Annual Conference Speakers and Session Descriptions

Keynote Speakers

Russel Honore'
Russel Honoré (Saturday, 9 – 10:15 a.m.)

Retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré: Resilient Leadership: Prepare Today, Prevail Tomorrow

From global and domestic terrorist threats to natural disasters, we face new risks to our individual, community and economic security each day. And while no one can predict what’s around the corner, we can prepare. Retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré believes that strong leadership, guided by clarity of purpose and practical tactics, are the keys to overcoming adversities by being better prepared and more resilient.

In this presentation, retired Lt. Gen. Honoré connects his 37 years of decorated military leadership, which includes the crucial role in managing New Orleans’ relief efforts post Hurricane Katrina. He uses the natural disasters and man-made tragedies dominating global headlines to reveal critical strategies. In the process, he transforms individuals and helps organizations prepare, react and rebound effectively so that they can move forward with success.

  • Learn about retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré

    Retired Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honoré helps organizations develop a culture of preparedness and initiates a mindset of problem-solving using strategies that create take-charge leaders.

    As the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, Honoré became known as “the Category 5 General” for his striking leadership style in coordinating military relief efforts in post-hurricane New Orleans. He is a decorated 37-year Army veteran and global authority on leadership. When Hurricanes such as Harvey, Irma, and Maria approach, news networks like CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and CBS consider him their go-to expert on emergency and disaster preparedness.

    Lt. Gen. Honoré developed his crisis-management expertise over an extensive military career. He planned and supported the United States military response to the devastating flooding which swept Venezuela 1999 and Mozambique in 2000. As Commander of SJFHQ-HLS under NORTHCOM direction, he planned and oversaw the military response to the Space Shuttle Columbia Tragedy and the DC Sniper Shootings.

    Lt. Gen. Honoré uses his experience managing natural and man-made conflict to help companies and organizations build a culture of preparedness. On stage, his disciplined leadership shines. In our country’s new normal, change and unpredictability are constants, which mean resilience is mandatory. Honoré offers his business audiences these impactful takeaways plus an instructive message: Don’t Get Stuck on Stupid!, the title of his third book.

    His uplifting dose of candor with real-world leadership lessons is designed to equip audiences with a preparedness mindset. He shares his no-nonsense approach to getting the job done and instills confidence in leaders.

Amanda Ripley
Amanda Ripley (Friday, 10:15 – 11:30 a.m.)

Amanda Ripley: Breaking the Spell of High Conflict

Conflict, whether political or personal, can escalate and become toxic, as we keep seeing in the news, on social media, in politics. At this level of “high conflict,” we start sorting the world into good and evil: “us” vs. “them.” Things become suddenly very clear. Our brains behave differently. We tend to exaggerate the differences between ourselves and the other person, people, party or group, without realizing we are doing it. We believe the other side cannot change, even when it can. Eventually, everyone suffers, to varying degrees.

To try to understand how people get bewitched by high conflict – and how they get out – Amanda spent four years following a politician in California, a former gang leader in Chicago, a divided synagogue in New York City and other conflict survivors all over the world. She discovered that the secret is not to get out of conflict; conflict itself is essential, and it can be healthy and good. The key is to get out of high conflict. From the stories and the science of conflict, Amanda has identified the “fire-starter” forces that tend to cause high conflict – as well as the practical but counterintuitive rules of “good conflict.” This work, and Amanda’s presentation, is surprising and ultimately hopeful.

  • Learn about Amanda Ripley

    Amanda Ripley is a New York Times bestselling author and an investigative journalist who writes about human behavior and change. She is the author of High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, The Smartest Kids in the World – and How They Got That Way, and The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, and Why.

    Amanda’s recent stories for The Atlantic include a piece about the movement to fix TV news and another about the least politically prejudiced town in America. She has also been investigating what journalists can do to revive curiosity in a time of outrage, in cooperation with the Solutions Journalism Network. Earlier in her career, Amanda spent a decade writing about human behavior for Time Magazine in New York, Washington, and Paris. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Slate, Politico, The Guardian and The Times of London. Her stories helped Time win two National Magazine Awards.

