It was all about connecting, communicating, and celebrating the many great outcomes North Carolina has experienced with local-state teamwork.
More than 500 elected and staff government officials filled the Raleigh Convention Center on Wednesday, Feb. 22, for the fifth installment of the League’s popular Town & State Dinner, uniting municipal and legislative leaders for relationship-building, the talking-through of various timely issues, and to hear updates and perspective from House and Senate majority and minority leaders on the shape of North Carolina.
Over a meal, and following a networking social, attendees from areas across the state utilized the occasion to strengthen intergovernmental connections as the General Assembly carries out its annual lawmaking session, which speakers noted can include a wide variety of issues, making ongoing communication between local and state officials essential.
“We may not always agree on the exact path, but we all do this to try to make our state better,” said event emcee William Harris, the commissioner from Fuquay-Varina and NCLM Board of Directors first vice-president. Commissioner Harris introduced question-
and-answer panels featured over the evening, starting with House Speaker Tim Moore and House Democratic Leader Rep. Robert Reives, moderated by NCLM President and Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler.
Mayor Neisler, with Speaker Moore and Rep. Reives seated to his sides, noted the sizable responsibility of public service. “We want to thank you so much for your sacrifice … leaving your families, leaving your businesses, to come up here and serve,” Mayor Neisler said. But during his conversation with the legis lative leaders, the importance of sustained ties and fruitful communication between local officials and their lawmakers received as much emphasis.
“Keep up with what’s going on with us,” Rep. Reives said. He urged local officials to maintain communication channels with their lawmakers for clear understandings of issues or needs, a two-way street. “We don’t know everything, and because we don’t know everything, we’ve got to have folks on the ground that tell us here’s what’s going on with it, here’s what we need, here’s how you can best serve us,” Reives said, noting those might be hard conversations sometimes. “But you’re the folks on the ground touching the communities every day, and there’s nothing more important for us than to get information.”
Speaker Moore too urged healthy local-state communication, and has noted his frequent conversations with Mayor Neisler, who lives in Speaker Moore’s district.
The speaker also affirmed that all officials have common ground in that they’re working for the best that North Carolina can be. “It is the highest honor that I’ve had, to serve in this role,” Speaker Moore said after Mayor Neisler asked about the challenging nature of General Assembly work. Speaker Moore said there are always endurance-testing days for legislators, “but at the same time, we all know we’re in it—and I know that the folks on the other side of the aisle and the other side of the building—are there for the right reasons, and that is caring about this great state. So, while there’s always those days that are tough, in the end, the good always outweighs those tough times.”
Senate leader Phil Berger and the chamber’s minority leader, Sen. Dan Blue, also took the stage for discussion, as moderated by Durham Mayor Pro Tem Mark-Anthony Middleton, NCLM’s second vice-president.
Sen. Blue pointed out the diversity of North Carolina’s more-than-540 cities and towns. “Each is unique,” Sen. Blue said, adding he has appreciated the help of the League and its member municipal leaders for serving as resources clarifying the nuance and effects of proposals that come forward in context with municipalities.
Sen. Berger, a former municipal attorney, gave remarks about topics including infrastructure and the state’s economy. Sen. Berger said that North Carolina’s economic position in relation to other U.S. states is strong, with a bounce-back measured from the hard days of the pandemic. Sen. Berger pointed out that North Carolina today has two million more registered voters than it did 10 years ago, and called that a showing of people planting their roots here to take advantage of all the state has to offer. “We’re probably doing most things better than most other states, and we just need to make sure we continue that as we go forward,” Sen. Berger said.
The evening was a rousing success, thanks to the participation of North Carolina’s local and legislative officials and their interest in working toward positive outcomes. “We’ve got north of 500 people attending tonight,” said Mayor Pro Tem Middleton to applause. The League thanks all who attended and engaged with the opportunity to work as one.