With state and national politics dominating the headlines for most of 2016, it was sometimes easy to forget that local governments were making decisions that hit closest to home.
From voting on re-zoning requests to constructing and maintaining local roads and parks, from setting town tax rates to creating land use plans, local governments controlled what happened in your own backyard.
New town boards were elected in November 2015 and have had a year to create and implement their agendas. Most mayoral and council/commissioner seats will be up for election in November 2017, but the current boards will have the year to continue work in their towns.
We asked the mayors in Lake Norman to reflect on 2016 and tell us what was accomplished in their towns and what they would like to see happen in the coming year.
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What was the biggest accomplishment your town board made in 2016?
Cornelius Mayor Chuck Travis: As mayor, I have always emphasized the need to invest in our town. Twenty-five years ago, the population of Cornelius was +/- 3,000 and today we are exceeding 30,000.
Unfortunately, during this period of rapid expansion our infrastructure has failed to keep pace. During the past year, our Town Board has made several strategic moves to improve our ability to meet the needs of our evolving community. Several of the projects that we are working on include improving our transportation system with road enhancements, greenways with walking and bike trails, funding public safety advancements by transitioning the “Lake Patrol” responsibilities from Charlotte Mecklenburg Police to the Cornelius Police Department, as well as improving technology for Police and Fire Departments with our 911 call center advancement. We have also begun working on the acquisition of land and planning for a new Arts Center that will become a catalyst for private-sector investment in our historic Town Center, and advancing the planning for the development of over 250 acres of un-built land with the construction of a new Exit 27 on I-77 for a new corporate campus with more office and retail opportunities.
Davidson Mayor John Woods: In 2015, Davidson’s elected leaders faced a major challenge when Leamon Brice, 25-year tenured Town Manager retired. The Board worked diligently to hire Jamie Justice as Davidson’s new Manager. The town staff and elected leaders managed this transition seamlessly and have a developed a “game plan” of priorities to guide our work.
Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla: Our board made significant progress implementing our agenda in 2016.
▪ Creating a more transparent government via live streaming town meetings, holding informational meetings throughout the town, Mayor’s monthly luncheon and visiting over 50 local businesses.
▪ Being good stewards of taxpayer money through the elimination of over $150,000 of non-essential services, selling a significant real estate asset, managing capital improvement projects and our debt saving over $500,000 in long term interest payments and partnering with the private sector.
▪ Developing a more business friendly culture by eliminating numerous outdated ordinances, establishing a board to review ordinances and being responsive to business inquiries.
▪ Enhancing the quality of life for Huntersville citizens by investing in greenways, accelerating road projects, adding a Veteran’s and public safety liaison and promoting Huntersville concerns to other elected officials.
Mooresville Mayor Miles Atkins: The opening of the newly renovated Mooresville Golf Club certainly ranks as one of our biggest accomplishments this year. With Golf Digest and other rating teams eager to rate our new course, our goals are to become one of the top courses to play in the state of North Carolina, along with top 100 municipal courses in the country. Since our reopening, our numbers have far exceeded previous years’ totals. With more than 4,500 rounds played within the first month, it was the best October in the history of our course.
What is the biggest challenge facing your town in 2017?
Cornelius Mayor Travis: The biggest challenge we face this year is that it is an election year for local offices – which unfortunately means no decisions will be made if they are controversial (i.e. decisions impacting tax rates, road improvements that may not be popular with some, etc.) due to the fear of “not being re-elected.” I personally do not subscribe to this way of governing. I believe we are elected to make the best decisions with the information we have at our disposal, not based on securing another term in office.
Davidson Mayor Woods: The consistent challenge in Davidson, and all communities, is enhancing our community spirit — our sense of place — as we continue to face major growth changes. The population projections for the greater Charlotte region predict several decades of significant population growth. How will community leaders, individually and collectively, manage and prepare for this population increase? Pressures on infrastructure including traffic congestion, roads, the dramatic need to develop a functional regional transit system and supporting our education system are major priorities.
Huntersville Mayor Aneralla: Due to the rapid and continue growth in Huntersville, our biggest challenge remains the lack of infrastructure caused by this growth whether it’s road, schools or recreational facilities. Complicating our travel difficulties will be the long-term negative effect of the I-77 toll road on our area.
