#NCLGBA19 Recap Series: Community Engagement in Budgeting

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our fifth #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Lauren Brune, Budget Analyst, City of Asheville.

The 2019 NCLGBA Summer Conference was the first one I attended since Winter 2017 and did not disappoint – it was one of the best budget conferences in my experience. I thoroughly enjoyed connecting with budget peers new and familiar from across North Carolina, and the mix of conference sessions was informative and engaging.

A common thread I noticed throughout several sessions was one that did not used to tie directly to budgeting: community engagement. This illustrates the notion of the evolving budget profession. The days of spending all day at a desk crunching numbers are gone; instead, we need to get out into our communities to forge partnerships and ensure our services are meeting stakeholders’ needs. Budgeteers must work closely with community engagement staff and management to ensure that the organization’s strategic plan aligns with community priorities, and then allocate financial resources accordingly.

One of the biggest takeaways from Brock Long’s session, “Emergency 2.0,” was how to leverage federal emergency funding through local partnerships. Brock compared emergency management to a chair with four legs: the citizenry, local and state governments, the private sector, and federal government. If any of these legs is weak, it destabilizes the chair and prevents an effective emergency response. The “emergency 2.0” approach is to create partnerships in your community to keep the chair stable. Brock mentioned several examples of how to create such partnerships before a disaster strikes, so that the machine can be put into operation immediately when necessary. He advised local governments to partner with reinsurance agencies to leverage their fund balance, which can provide more flexibility in the permissible uses of funds than federal reimbursements alone. Brock also suggested writing MOUs with local stores to provide food and supplies immediately in case of emergency. By engaging effectively with their communities, local governments can establish a robust emergency management strategy that incorporates effective preparation and response.

The community engagement theme popped up again in the “Budget Monitoring and Reporting” session from Mecklenburg County. Brandon Juhaish explained that Mecklenburg budget staff shares quarterly reports with departments and asks departmental staff for feedback to keep employees engaged in the process. The communication loop then comes full circle when budget staff incorporates departments’ feedback into future reports. This seemingly simple action works to break down silos in the organization and moves the type of engagement from information to collaboration.

The community engagement thread also wove its way into the Past Presidents’ Panel, which illustrated how the budgeting profession has evolved. When Maia Setzer offered words of wisdom to burgeoning budget professionals, she encouraged talking to customers, which I interpreted to mean internally as well as externally. Beyond communicating with citizens, community engagement could take the form of benchmarking and learning from other organizations. It was a good reminder that local governments everywhere borrow ideas from one another and that there is no shame in replicating a successful initiative in your community.

The second conference day began with an inspiring session about Fayetteville. Rebecca Jackson explained that to be high-performing, an organization must collaborate and break down silos by engaging with employees and citizens alike. Listening to customers is a behavior that all high-performing organizations have in common. By knowing what your community values, you can create a strategic plan that serves as your blueprint for successful budgeting. To close the communication loop with the public after the strategic plan is implemented, Fayetteville uses tools like the TracStat scorecard, which aligns performance measures in the organization to Council goals. The scorecard is shown in an open database so that Council and citizens can dive into performance stats and see how the budget aligns with their priorities.

The idea of community priorities informing the strategic planning process continued in the next session, “Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast.” Scott Tesh explained that in Winston-Salem, results from the citizen survey are provided to departments about their specific services, and that residents also rank departments’ services by importance. Parks & Recreation services ranked higher than anticipated in the survey, which led staff to reallocate some bond funding to Parks projects. If Council is resistant to strategic planning, it could be helpful to highlight concerns from the community rather than staff — these may be more impactful since they affect electability.

