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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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!