Cary Council Member Jennifer Robinson is the new president of the North Carolina League of Municipalities in a freshly elected League Board of Directors, comprising new and continuing members. The election results were announced at the organization’s annual business meeting, held as part of the two-day CityVision 2020 virtual conference, which itself made history.
League members know CityVision as the year’s best opportunity to network with and enjoy the company of fellow municipal officials from across the state and learn from expert speakers on important, emerging or timely matters for cities and towns. The rise of COVID-19, however, threw planners into a fast restructuring operation to convert the entire conference into a web-based event.
With nearly 750 municipal officials registered and a highlight number of cities and towns represented, CityVision 2020 was a smash. The face-to-face camaraderie was missed, but the virtual format didn’t hamper engagement over what was a successful installation of new League officers and a three-day program of presentations.
COVID-19 became the focus of the conference this year, with live sessions tackling relevant angles to cities and towns. Day one focused on economic development issues, economic forecasts and direct tools communities could use to rebound. Day two went straight into the pandemic’s impact on operations and ways that municipalities could leverage technology for future resilience. The final day concentrated on the power of leadership during crises and skillset-building for future events that could impact cities and towns.
The learning sessions represented part two of the virtual conference, held in June, following May’s installation of new League Board of Directors leaders and members.
Robinson Puts Presidency in Perspective
Robinson, a Cary Town Council member since 1999 and who previously served as the League’s vice-president, acknowledged her new position as president comes amid a “most surreal and challenging time,” with public health and economic concerns in the daily headlines, local to national, and without much precedent to follow. “We don’t know how long this is going to last,” she said. “Is it too soon to stop (implementing protective measures)? We don’t know how far our economy will sink or when and how it will recover… But, what we do know is that the League is looking out for our best interests. It understands the challenges that municipalities, their elected leaders, and citizens are facing. They are bringing us together with one collective voice.”
Her words followed a tone similar to that set by Immediate Past President William Pitt of the Washington City Council, who frequently cited the energy of working in unison. “Having served this organization for almost a decade, I will treasure all the friendships and acts of kindness and love,” Pitt remarked on the transition. “Even as the work over this issue or that fades, those personal acts will remain. It has truly been a great honor to be your president, and I thank you all.”
Gov. Roy Cooper addressed conference part-one participants with an update on the state’s COVID-19 response. As challenges remain, he said at the time and continues to say, state officials are tracking activity and letting public health data guide decision-making.
League Associate Executive Director for Public and Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams presented on why revenue aid is so needed for cities and towns to help the state recover from the virus-related economic crisis. “Cities are the economic engines of the state,” she said. “Data from the Great Recession from 2008 show that the longer cities go without help in a recession, the longer the recession will last for the state.” Williams noted that cities are not in their current financial predicament because of mismanagement; it was a global pandemic that had municipalities advocating on the state and federal levels for revenue assistance.
League Executive Director Paul Meyer told the Board of Directors and other members that their response to the coronavirus “has been impressive and effective… We see that in your active involvement in addressing the safety of your residents and the economic threats created by this virus.”
All the same, Meyer said, the League is here and working on their behalf so cities and towns can come out of this pandemic in shape to help drive the state’s economy. “We are working every day to ensure that you receive the resources needed to meet tomorrow’s challenges,” he said. “This pandemic has created its own challenges for our organization, but I am proud of member and staff efforts to continue our work, which has taken on even more importance.”