Program Report: Kevin Leonard – North Carolina Association of County Commissioners

Like any long journey, progress is often made in small steps with pauses, wrong turns and unexpected obstacles.  It’s all worth it though when during one of those pauses you look up from the road, realize where you are and say “Wow.”

Our guest and the primary presenter on Monday was Kevin Leonard, the Executive Director of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Mr. Leonard was with us at the invitation of Rotarian and County Commissioner Brenda Howerton. In the upcoming year, Ms. Howerton will assume the presidency of the organization which will mark the first time in the 100 + year history of the organization a commissioner from Durham has held that role.

Before Ms. Howerton introduced Mr. Leonard, the program was introduced by Club Vice President Shelly Green, who, of course, also leads the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau.  She announced that another historical milestone, that is that the NCACC’s Annual Conference will be held here in Durham. This might not have been possible even a few years ago, at least in Downtown Durham. Durham now hosts thousands of annual conferences and this is now possible because of the many new hotels in the area. Older members will remember when Rotary meetings were held in the old Heart of Durham Motel located where the Transportation Hub is now at a time when there was no convention center and the space it occupies now was a line of abandoned retail buildings with decaying art projects in their windows.  The activity in the Convention Center has now reached the point that it has become a problem for the club, forcing us to frequently seek “off-site” locations for our meetings. Indeed, this meeting was hosted again by TROSA at their campus on James Street.

There are 100 counties in North Carolina, represented by an equal number of county managers and 583 commissioners plus sponsors and other officials who will be in town for the Conference in August. This is an important opportunity to showcase Durham’s progress to an important statewide audience.

After a warm introduction by Ms. Howerton, Mr. Leonard first recognized and thanked those in the audience who had chosen to seek elective office and serve in underpaid and underappreciated roles. A primary role of the Association is advocacy in the legislature. Two of their issues during this session have been for allocating more lottery money for school construction and against attempts to regionalize social services.

Each president adopts a theme. The current president who Ms. Howerton will succeed is Fred McClure of Davidson County who focused on the availability of mental health treatment and the opioid epidemic, that is so much in the national news these days.

The inevitable question that arose and was voiced by Rotarian Larry Crane was about managing a group of representatives from every county without falling into the fault lines we see in the legislature created by the divergent interests of rural and urban areas.  Mr. Leonard responded by pointing out that they focus on issues that are common to all counties and work closely with North Carolina League of Municipalities.

My “wow!” moment came when Mr. Leonard ticked off the list of new hotels in Downtown Durham that would be used by the attendees of the August conference.  But his presentation was also an interesting peek under the hood of the machinery of government especially when he mentioned some of the other function of the NCACC, such as the education of new commissioners, research and even risk management. You can learn more about the NCACC at their website www.ncacc.org.

Our thanks again go to all the folks at TROSA for their hospitality.  TROSA itself is another one of those amazing milestones in Durham’s progress.

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