#NCLGBA18 Recap Series: “This is How We Do It”

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2018 Winter Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our second #NCLGBA18 Conference Recap comes from Zach Lewis, MPA Candidate, North Carolina State University and 2018 Winter Conference Scholarship Recipient.

“This is How We Do It” – Key Takeaways from the Winter 2018 NCLGBA Conference from an Aspiring Local Government Leader

As a current first year MPA student looking to begin a career in public budgeting and finance, this was my first formal conference attendance specific to local government. I was incredibly humbled to have been selected as one of the scholarship recipients for the conference and will forever be thankful to those involved in presenting me with his opportunity.

When I arrived at the conference, my initial observation was that there were way more people in attendance than I had anticipated, most of whom were returning conference attendees. However, I was very warmly welcomed and quickly made a part of the NCLGBA family.

Located at the Carolina Inn in Pinehurst, NC, the venue and setting of the conference was beautiful – it was clear that the NCLGBA Board and the conference planning team had worked tirelessly to make this conference happen.

The welcoming environment, the well-planned conference, the “family” atmosphere, and the diversity of conference presentations spoke one thing: North Carolina is an awesome place to work in local government.

Here are 3 of my takeaways from the conference:

1) Innovation is happening in North Carolina local governments.
Unfortunately, one of the common stereotypes discussed regarding public sector employees is that “not much gets done,” or that government workers are “very set in their ways.” However, two of my favorite conference sessions seemingly challenged these claims by presenting innovative ways they are changing their budget processes – Durham County, NC and the City of Durham, NC. In the first session, “Data Analytics: The Power of BI,” presenters demonstrated how their budget offices and other departments are utilizing a new tool, Microsoft Power BI, to greatly improve their data analysis and visualization techniques, moving further ahead than the classic Microsoft Excel and encouraging other local governments to consider it as well.

In the second session, “Policy Equity & Inclusion: Letting History and Community Voices Guide Institutional Choices,” community leaders in the city of Durham discussed how using history to understand present day disparities is vital to creating more equitable futures and to not repeat the same mistakes. In the discussion, the Mayor Pro Tempore of the City of Durham discussed how the city has adopted a participatory budget process for $2.4 million dollars, hosting numerous public input sessions across the entire city so citizens can provide input on how they wish to see the money spent. This is creating an equitable way for citizens of all backgrounds to have the opportunity to provide vital input.

2) Difficult, but necessary conversations are happening at NCLGBA.
Continuing with the same session which discussed participatory budgeting “Policy Equity & Inclusion: Letting History and Community Voices Guide Institutional Choices,” this session urged counties and municipalities that are facing local disparities or equity problems to actively work to holistically understand the problems by utilizing local history to consider “how did we get here?” By embracing these difficult challenges, by engaging in difficult and often uncomfortable conversations, by creating community dialogues, and by providing equal and equitable ways for all citizens to provide public input, local governments across the state can begin creating better futures for all of those represented.

In a separate session, “Leading Women – Perspectives in Leadership and Budget,” female local government leaders discussed the challenges that they face or have faced during their careers working in local government. By creating these dialogues, not only are the issues acknowledged, but they provide the framework and a platform to begin collectively working to combat these problems and begin shaping a more-inclusive, more-equal workplace. This session was closed with a call to action, urging everyone to continue thinking about how to improve, not only when prompted to think about it – “don’t let this session run concurrently, let it run continuously.”

3) Personal growth is paramount to professional growth.
Although this was a “budgeting” conference, not all sessions dealt with budgeting and local government. Rather, two sessions focused on another important area – personal growth, implicitly emphasizing by learning how to grow as a person, we will better grow as a professional.

In the opening conference session, psychologist Heather Lee introduced emotional intelligence (EQ) and illustrated why EQ matters to be a successful leader. Learning ways to become more EQ conscience and improving our EQ skills is arguably more important than IQ in the workplace, and with both of these, we can prepare ourselves for a successful, well-to-do career in public service. Ultimately, “IQ skills get us hired, EQ skills keep us going and moving up the ladder.”

In one of the final conference sessions, Dan Pliszka from the City of Charlotte and author of his new book Life is Great: Even if Your Boat Flips Over helped teach us how to find value and success in all aspects of our life, switching to the adage “work to live” rather than “live to work.” If we shift our focus from “waiting for the weekend so we can finally live,” Dan emphasized that we would lose out on the majority of our life. Rather, we should be “living” each day – finding the joys and pleasures in all that we do and make every day a day that we look forward to.

The Winter 2018 NCLGBA conference was an incredible experience for me, both personally and professionally. The networks created, the sessions attended, the ideas shared, the stories told, and the dialogues created all helped to solidify one thing – my biggest takeaway of all – North Carolina’s local government leaders are some of the best in the nation.