into the town of Catawba. I was asked to serve on the planning board, and I accepted and was appointed. And then a gentleman was retiring that next November from the board and asked me to run for his seat. On the town board… MS: On the town council, yes. So, I ran and won a four-year term there. And then the mayor retired. I ran for mayor and won. I was in my second term as mayor when this seat opened up. And I remember reading in the newspaper that my predecessor, Robert Brawley, was retiring. And I remember being at my kitchen table reading that, and thinking I had a town board meeting to go to that night and didn’t think anything else of it. I really didn’t plan to be here, to be honest with you. I received a phone call from the sheriff at the time the next day, and a county commissioner. And I told both of them the same thing: I’m not using my municipal service as a stepping stone; I don’t have time to go to Raleigh. The next thing I know, I’m filing for office and getting ready to start my 25th year. It sort of seems surreal to think about it. It’s been a fast 24 years. Were there any specific issues on your mind as you entered legislative office? MS: I’m generally constituent-based. So, I don’t have a personal agenda. If issues come up that involve my constituents, then that THROUGH 25 YEARS OF LAWMAKING, REP. SETZER BRINGS A RICH HISTORY OF LOCAL LEADERSHIP TO THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY.
NCLM.ORG 17 continues on page 18 becomes my direct interest. When I first became a member, there was an issue—a road at home in the old district (during an earlier iteration of the district’s lines), the 43rd House District, it’s called Brawley School Road, it’s a dead-end road, and it dead-ended down on a lake. I had a lady contact me, she wanted the road widened—it’s since been widened—and I said, “Well, ma’am, I’ve been in office two weeks. My predecessor was a Brawley, and he lives in Iredell County, and he’s been there 18 years. We don’t have jurisdiction over the roads.” But I’ve learned a lot and if it wasn’t for the opportunity to help people, I wouldn’t have run for a second term. But you can help people. You’re in a position that, at times, you can get people where they need to go. I enjoy that. Are there issues that local governments, when they’re forming their legislative agendas or in conversation, tend to bring to you? MS: The (NC Association of County Commissioners) forms a legislative agenda. The League does. You have those. And then more real-life is what the municipal entities need. I spend half my time down here at times trying to kill things that hurt the municipalities as opposed to help facilitate them along. We have a process for de-annexation and some people want to circumvent that. Even when people know they’re in the municipal limits when they bought the property, they still want to use us as a battering ram against the cities, and I don’t support that. You have to keep the cities vital. They have to be maintained as a vital entity. Because every one of them is an economic engine in the state. And if you destabilize one, there’s a domino effect that’s going to start. It’s interesting. You hear about anything from de-annexations to interbasin transfers, sub-basin transfers, all kinds of things that never came across the table when I was mayor of Catawba. But if it affects one city, it affects another. It can snowball. That’s why we have to be really careful about what we do here. In your time here in the legislature, have you seen changes in dynamics or trends? MS: There’s one member here in the House now who was here when I came. That’s Representative (Julia) Howard, from Davie County, my seat-mate. Everybody behind us, they weren’t here when I came. It’s sort of like watching your family pass away, at times. We are a dysfunctional family. We call ourselves a family, but we are dysfunctional (laughter). It has evolved and hit changes and it’s different people in positions but it still operates the same way. The committees, the palace intrigue, as you might want to refer to it, the caucus, and things like that, you just never know what’s going to happen next. But the institution as a body, as an entity, has not changed. You have the balancing act between the chambers, regardless of which party has control. And that’s a good thing. I’ve said for years that the state’s safer when we adjourn (laughter) and away from this building. But, by and large, you have a lot of good people here and everyone means well in their own perspective… It’s just getting the votes. Q&A with Rep. Mitchell Setzer I've learned a lot and if it wasn’t for the opportunity to help people, I wouldn't have run for a second term. But you can help people. You’re in a position that, at times, you can get people where they need to go. I enjoy that.