    To discuss her writing, Amanda has appeared on ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, FOX News and NPR. She has spoken at the Pentagon, the U.S. Senate, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, as well as dozens of conferences on leadership, communicating in conflict, disaster behavior and education. She currently lives in Washington, DC, with her family.

Dr. Rupert Nacoste (Friday, 8:30 – 9:45 a.m.)

Dr. Rupert Nacoste: Where Do We Go From Here?

In today’s world, the job of county commissioner is a high-wire act. The people governing and administering county services – as well as citizens receiving those services – come from a neo-diverse mix of backgrounds and experiences. People providing those services are expected to have productive interactions with their co-workers and clients, some of whom are “not like me.” That can cause an anxiety about how to interact.

That neo-diversity anxiety can get in the way of the professional work that staff are trying their best to do. This presentation is designed to give participants an understanding of the neo-diversity frontier of providing services and a set of strategies for dealing with personal neo-diversity anxieties. These skills are important in order for administrators and others to do their jobs while living up to the high standards for productive social interactions that are set by the county, and that they set for themselves.

  • Learn about Dr. Nacoste

    Dr. Rupert Nacoste is a native of the Louisiana Bayou Country, and is the Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Psychology at North Carolina State University. During his time of service in the U.S. Navy (1972-76), Dr. Nacoste was trained by to be a facilitator of racial dialogues among sailors. Since 1974, Dr. Nacoste has added academic degrees and worked as a scholar-activist of interpersonal and intergroup relationships.

    He has served on the faculty at N.C. State since 1988. For his many contributions he was awarded the 2016 Alexander Quarles Holladay Medal – the highest award made by the University in recognition of faculty achievement, and a reward in recognition of the achievements and contributions made during his faculty career.

    In 2006, he created his one-of-a-kind “Interpersonal Relationships and Race” course, which has become wildly popular. He is the NCSU Campus winner of the 2013 UNC Board of Governor’s Teaching Excellence award for his use of a captivating oratory style that engages people to see their own role in moments of tension in social interaction. Division 9 of the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, awarded Dr. Nacoste its 2020 Outstanding Teaching and Mentoring Award.

    His books include Taking on Diversity: How We Can Move from Anxiety to Respect (2015) and To Live Woke: Thoughts to Carry in Our Struggle to Save the Soul of America (2020).

Concurrent Sessions

NCACC will continue to add session descriptions to this page in the lead-up to Annual Conference.

Thursday, August 12, 9:30 – 11:45 a.m.

‘Real Colors’ Fundamentals: Understanding Yourself and Others

Kick off your Annual Conference experience with this fun and engaging session, facilitated by NCACC Executive Director Kevin Leonard and Deputy Director/General Counsel Amy Bason.

Real Colors is a dynamic workshop experience that helps you better understand human behavior, uncover motivators specific to behavioral temperaments, and improve communication with others. In this session, you will gain an understanding of the four colors (Gold, Green, Blue and Orange) that correspond to a personality type, where you fall on the Real Colors spectrum, and how to recognize characteristics of each of the four colors in yourself and others. This fundamentals-level workshop is the foundation to help you navigate common organizational topics such as stress, teamwork and leadership.

Pre-registration (no additional charge) is strongly encouraged. Attendees will be guided through a brief Real Colors profile assessment that will provide you with your color spectrum.

Session time includes a 15-minute break.

Thursday, August 12, 9:30 – 10:45 a.m.

Reasons for Fiscal Distress, and Strategies and Mechanisms for Relief

Significant costs associated with managing a local public utility have landed some local governments on the Local Government Commission’s Unit Assistance List. Inclusion on the UAL isn’t a death knell, however, and local governments can and do improve their financial condition enough to be removed from the UAL. This session will address reasons why a local government can land on the UAL, common misconceptions associated with the UAL, and strategies for recovery. Attendees will also learn about North Carolina’s viable utility program and how its associated funding can help to set in motion a fix for a distressed water and/or wastewater system – a frequent reason that a local government will end up on the UAL.