When members of the community participate in the governing process, it is important to lead them by encouraging the heart, as Rick Morse explained. Citizens will be more enthusiastic about participation when their contributions are recognized, they feel appreciated, and values and victories are celebrated. Strong recognition cultures encourage good relationships between management, staff, and the community. This idea emerged most clearly in my favorite session of the conference, “PB Durham: Humanizing the Budget Process.” Community engagement was the key to Durham’s success with participatory budgeting. The “PB Jam” (brainstorming) sessions at recreation centers and festivals, as well as canvassing, met the community where they were and encouraged maximum community participation in PB. Any Durham resident age 13+ could vote on projects, and PB was integrated into the schools’ social studies curriculum. With the online idea collection platform, Andrew Holland and Robin Baker brought technology to the people and used it with or for them if needed.

After the two-month idea collection phase, internal departments used community engagement in the proposal development process. These intensive workshops trained citizens on how to turn their ideas into actionable projects. Although the PB staff provided information and direction, they depended on citizens to push the project ideas forward. Citizens were also encouraged to spread the word about their own project ideas to increase votes. I believe this feature of Durham’s PB process was the most innovative and important to its success. By taking ownership of the projects and the voting, citizens were probably much more engaged in PB than they would be if staff had simply led the process. This recalls the idea of closing the communication loop and moving the community engagement process from informing to collaborating.

Seeing the community engagement theme throughout so many of the conference sessions reinforced the changing nature of the budgeting profession for me. I am excited to see how community engagement will play a role in future budget processes in our local governments, and I can’t wait to play host when the NCLGBA Winter Conference comes to Asheville!

#NCLGBA19 Recap Series: A Culture of High Performance

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our fourth #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Jenn Wolf, Strategy and Budget Analyst, City of Charlotte.

While the 2019 Summer Conference explored a range of topics for local government professionals, I saw one theme emerge as a common thread from a wide variety of sessions.

Former FEMA Administrator, Brock Long, opened the conference with a presentation on emergency management that underscored the importance of insuring and hardening our assets and building resilience in our communities. If communities are implementing these lessons, then they can create high performing levels of resiliency.

Dr. Olga Smirnova and Jennifer Wolf from the City of Charlotte discussed green initiatives and making strategic investments in an increasingly unpredictable climate. If organizations are following this path, then they can create high performing levels of sustainability.

Lastly, a general session led by Rebecca Jackson and John Werner gave an in depth look at creating a culture of high performance. If individuals are putting this into action, then they can create a high performing attitude within themselves.

We also had the privilege of hearing from a full panel of past NCLGBA presidents, whose words of wisdom are an inspiration to those who may one day answer the call and serve on the board, with all the responsibility that entails.

The theme of what it takes to become a high performing community, organization, and individual is a stand-out that sets this conference apart from the rest, whether through resilience, sustainability, culture, or leadership: continue to do your best to perform at your highest.

#NCLGBA19 Recap Series: Bridging the Gap

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our third #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Lauren Stepp, 2019 Summer Conference Scholarship Recipient, Western Carolina University Master of Public Affairs Candidate, and Communications and Development Coordinator, Evergreen Community Charter School.

Seeking First to Understand: Bridging the Gap Between Government and Nonprofit Personnel

I didn’t sleep much the night before my five-hour trek from North Carolina’s mountains to its coast. I developed a passion for budgeting early in my graduate program at Western Carolina University, seeing it as a mechanism for encouraging civic engagement and racial equity. But not three weeks prior to the NCLGBA Summer Conference in Wilmington, I was offered an opportunity to serve Evergreen Community Charter School as their Communications and Development Coordinator. I took the job. And I love it. Regardless, my chief concern in attending the conference was that fellow attendees wouldn’t understand my perspective. After all, the situation sounds like a hackneyed joke: nearly 150 government budgeting professionals and a singular nonprofit fundraiser walk into a riverfront hotel…