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 18 Q&A with Rep. Mitchell Setzer And that’s where it becomes tedious. You have the school calendar bill that passed at like 2 in the morning, when it passed years ago. I didn’t support it then. I think the local entities ought to be able to set their own calendar. We never can get enough steam in this institution to change that back. That’s something that’s always sitting out there… I was here when the lottery passed. That was palace intrigue… It’s never dull here. You can fight somebody like mad on one issue, and then find yourselves joining forces on the next. It ebbs and flows and generally people don’t take it personally. If they start taking it personally, it slows the whole process down, and it’ll drive this entity to a screeching halt. But sometimes that’s not a bad thing (laughter). Anything that has surprised you during your service, or in the past few cycles? MS: Around here, you can expect anything and not be surprised about it when you find problems in statutes—they look good when they’re written, but until something is written and enjoined into the statutes and ratified, when it gets working is when you’ll find some of the trouble… You will find flaws as things start working or as issues hit a constituent—that’s where you’ll find flaws in the statutes. They weren’t written by perfect people. They weren’t passed by perfect people. There are flaws there, but sometimes you don’t find them until they hit bone. Hindsight is 20/20—that’s a perfect analogy for here: hindsight is 20/20. And every session that ends, we always go back in the next session and fix something we’ve done. They call it unintended consequences. Once it all merges together, that’s when a flaw will come out. You can read it back and forward and sideways and never see it, until it actually (becomes law). Do you find serving as a legislator is also a physical challenge? MS: Those all-night sessions are hard. They’re hard on your body. There was a year—it was in ’01—when we were in session for 12 calendar months, and I felt like it took me two months to recover from that. Because we were steady in session. Twelve calendar months. That was hard on everybody: the members, the press, the public. And things are just moving along… It was a lot of struggle. How do you make that work, in terms of decompressing while you’re home? MS: You don’t (laughter). You just roll with it. A lot of people have my cell number. I have it with me at all times if anyone needs me. It’s 828-999-0216. If anyone needs me, I’ve got my cell with me. My municipal entities—I’ve got a meeting with the Troutman town board in December. I talked to the town manager last week and I’m going to go to one of their meetings. Letting them know I’m available. That’s the key function of being here. You’ve got to be accessible to people, and people have got to feel like they can call you. Do you have a good relationship and communication with your municipal leaders? MS: I try to. I don’t bother them, and I truly don’t interfere. But if they need me, they know where I’m at. If they need me, I’ll do everything I can to help them. But I’m not going to micromanage them. I’ve sat behind that desk, and I know how hard that is, to sit behind that desk… There’s always equipment that has to be updated. The fire service, the maintenance. Big city, little city, the problems are the same, it’s just the massive scope. We were a town of 650 people, but it was good experience. Being chair of the board of the United Methodist Church was also good experience. And every now and again, you can help somebody. I enjoy that. My cities, my managers, mayors, boards, they all have my number. I try to be accessible. That lack of communication can have a snowball effect in a negative way, and you don’t want that… The cities are economic engines in their own right, and they have to be protected. Do you find that your previous municipal experience has given you the right color to see how the legislature affects cities? MS: Yes. I’m glad I had some local experience before I came down here. It’s hard enough to learn the rules and procedures as it is, but with being under a municipal entity, the formality is there, the structure. That was extremely helpful. I was thankful I had local experience. You don’t know exactly what to expect, but you have a blueprint in your mind as to how things may run. The concept is the same. My cities, my managers, mayors, boards, they all have my number. I try to be accessible. That lack of communication can have a snowball effect in a negative way, and you don't want that... The cities are economic engines in their own right, and they have to be protected. continued from page 17
NCLM.ORG 19 Mayor Joe Gibbons: A Labor of Love in Lenoir JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate A LIFELONG PUBLIC SERVANT AND DEDICATED LENOIR RESIDENT, MAYOR JOE GIBBONS HAS PERSONIFIED WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A LOCAL LEADER. Among the many local leaders in North Carolina, there exists a small category of people for which it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else. Lenoir Mayor Joe Gibbons qualifies into that group. He is in many ways public service personified. And still, to see his route as inevitable—that it’s hard to see him doing anything else—may sell short that Gibbons does do quite a bit else, from his local family business to his volunteerism in the community, all of which stand as key components to the larger package. First, you have the devotion to community. Born and raised in Lenoir, Gibbons says that he never truly considered living anywhere else. “I deeply love this community,” he tells Southern City in a phone interview. Outside of his time at Appalachian State, where he was a four-year scholarship athlete on the football team, Gibbons has been a steady presence in the Caldwell County town. He and his brother joined the family business, Gibbons Electric, shortly after returning home from college. Second, you have the dedication to involvement. Just living in Lenoir would not be enough, as Gibbons says. The devotion to the town is too great. As such, it’s been a common sight over the past few decades to find Gibbons in any number of different places, usually in a leadership role. Positions include the UNC Health-Caldwell Hospital Board chairmanship and the Caldwell Community College Foundation Board of Directors, in addition to several other seats on associations, government committees, and Rotary Clubs. It extends statewide too, through the NC League of Municipalities, where he served two terms as board member and is the current chair of the Risk Management Board of Trustees, and the NC Mayors Association, where he also is the current chair. Perhaps most important to Gibbons, though, has been his involvement with the local little league, where he coached youth baseball for more than 20 years. “I want to see this city continue to grow and prosper and move forward, and the only way to do that sometimes is to get involved,” Gibbons said. “That’s what I decided to do, and I haven’t regretted a day of it since.” And third, of