Mooresville Mayor Atkins: Though there is an overall increase in confidence with the economy, it is still weighing heavily on a lot of our citizens who are not seeing upward movement in their standard of living. It’s essential for us to bring high wage jobs to our community and continue to provide the tools and resources through workforce development programs to get people back to work in good jobs with increased earning potential.
What is the most frustrating part of your job as mayor?
Cornelius Mayor Travis: The most frustrating part of being mayor is trying to move beyond the ongoing debate involving the Managed Lanes project for I-77. This has been an extremely divisive conversation that has been ongoing for the last four years with the potential to overshadow so many wonderful opportunities we have before us as a town – for example, the redevelopment of our historic Town Center, new business opportunities with the craft brewer industry, development of office and retail growth that will create new jobs and make our town more economically self-sustaining, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of transportation improvements that will occur in the next five years – that is already funded and underway.
Davidson Mayor Woods: Many citizens believe the mayor has immense authority to make changes and improvements or that the mayor is singularly responsible for such issues as road construction and traffic congestion. In our system of government, mayors have little real authority and must be influential to encourage improvements.
Although this confusion over authority can be frustrating, a mayor can find real success and satisfaction when influence can create community improvements.
Huntersville Mayor Aneralla: The hardest part of working within government is the time it takes to get projects done, especially when many projects are dependent on other government bodies.
Mooresville Mayor Atkins: As a town leader, I know the importance of public service and making life better for the residents of Mooresville. However, there is only so much one person, any one person, can do. I strive to be a leader who listens, who is willing to bring the community partners together to solve issues we face, and who tries to keep the citizenry engaged. It is frustrating when the answers to some of our issues are regulated at the state or federal level and our local governing “hands are tied” in trying to fix the problems.
What is the best part of your job as mayor?
Cornelius Mayor Travis: I love the respect that the “Office of Mayor” has from the residents of our town, across our wonderful state and as far away as Washington, D.C. This past year, I had the pleasure to serve as the vice chairman of the Metro Mayors Coalition of North Carolina – an organization comprised of mayors of the largest cities across North Carolina, as well as take our Town Board to D.C. to visit with our U.S. Senators, Representatives and with the U.S. Department of Transportation with the result of building strong relationships that we can call upon when we need additional support and partnerships with future projects.
Davidson Mayor Woods: The mayor’s job is multi-dimensional, requiring excellent communication skills and the ability to multi-task. The job can be exhausting and exhilarating at the same time!
Approaching the position as a labor of love, I find the most enjoyable part of the job is spending time with our young people. From reading a book with first graders to engaging productive discussions with high school and college students, I often find the opportunity to create a positive impact. Assuring students of all ages that you care for their well-being and really listen to them can help motivate them. Actually implementing ideas that spring from young minds is proof positive that they play a significant role in shaping our community. For example, a few years ago, a group of eighth-graders, concerned with pedestrian safety, proposed to make hand-made bright orange flags to help make walkers more visible. After a successful experimental period, the town adopted the process at all major pedestrian crossings.
Huntersville Mayor Aneralla: The best part of being mayor is meeting and working with citizens and businesses to ensure that Huntersville remains one of the best places to live in North Carolina and the U.S.
Mooresville Mayor Atkins: I greatly appreciate the privilege to serve my community as Mayor. It is very rewarding to work with a town board of commissioners that is forward thinking and committed to getting things accomplished. We have many exciting plans and strategies to implement that will continue to build on our successes to move Mooresville forward. Mooresville is located in one of the fastest growing regions in the state and country and we can expect an increase in overall investment in our community. People will continue to move here for the quality of life and the sense of place Mooresville offers. There is significant interest from the private sector to invest in redevelopment and infill projects downtown that will only continue to enhance the vitality of Mooresville’s core.
Any New Year’s resolutions for your town?
Cornelius Mayor Travis: As mayor, I will continue to work hard to represent the residents of our town to my best ability, and appreciate the honor to represent all of our residents and business owners. On a personal note, my New Year’s resolution will be to continue to believe in myself and push hard to make things happen!
Davidson Mayor Woods: We resolve to continue and enhance our welcome to all citizens, offering a friendly, inclusive, neighborly community to all.
Melinda Johnston is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org