I was wrong. The conference afforded thoughtful, productive conversation. Fellow conferencegoers were intrigued by my attendance and genuinely interested in my path to Evergreen. Better yet, it afforded a chance to discuss the financial implications of charter schools as well as opportunities for public-nonprofit collaboration. Whether obvious or not, collaborative governance underscored many of the conference sessions. Rebecca Jackson’s Creating a High Performance Culture – Engaged Employees Transforming Communities alluded to enacting collaborative agreements with community organizations in pursuit of innovation. Jackson’s four qualities of high-performing organizations can also be applied to nonprofits. Arguably, nonprofits should also be mission driven, use data to drive decisions, listen to customers, and engage employees. As Director of Fayetteville’s Office of Strategic Performance Analytics, Jackson advised practitioners to avoid a hero-based approach to strategic planning, to start small, and (my personal favorite) to ensure your staff can bell the cat. More plainly, are your strategies feasible? Conversations about strategic planning are important, especially considering just 52 percent of the audience agreed their organization was high-performing and 10 percent strongly disagreed. To attain innovation and bring more legitimacy to the causes we care about, government and nonprofit professionals must band together. We are stronger together and, as Rick Morse argued in Lead From Where You Are by Encouraging the Heart, we are stronger when we challenge the status quo.

Christopher Williams and Brandon Juhaish’s session, Funding Non-Profits: Mecklenburg County’s Process for Selecting and Managing its Community Service Grant’s Program, echoed these sentiments. Mecklenburg County modified their CSG Program in light of 12 recommendations from MPA students at UNC Charlotte. Chiefly, the sunset provision opens funding opportunities to new programs while providing others the opportunity to become established vendors. In fact, more than 70 percent of 2020 grantees are new. Though Williams and Juhaish discussed challenges of providing community funding, particularly those associated with processing applications, the benefits are overwhelming. In providing funding, Mecklenburg County supports critical needs in areas that might not otherwise receive financial assistance. In collaborating, the County better provides for its citizens and, arguably, creates a more equitable home.

Regardless, research continues to suggest a schism between government and nonprofit personnel. I won’t illustrate the alleged disagreements here, but perhaps it goes without saying­—we all deserve to be recognized, appreciated, and understood more regardless of sector. One tenet at Evergreen is to seek first to understand, then to be understood. I would like to think my attendance­—a nonprofit fundraiser amid a sea of budgeting professionals—was a step in that direction.

#NCLGBA19 Recap Series: PB Durham: Humanizing the Budget Process

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our second #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Darin Johnson, Strategic Initiatives Analyst, City of Durham.

Participatory Budgeting in the City of Durham, North Carolina

This fun, high energy, and insightful session around the Participatory Budgeting (PB) Durham process in the City of Durham community was brought to North Carolina Local Government Budget Association attendees by the good folks in the City of Durham Budget and Management Services Department. More specifically, Andrew Holland, Budget Engagement Manager, and Robin Baker, Budget Engagement Coordinator, broke down some of their successes and lessons-learned around their time intensive quest to build PB Durham in the Triangle. My reflection for the people who may want to know what the PB Durham process in the City of Durham Community was like, would be – the PB Durham team have demonstrated a standard of leadership through this process that is human and meaningful to the City of Durham.

Rubber, meet road!

I reflected on the lessons-learned during that presentation as it relates to how a key part of their successes was the buy-in from City Council and ultimately Department staff. It was good to hear about the person-centered process in which the team engaged with residents in each phase of their engagement process from 1) Idea Collection, 2) Proposal Development, 3) Voting, to the forthcoming 4) Implementation. Residents from every segment of the Durham community were at the table for each phase of the PB Durham process.

Spirit of Recognition

In the spirit of recognition, it was great to see other PB trailblazers such as City of Greensboro in the room who were interested in learning more about Durham’s process and similar challenges along the way. Many in attendance were most interested in ways the Budget Engagement team harnessed the Durham community’s capacity to activate residents. Budget engagement efforts were innovative & high performing in order to reach underrepresented segments of Durham’s community for buy-in, in addition to those who are typically interested/involved in budget-related conversations. The focused engagement of the PB Durham team lead to the submission of over 500 ideas across the City of Durham’s three wards while also obtaining votes on vetted projects from more than 10,000 residents via paper and online voting.