course, is the path to the mayor’s seat, paved by both the above dedication and the family history that guided it. Gibbons is part of a local government family. HIs father was the Mayor of Lenoir for 24 years during a time period that covered much of the younger Gibbons’ adult life. The tenure, 1971 to 1995, coincided with drastic economic changes to the state, specifically to the textile industry. Lenoir was not spared. “The furniture industry of the south. That all started changing,” said Gibbons. There was no catalyst that spurred Gibbons to take the same, familial route. In fact, it was never in the plans. “It just turned into that,” said Gibbons, noting instead that it was a combination of factors that ultimately led him to elected office. It began simply by observing the decline of his community, made all the more clear by the only four years he spent out of town. “I saw that so many of the things I enjoyed growing up here were gone,” he said. Through a familiarity with the mayor’s office and a nearly lifelong behind-the-scenes glimpse of the machinations of city government, Gibbons understood that governmental service could make a difference. It began on the planning board. Soon, it moved to the board of adjustment, then to the newly created economic development board, which had a sole focus on what Gibbons considered the biggest issue facing town: a lack of commerce, especially downtown. From there, the next step was elected office in 2005, first as a councilmember, then as Mayor Pro Tem, and ultimately as Mayor. “I’m now into about 35 years serving the City of Lenoir,” Gibbons said. “It was a process, but really it was just wanting to be involved.” I want to see this city continue to grow and prosper and move forward, and the only way to do that sometimes is to get involved. That’s what I decided to do, and I haven’t regretted a day of it since. continues on page 20
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 20 Mayor Gibbons greeting Kinston Mayor Don Hardy at NCLM’s annual conference, CityVision. Photo credit: Ben Brown. The job of a mayor, or any elected official, is never about a single issue. However, there are priorities, and the issue of economic development has dominated the agenda for most of Gibbon’s time. It is so closely tied to all of the above traits—to the deep knowledge of his hometown and its citizens, and an understanding of what Lenoir once was and what it could be again—and he is quick to note it as both his top achievement and top ongoing goal. It all starts downtown. “When I first got in, we were seeing the city change,” Gibbons said. Recalling his early days in office, Gibbons remembers downtown as hosting the courthouse, a few city offices, and not much else. There was very little retail or local business. “It had been great while growing up here, but it had gone away.” That status quo created a cascade of problems. Without the hub of an attractive downtown, civic pride had lessened, which sputtered any local momentum to make necessary changes, which meant that the downtown would remain in a state of underinvestment, which meant that the town would lack a key recruitment piece in its efforts to attract new businesses, and on and on. The goal, then, was to reverse that inertia. Gibbons began with a structural focus: new sidewalks, streetscapes, infrastructure investments, and doing all else to make the area so that businesses could—and would want to—operate downtown. Having a born-and-bred local leading the charge made a difference, Gibbons believes. “The value is, being from here makes you so proud. You want to see it grow and get better. With the background that I had, I got to see how my community was and how I want to see it again.” It worked. Momentum built. Businesses slowly started to trickling in. Gibbons then changed the approach to direct business support, and that helped sustain the energy. Soon, downtown had transformed from empty to an asset, and Gibbons and town leadership had a tool with which to keep Lenoir growing. “We had to battle,” Gibbons said. “We could have boarded up our town and said, ‘furniture is all we’ve ever done,’ and we could have quit. But we didn’t. We had to rebuild ourselves.” To supplement these efforts, Lenoir turned its focus to another asset: its people. A large portion of the community had worked in the furniture industry, but had been slow to transition to other areas of work. Unemployment was a key concern. Gibbons possessed the insight to see that this was not an intrinsic problem, but rather a situational problem. Thus, they could adjust the situation. Lenoir did so by working with the local community college to offer training to former furniture workers to prepare them for different industries. And like with the downtown developments, the benefits extended beyond just the tangible. “We were working to keep our community proud of itself,” said Gibbons. Success was almost immediately apparent, seen in the recruitment of large industry. In 2007, Google came to town with a $1.2 billion investment in a new data center. “What possessed Google to come to a small community like Lenoir?” said Gibbons. “Well, we had the resources, and we had the employees. We had people they could come in and hire.” Downtown has been a similarly successful selling point in the recruitment of other businesses, both large and small. It’s not just a nostalgic exercise. Rather, it’s the headline attraction on the tour of town, and perhaps even more important, is a source of pride for the community, which, as Gibbons believes, builds an ongoing willingness to adapt in the face of change. “Once we get companies to visit, it’s not a hard sell.” The larger picture of steady success obscures the challenges that arise along the way. Gibbons admits that it’s not always pleasant. “Sometimes I feel like I’m beating my head against the wall,” he said. But it is that larger picture that keeps him on track. “You have to step back. We’ve done so many great things. We’re walking. We’re beginning to run.” The results of Gibbons’ work are reward enough, but other formal accolades have accumulated over the years. All areas of his life seem to be reflected in the honors. Gibbons was awarded the Governor’s Order of the Long Leaf Pine in 2016, received the LA Dysart Man of the Year award from Caldwell County in 2018, and earned induction into the Caldwell County sports hall of fame in 2010. Additionally, the City of Lenoir has created the “Gibbons Award,” named after Mayor Gibbons and his wife Becky, to honor distinguished service as it relates to downtown development. But, as Gibbons said, the individual awards are only significant because they mean that the town itself has succeeded. That has always stood as the most important goal. “I call it my laughing place. The place I love to be,” Gibbons said. “My goal was to bring it back—to see my laughing place return to the way it used to be. And that’s what we’ve done.” continued from page 19 Mayor Joe Gibbons: A Labor of Love in Lenoir
NCLM.ORG 21 Mayor Joe Gibbons: A Labor of Love in Lenoir Joe and Becky Gibbons receive the Gibbons Award. Photo credit: City of Lenoir.
