Speaking Out: A Year of Challenges and Opportunities

Karen Alexander, NCLM President

Over the past year, cities and towns across North Carolina have faced monumental and unprecedented challenges due to the global pandemic. Those same challenges have extended to this organization, as it has sought to be responsive to the member cities and towns that it serves.

As my term as president of your NC League of Municipalities comes to an end, I know that it has not been an easy year. In fact, future generations will reflect on this time and wonder how we got through it.

Historic challenges, though, create historic opportunities. And I believe cities and towns, as well as this organization, have and are seizing those opportunities to lay the groundwork for a better future.

As I reflect on this past year, I am proud of this organization. Through adversity, we have achieved incredible successes.

The work that we—representatives of member cities and towns, and the staff—have done to make the case for the needs of cities and towns, doing so at the state and federal level, paid off in historic investments coming from the state budget, the federal American Rescue Plan Act and the federal infrastructure bill. Since passage of those measures, our organization has been laying the groundwork to help members understand, administer, and get the best bang for the buck out of these funding streams. That work is seen in informational webinars; our information-packed microsite, arp.nclm.org; our report demonstrating how to get great value from infrastructure investments, The American Rescue Plan and Local Infrastructure; and now setting the stage for consultations to help in implementation.

These funding streams represent a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and the past year has been one of digging into the rich soil that has been created to seek the most fruitful rewards to improve the lives of our residents.

The year also saw NCLM, under the leadership of past-President Jennifer Robinson and second Vice President Bill Harris, begin its DIRECT program to help cities and towns find ways to address racial inequities. Coming out of our Racial Equity Task Force, we believe this beginning can help bring about inclusive conversations, involving an array of community partners, that lead to lasting change.

Finally, we have now set the path for our League property in downtown Raleigh, which will further position NCLM as an active, effective, and forward-looking organization. Our driving principles, as we have approached this work, have been to best utilize the ground that we have and focus on the present, and on where we are as a society today, as well as prepare for the future.

In many ways, those same principles apply to the larger work of the League and the larger work of cities and towns in these times of unprecedented challenges.

The world has changed.

In my city of Salisbury, and many other cities and towns across the state, we have had to utilize the ground that we have, our traditional community partners in the business and non-profit world, but in even more productive ways to address the shifting and more urgent needs of our residents. We have also had to recognize that we cannot rely on what we did yesterday. To be bold and innovative today is to be prudent. It’s not wasting time on solutions that will not work, only to have to begin over again.

And it is being focused on what is the best and highest use.

Those same principles apply to how we can use these unprecedented infrastructure and other funding streams, to our traditional work as cities and towns, and to this group of cities and towns that we call the League of Municipalities, working as one while advancing all.

Getting the best that we can from the firm ground that we have established should always be the goal.

I am honored to have worked with all of you, my fellow members of the Board of Directors, League staff, and all who have been involved with and committed to this organization. I look forward to seeing the good work, on this solid ground that we have created, continue into next year and into the future.

Thank you all.