Yes, and…

There was a great conversation during the presentation that lasted until the last minute of our time together with the engagement team around lessons learned that other counties and municipalities can take back to their communities with the intent of encouraging a more democratic budget process where residents’ human voices, viewpoints, and perspectives are paramount in one-time projects being built in their communities. Two of the most salient insights from their PB Durham budget engagement experience was around the need for: A) a more flexible timeline during the next PB Durham cycle, which was realized as early as the Idea Collection phase and B) more resources, which became most evident during Proposal Development.

Leadership in Durham

Lastly, to build on my initial reflection around this team’s leadership – a leader is one who knows the way. A leader is one who goes the way. A leader is one who shows followers the way. It is easy for communities to be ordinary but it takes courage for communities to excel at bridging the gap between their most minimized/marginalized residents and their government in a way that educates each person involved. This session was a testament to how other Budget and Management professionals in and around Durham might reimagine the budget process to encourage greater participation. Thanks to the City of Durham leadership as well for supporting these bold ideas.

For more information about the history of participatory budgeting and other municipalities that have implemented this process please visit the Participatory Budgeting Project

#NCLGBA19 Recap Series: The Range in Budget on Display at Summer Conference

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our first #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Michelle Burgess, Budget and Management Analyst, Wake County.

I finished reading Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World  by David Epstein the night before heading to Wilmington for the summer NCLGBA conference. The book explores how diversity of experience, learning, and skill sets improves performance and long-term success. Pulling from different disciplines and problem-solving approaches allows individuals to more readily tackle the sticky problems with ill-defined rules or solutions.

Throughout the conference sessions, I kept thinking about how well that theme fits with the ethos of budget work as well as with NCLGBA. My work as a budget analyst spans several departments, exposing me to different services, thought processes, and county needs. Likewise, the budget development and monitoring process itself requires coordination across budget, finance, service departments, the manager’s office, and elected officials – each representing a different perspective and interest. Given the complex issues facing local governments (on any given day ranging from disaster response to affordable housing concerns to the impact of Medicaid transformation), I find that diversity of perspective comforting and am energized by the role budget offices can play in increasing cooperation and conversation between different parts of the organization.

I’m also grateful for NCLGBA for bringing that diversity to its conference agenda. Sessions covered emergency response, budget engagement, local government revenue, pension funding, and energy conserving investments. The biannual Legislative and Economic updates as always added the political and economic perspectives to our work. Those topics created an energy that translated into the broader networking and conversations among conference attendees.

As the first day’s zip code map showed, conference participants came from small towns and larger jurisdictions from across most areas of the state. Moreover, conference attendees included budget staff, finance officers, managers, performance measurement analysts, students, and department representatives. That range of backgrounds created the perfect fodder for attendees to compare notes and share best practices.  Although the scale and problems may vary by jurisdiction, I left the conference convinced by Epstein’s argument and glad that NCLGBA creates a space to share our different processes and solutions.

Call for Authors – Conference Recap Series

We are looking for a few individuals who would be willing to write for our Conference Recap Series following the 2019 Summer Conference. Recaps could focus on a single session, a recurring theme, or reflect on the whole conference experience. There are some great examples from past conferences here. Recaps should be for 300-1000 words.

If you are interested in contributing or have questions, please reach out to Heather Curry.

#NCLGBA18 Recap Series: “Take Me Back”

Over the last few weeks, we have featured reflections on the 2018 Winter Conference. 

Our final #NCLGBA18 Conference Recap comes from Brian Pahle, Assistant City Manager, City of Hendersonville.

Winter Conference 2018 at Dugan’s…I mean Pinehurst…Take me Back

It wasn’t long into my four hour drive from the sand hills of eastern NC back to my home in Hendersonville that I dove into a deep mental sabbatical pondering the happenings of the conference and what it means to be a local government professional in North Carolina. These monotonous travels are no stranger to me and have become one of my favorite times to reflect. So, it is no wonder that upon returning home I was well prepared to write a conference recap at the request of our great Marketing Coordinator, Heather Curry! This conference was truly special and as many conferences do, generated a thought-provoking, creative, mind befuddling response from my inner psyche. I left this conference feeling proud, concerned, enlightened, and inspired all at the same time. My reflection below will explain each of these moments.