SOUTHERN CITY Quarter 4 2022 22 LONGTIME PARTNERS, MOLDOVA AND NORTH CAROLINA HAVE ACHIEVED SUCCESSES IN A NUMBER OF PUBLIC SERVICE CATEGORIES. NOW, THE FOCUS HAS TURNED TO CITIES. JACK CASSIDY NCLM Communications Associate Standing atop a landfill with seven members of the local government delegation of the country of Moldova, two observations come into focus. One, there exists in plain sight a network of public services that, despite giving shape to day-to-day life, are consistently overlooked and underappreciated. And two, the work that creates these public services is nothing short of a marvel. These Moldovan mayors and municipal professionals recognize both points immediately. It’s a privilege for citizens to enjoy these local government services without much fanfare. Behind the curtain, a much more impressive and complicated picture emerges. The Moldovan delegation are here to get that glimpse, as part of a decades-long partnership between their country and North Carolina, in which ideas, lessons, trainings and support are exchanged. They’re here to figure out how to make this happen back at home, and their detailed, attentive questions reveal their sincerity. How much soil is needed to cover the garbage? How dense can this landfill hill become—how much garbage per square foot is being crushed Municipal Diplomacy The Growing, Fruitful, and City-Focused Relationship of Moldova and North Carolina into the earth? What about odors, regulations, separation of hazardous waste and construction debris and mattresses and batteries? These are not the inquiries of tourists, but rather of students and practitioners. Today it’s the matter of waste management, but on other trips it has been other questions concerning the structure and operation of local government more broadly. Moldova faces geopolitical and economic issues that the United States does not, and yet the function of North Carolina cities offers the country a model for how to begin establishing the reliable and strong public foundation that is local government. It’s a stability that has eluded Moldova since its independence. However, the current makeup of city officials in the country of just over two million residents represent a tremendous chance at progress and a new way forward. They are young and idealistic, and their studies on the operation of a landfill are only the beginning of a long list of curiosities that all have the same ultimate intention: to better Moldova by adopting the best of North Carolina.
NCLM.ORG 23 Municipal Diplomacy Our city has a population of about 8,000. We are facing many crises happening at the local level and also within the international context. After two years of the pandemic, we have faced a refugee crisis, an energy crisis, and the people are distressed with these situations. We are in a complicated situation, but with the support of partnerships like this one, the European Union and the United States, we are able to face these issues at the right level. Although it seems like we are on different continents, we have a common aim… This exchange helps us face the common issues we have, in protecting our planet for future generations. » Olga Luchian, Deputy Mayor of Stefan Voda ˘˘˘ The North Carolina-Moldova relationship is firmly rooted in diplomacy. It began with the fall of the Soviet Union. American leadership at the time recognized that the newly independent countries of the USSR had practiced neither self-governance nor democracy for many years, and that their economic standing did not encourage development in those areas. Leaving it void, in the United States’ view, would not support either party’s interests. Thus, it became national policy to support those aims through the use of intergovernmental partnerships. As such, the United States National Guard State Partnership Program (SPP) was created in 1993. With a focus on Eastern Europe, SPP included pairings such as California and Ukraine, Indiana and Slovakia, and Alabama and Romania. Over the following three decades, SPP expanded globally, and now includes more than 80 state-country partnerships. Initially the partnerships were predicated on security. Through the years, the civilian diplomacy aspect also blossomed. The National Guard now includes both elements of the program in its description: “Through SPP, the National Guard conducts military-to-military engagements in support of defense security goals but also leverages whole-of-society relationships and capabilities to facilitate broader interagency and corollary engagements spanning military, government, economic, and social spheres.” continues on page 24 Sergiu Andronachi, Mayor of Cimislia, addresses the mayors and managers of Apex, Fuquay-Varina, and Holly Springs. Photo credit: Ben Brown.nclm.org