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Salisbury’s Alexander elected president of NC League of Municipalities

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — In addition to her role as the city’s top elected leader, Mayor Karen Alexander has taken on a new executive role with the nonprofit governmental organization that advocates on behalf of municipalities across the state.

Last week, Alexander was nominated and selected to serve the next year as president of the North Carolina League of Municipalities after six years of serving in various leadership roles.

The league, which was established more than a century ago, provides numerous services to municipality members, including legal counsel, advocacy, education, consulting and training to improve leadership practices. Of the 552 municipalities throughout North Carolina, all but a handful are members. All 10 municipalities in Rowan County are members.

Alexander highlighted a few instances in which a city or town may seek the league’s services. For example, advocacy and public affairs becomes monumental when cities are facing legal issues with broader implications for all municipalities or when a state lawmaker runs a bill that could result in a tax hike or unnecessary mandate without funding for municipalities.

Additionally, for towns and villages without a manager or administrator, the league has five consultants who can assist municipalities with preparing and balancing budgets and planning goal-setting sessions.

“The North Carolina League of Municipalities is the state body that sort of goes to bat for all the cities and the members that are in there,” Alexander said.

Before her stint presiding over the league, Alexander served time as a board member representing district nine, which encompasses the Piedmont area and cities such as Winston-Salem, High Point and Lexington. Her primary role at that time was reaching out to identify the needs of the municipalities.

“All of those different cities have different issues,” Alexander said. “But some of the issues … they’re relevant no matter what size of a city you are when it comes to preserving our rights to our own destinies as cities, and control over our revenues and our taxes and things like that.”

Alexander then served as second vice president and first vice president before her nomination by members this week to the executive role. She officially began her term as president this week following the announcement of her election during the virtual CityVision 2021 conference. She added that the nomination committee comprises 20-30 members from across the state, which isn’t limited to only mayors and mayors pro tem.

During her remarks at the conference, Alexander encouraged municipal officials to bring people together and seek common purpose as they address challenges in their communities.

“We can and must, as an organization, find ways to address the challenges that we face in holistic ways, by involving community partners and pulling everyone together to row in the same direction,” Alexander said.

Alexander told the Post issues of COVID-19, economic recovery and racial equity will be chief for the league this year. The conference last week included presentations and discussions of racial equity efforts, crisis communications, the federal American Rescue Plan and its potential impact on cities, cyber security and ways in which cities can foster entrepreneurship.

“Last year, our challenges were a trifecta of storms, which included, obviously, COVID-19, the economic fallout that occurred because of that and then the social justice issues,” she said. “Our organization this year put together a racial equity task force, which will continue. And out of that came a report and recommendations for our towns and cities to help them deal with that.”

As president, Alexander will be tasked with approving and overseeing the execution of the league’s goals and advocacy for the next biennial. Various committees that include different regions of the state propose issues they deem most important. Alexander said during the last biennium there were more than 400 goals, and the league managed to dwindle the list down to less than 20.

Alexander has served on the Salisbury City Council since 2013 and is in her second term as mayor. She said her time commitment to both roles isn’t a concern because she’s accustomed to balancing multiple duties and welcomes the opportunity to face challenges as an elected official and city leader as well as an urban designer and architect.

Alexander is also a member of the North Carolina Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, an affiliate of the league.

The city’s property and casualty insurance is handled by the league, which has also assisted the city with legal counsel for human resources issues and risk management claims, Alexander said. Additionally, the league oversees a debt setoff program, which works to collect outstanding balances for accounts that are no longer active in a municipality. If the customer is unable to be reached for payment, the debt will be submitted to the state. Those outstanding fees will be garnished from the former customer’s tax returns and returned to the municipality.

Alexander said about $414,000 in debt was collected from the program for the city of Salisbury in the 2019-20 fiscal year, which is more than four times the amount needed each year for annual membership dues.

Additionally, Alexander said, research from the league last year was key in helping many municipalities, including Salisbury, determine how budgets should be balanced during a time fraught with anxiety.

Joining Alexander as officers for the organization are First Vice President and Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler, Second Vice President and Fuquay-Varina commissioner Bill Harris and Cary Town Council member Jennifer Robinson as immediate past president.

“I’m very excited. I feel that my experience serving for these years in Salisbury as well as the mayor has really prepared me for this particular opportunity to serve our state in a different way,” she said. “Hopefully, the successes that we have at the state will be reflected in Salisbury. And the success that we have in Salisbury will be shared with the state. And therefore, we’ll all learn from each other because that’s really what it’s all about.”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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