A Sense of Pride and Hope in our Profession

The best part about these conferences is that I get the opportunity to interact with and learn from people that are much more intelligent than myself. When I first joined the Association in 2014 I did not quite know what to expect. Would it be all technical, would I relate with other members and make friends, or would it be more continuous education similar to the UNC School of Government’s courses? To my pleasant surprise, I stumbled upon an active, dedicated, inspiring, and fun membership that made me feel welcome. These members were sharing ideas, thinking creatively, and strategizing together about how to solve current local issues.

This past conference promised a powerful agenda and a room full of even more powerful speakers…and it DELIVERED! I left this conference feeling extremely proud that I get to interact with such a talented group of individuals. I also, felt a sense of hope that our future local government professionals will continue to improve on the path that has been already forged before us. From sharing the stage with superwoman Heather Drennan and an amazing leader Brian Barnett, to exchanging ideas at Dugan’s on career advancement with Eric Olmedo, and meeting an inspiring and confident young student who is interested in a budget career in Zach Lewis. All of these interactions, plus many more, highlight how diverse, exemplary, and talented our Association members are. The more we have the opportunity to share ideas and demonstrate our own unique strategies and qualities the better. We have a great Association that enables and encourages exactly that and I could not be more proud to be a member.

Concerning Trends – Help!

Something that had everyone in the room nodding was affordable housing and infrastructure needs. I found myself holding my jaw up as Jeff Staudinger rattled off the number of affordable units needed in various cities across our State. As Julie Porter discussed the Charlotte project, I sat silently thinking about our existing undocumented/unregulated 100 year old landfill that is currently playing a role in a brownfield redevelopment for our revival of on old mill building for affordable housing. What left me feeling most concerned was thinking about the infrastructure sitting idly by that is needed to support these housing projects and other critical economic functions of a successful local economy. Dr. Mike Walden highlighted the importance roads are going to play in our economic future, and more importantly where the funding will come from to support their construction. Even moreover is the battle of NIMBY-ism and YIMBY-ism that we are seeing everyday as our community battles with the 8 NCDOT projects proposed over the next 5 years. I sat in my car, feeling concerned about how we are going to address these major issues but also feel that we are up to the challenge.

Seeking Enlightenment – NCLGBA Inquire Within

An additional sense of pride, which also lent itself to enlightening my understanding of the profession, resulted from our discussions on equity, inclusion, gender and race. We are a diverse Association and I do not face the same challenges that others in our profession face on a daily basis. So, these sessions were uncharted territory for myself and I am sure many others. Uncharted, unfamiliar, and unknown are not things that scare me nor are they things that I avoid. Quite the opposite, I was excited to have these sessions on the agenda and felt motivated to explore more avenues for equity and inclusion in my work and daily life. The courage our speakers, members, and Association display by taking on these issues is welcomed and revered. I hope to see these continue as I still have so much to learn from our members and friends. Thank you to all of those who made these sessions possible, and let’s keep them going!

I Live for Happiness, Luckily Work is a Part of That

I took one exception with the “Life is Too Short” session and that is that you should not “live to work”. This is certainly applicable if you do not enjoy your job, or you grow frustrated with showing up to work every day. However, for me, this is not the case. I love my job and I love the community I work in. I could not tell you how many times my wife has had to smack me across the head to get me to shut up about my excitement for new storm drains or traffic lights (maybe there is something wrong the way I think, or maybe it is all the smacking, who knows). Nonetheless, I left this conference again, inspired to make improvements in my life and in my community. With the powers of understanding my amygdala hijack and having the right attitude, “I can do this”, I came back to work with a fresh set of tools, ideas, and motivation to help our community succeed. I hope you did too and cannot wait to see you this summer!

