Taking the Field: The Demands, Pressures, and Rewards of Public Service

Rose Vaughn Williams, NCLM Executive Director

Travel around North Carolina and the wonder of our cities will be on full display, in towns large and small alike. These places are our economic engines and our hubs of both history and community, and they are the reason North Carolina has become the toast of the nation.

While the greatness of our cities is evident, however, the work to create these places too often goes behind the scenes—out of sight and out of mind. The work happens through investments to underground infrastructure, like water and sewer. It happens during decision-making processes regarding the provision of critical services. And it happens in the difficult, every-day tasks that ensure our cities continue to run smoothly for their communities.

Unheralded, though, does not equal unimportant. Just the opposite, in fact. The successes happening in towns across our state are nothing short of astounding, and they are as present in the massive downtown project as they are in the small, subtle work relied upon by our businesses, homes, and communities. These duties are consequential and critical. It brings meaning to my work at the League in supporting the efforts of our cities and towns, and knowing the public service mindset that is pervasive across our state, I know it brings meaning to your work as well.

Importance and meaning accompany responsibility. And responsibility brings with it pressure and stress. So many of you take up the obligations with pride, but that does not mean that the lift is not heavy. Especially here, in North Carolina, our state faces rapid change and city leaders are faced with significant and evolving challenges, from growth to infrastructure needs to economic uncertainty to staffing concerns, just to name a few. The responsibility of meeting those challenges is inevitably demanding.

This past April at our annual conference CityVision, the keynote speaker Matt Lehrman presented on the topic of civility. (A companion article also appears in this issue of Southern City.) Lehrman has presented to organizations around the country, including many states’ municipal leagues, and has a great deal of experience in addressing the conflicts that arise from exactly the types of pressures that our local leaders face. When a group of leaders—whether it is a council or staff or a leadership committee—need to address serious challenges, there are often disagreements and opposing viewpoints. This is normal, according to Lehrman. Beyond that, it is productive. Through varying perspectives and ideas, we better represent and serve our communities, and through dialogue—as difficult as it may sometimes be—we work to the best possible solution.

As Lehrman notes, it is important to remember that at the root of our stresses and anxieties is a true, committed concern for the wellbeing of our communities and our citizens. Additionally, I encourage you to remember that the League is here to assist in any way we can—to support, advise, consult, advocate, and do all else possible to make your work easier.

Thank you for your public service, for your ability to lead through difficult situations, and for your dedication to the places you represent. While your demanding, tremendous work may go unnoticed to some, it is both apparent and inspiring to me and all of us at your League of Municipalities. I look forward to working with you on your continued successes.