P.S. – Rumor has it that Josh Edwards is leading a session on how to champion a culture of innovation at work at the summer 2019 conference #DurhamiTeamRocks #TheChampsHere

#NCLGBA18 Recap Series: Reflection from a First-Time Attendee

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 Dominique Walker, ICMA/NCACC Management Fellow, Bertie County, and 2018 Winter Conference Scholarship Recipient.

The NC Local Government Budget Association (NCLGBA) Conference exceeded any expectations I had of what the conference experience would be like and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to attend the event in Pinehurst. When I first applied to the Conference Scholarship, I was hesitant because of my lack of experiences working in the budgeting profession. However, I thought that by applying, it would be the perfect opportunity to network with budget analysts, directors, managers, and others in the profession, as well as learn more about budgeting in general. It was refreshing to see many people from my generation in attendance and serving in different capacities across the field. One of the best components from my time at the conference was the networking experience. I had the opportunity to engage with budgeting professionals from across the state and gain better insight about what it means to be a budget analyst and future local government executive. I appreciated their honesty and transparency about the challenges of working as an analyst as well as some of the more rewarding experiences.

I really enjoyed each of the sessions and I unquestionably learned something new from each of the presentations. The most impactful sessions that resonated with me the most were the Leading with Emotional Intelligence, Leading Women-Perspectives in Leadership and Budget, Data Analytics: the Power of BI, and the Policy Equity & Inclusion: Letting History and Community Voices Guide Institutional Choices sessions. Key takeaways that I learned from the Leading with Emotional Intelligence: Why EQ Matters? session was the understanding of emotional intelligence (EQ) and the difference between IQ and EQ. Understanding how EQ relates to the workplace and leadership success was extremely beneficial and I walked away with new resources on how to approach my daily activities.

Additionally, I really appreciated the discussion from the diverse panelists during the Leading Women-Perspectives in Leadership and Budget session. As a young African-American woman pursuing a career in local government, it was inspiring to see these women share their experiences in the field including what they enjoyed best, the complexities and challenges they have faced, and ways they handle stress and work-family balance. It was also uplifting to network with some of the panelists after the session to have one-on-one conversations that were equipped with much-needed career advice. Based on the Data Analytics: the Power of BI session, I have dedicated myself to learning all that I can about Power BI analytics. It is my hope to incorporate the methods used from the Data Analytics and the Policy Equity & Inclusion sessions into my projects in Bertie County to achieve equitable community engagement.

Overall, I had a tremendous experience as a first-time attendee at the NCLGBA Annual Conference and I walked away with more knowledge about the budgeting profession and how to be a more effective community leader within my field. The engagement and excitement from the attendees and the NCLGBA board was undeniable and I am eager in staying engaged with the NCLGBA. I also look forward to bringing more awareness about the budgeting profession and the NCLGBA to the next generation of public administrators.

#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.

#NCLGBA18 Winter Conference Recap Series

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 first #NCLGBA18 Conference Recap comes from Taylor Floyd, Senior Budget Analyst, City of Asheville.

After a long, long walk down a hall covered with garland, poinsettias and pictures of golfers, we were greeted by Pinehurst Mayor Nancy Fiorillo. In welcoming conference attendees, she informed us that she had signed a resolution lifting the limit on what we could spend in Pinehurst. I tried to do my part for the local economy during our time in the Sandhills.

“Empathy is the engine of influence”

The conference got started in earnest with a session on emotional intelligence led by Heather Lee of Developmental Associates. Lots of good information in this session focused around how important behaviors and interpersonal skills are in determining the success of individuals, teams and organizations. Heather highlighted that you don’t have to be friends with your coworkers, but you should learn to empathize with them. One comment – that the personal items you have in your office send a message to others about what they engage you on – made me reassess the objects (or lack of objects) I have in my own office. Ironically, one of those objects is the book, Influencer, which Heather recommended. Maybe I should read it before someone tries to engage me on it.

The legislature is still busy

The legislative update reminded me of previous conferences as special sessions have continued late into the year and there’s rumors of interest in sales tax distribution changes. One change coming as part of disaster relief legislation is a new Office of Recovery and Resiliency in the Department of Public Safety. Also, new tier designations from the Department of Commerce were released in November.

Organizational flexibility = Work-life balance

The final general session of the day featured a panel of four women discussing their experiences navigating a career in local government. This session reinforced the earlier discussion of how important empathy can be, as the panelist noted the value of working in supportive, flexible, family-first organizations. I was especially impressed by the flexibility some smaller organizations are able to offer, although it was noted that change on big issues like race and gender can be slow no matter the size. The panel’s thoughts on paid parental leave reminded me of the “curb cut effect” that I’ve learned about through conversations around equity and inclusion. In short, while sidewalk curb cuts are essential to mobility for some of our most vulnerable populations (i.e., disabled persons), they also help parents with strollers, people making deliveries, and travelers with suitcases. As the panel noted, everyone has dependents, so maybe paid parental leave is just the next step towards a better balance for everyone.

“Accounting is just following the rules, there are no rules in budgeting”

Day two started off with John Fishbein from GFOA showing us a lot of dos and don’ts in revenue forecasting and budget document production. He hit us with some solid lines, including my personal favorite, “the purpose of working, I think, is to keep your job.” John also evangelized on one of my dislikes – switching from landscape to portrait in a budget document. Just don’t. One analogy I’m planning to recycle is that “grants are like coupons,” in that you still have to spend money. It might be a good deal, but that’s doesn’t mean you need to buy it.

The experts don’t always agree

Thursday’s general sessions continued after lunch with a discussion of affordable housing. My former Asheville coworker Jeff Staudinger led a lively overview of what exactly the affordable housing crisis looks like in North Carolina and identified a wide variety of tools local governments can utilize to address it. Julie Porter of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Housing Partnership showed us how several of those tools came together in Charlotte’s Brightwalk redevelopment. While the tools are innumerable, my takeaway was that they should be targeted based on the outcomes you want to see in your community. As our speakers noted, building wealth for citizens and ensuring long-term housing affordability can be at odds with each other, and there’s no one right answer when it comes to meeting this critical community need.

The government Rubik’s Cube

The day wrapped with a trio of Durhamites. After an overview of historic discrimination and exclusion from Bull City 150’s Mel Norton, Neighborhood Improvement Services Assistant Director James Davis and Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson gave us organizational and political perspectives on the City of Durham’s efforts to shape a more equitable future. James Davis had the memorable metaphor in this session, telling us about how he solved a Rubik’s Cube with a butter knife. “Sometimes,” James said, “you have to dismantle the system if you can’t fix it within the parameters of the game.”

“You have to have a scoreboard”

Our final day kicked off a much-needed thirty minutes later, as many of us spent the prior night singing our hearts out to karaoke classics. Charlotte’s Dan Pliszka shared some humor and motivational messages from his recently published book, Life is Great, Even When Your Boat Flips Over. His suggestions for how to find success? Have a life goals list written down, but be flexible with it. Add a “to don’t” list to your “to do” list. And finally, apply an “audit T” when you have something in your life that could be better. This will look familiar to you accountants.

Issue/Challenge/Problem Statement

List what is good about it

List what is bad about it

Look at what is on the bad side, and you’ll likely see some actionable steps that can be taken to make things better.

Recession in 2020?

NC State’s Michael Walden wrapped up the conference with an economic outlook. His message was similar to those in past conferences: growth continues to be positive, but this economic expansion is long in the tooth. On the positive side, North Carolina has seen better rural and middle income job growth, expanding the expansion to communities that were hardest hit and slowest to recover from the Great Recession. Some potential problems on the horizon include household and business debt, energy prices, interest rate policy, stock market volatility, the potential for a foreign economic shock, and the ongoing trade war.

Overall it was a fantastic conference with good speakers, great food (pizza!), and the best attendees. Thanks to the conference planners for all their hard work and to the conference sponsors for supporting our organization. Wishing everyone a pain-free budget process, and hope to see you in July!