Speakers: Sharon Edmundson, Deputy Treasurer and Director, State and Local Government Finance Division; and Victor D’Amato, Viable Utilities Unit Supervisor, and Jennifer M. Haynie, Program Development Coordinator, Viable Utilities Unit, Division of Water Infrastructure, Department of Environmental Quality

Takeaways from New Hanover County’s COVID-19 Experience

Public health officials across the state have spent the past year and a half navigating the choppy waters of a local pandemic response. In this session, New Hanover County Health and Human Services leadership will share the key elements of their success throughout the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a focus on the critical aspects of cross-county engagement and collaboration.

Presenters: Donna Fayko, Health and Human Services Director; David Howard, Public Health Director; and Carla Turner, Assistant Public Health Director, New Hanover County

Thursday, August 12, 9:30 – 10:30 a.m. and 10:45 – 11:45 a.m.

The Dump That’s Not a Dump: A Riding Tour of New Hanover County’s Unique Landfill

Joe Suleyman

New Hanover County’s landfill is a marvel of innovation, featuring several award-winning initiatives, including a composting program, robust recycling facilities and the State of North Carolina’s only double reverse osmosis water treatment facility for landfill wastewater. And don’t worry about the aroma or getting dirty – New Hanover County Environmental Management Director Joe Suleyman will facilitate the tour from an air-conditioned van!

Advance sign-up required; a wait list is available for once seats are filled. Van will depart for hour-long tours at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. A third tour option is available on Friday at 1:30 p.m.

Thursday, August 12, 11 – 11:45 a.m.

Helping Dreams of New Schools Become Reality

In November, students walked into a brand-new primary school in Clay County, the first new school there in 40 years. The school, built with the help of $10.2 million raised by the Education Lottery, is one of the latest examples of how the state’s Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund – funded entirely by the lottery – is helping small, rural counties across North Carolina meet critical building needs. Since 2017, the fund has awarded grants totaling more than $350 million to 30 counties. In this presentation, you’ll learn how state school construction programs funded by the lottery work; you’ll hear from some of your fellow commissioners about projects under way in their counties; and you’ll learn what you need to know to apply for a grant for your own.

Promoting Equity and Engagement in Government with Qualtrics

COVID-19 highlighted disparities in health outcomes and access to services for vulnerable populations, and illuminated gaps in employee experiences. These issues have forced government agencies to re-think how they serve both their internal and external communities and focus on equitable outcomes across racial lines. In this session, Qualtrics representatives will show how capturing individual experiences from community members as well as employees can provide government leaders with a new set of data paramount to shaping inclusive policies, improving access to services, retaining employees, and driving customer service and program effectiveness.

Employee Benefit Solutions: Cashback and Pet Insurance

Employee benefits are becoming more and more important as counties strive to retain and hire talent. Please join us to hear how the National Association of Counties is partnering with Nationwide to bring to market two innovative solutions in the employee benefit space. Nationwide and NACo have been strong partners for the past 41 years in the retirement savings arena and now have plans to expand this partnership to offer county employees best in class benefit options through the NACo Financial Services Center.

Presenters: Susan Reinhard, Senior Director, Product Management and Underwriting, and David Belnick, Endorsement Partner Director, Nationwide

Thursday, August 12, 1:45 – 4 p.m.

Addressing Hunger: A Path for Counties to Help Strengthen NC’s Food Ecosystem

During the past year, NCACC President and Martin County Board of Commissioners Chair Ronnie Smith has led an initiative to address food ecosystem resiliency in North Carolina. During this multi-faceted and inspiring session, President Smith and the NCACC will discuss recommendations and strategies developed by the Resilience Task Force, and showcase a handful of effective programs in which counties are utilizing their unique resources and positions to increase access to food. 

Local presentations will include:

  • McDowell County, with Alecia Morgan of McDowell County Transit; Heather Edwards of Foothills Food Hub; and Amy Vaughn of McDowell Access to Care and Health
  • Halifax County, ABC2 with Chester Williams and youth leaders
  • New Hanover County, with Julia F. Waity, Co-Chair of the Cape Fear Food Council Food Access Group
  • Warren County, with Gabriel Cumming and Carla Norwood of Working Landscapes

In addition, Jared Cates of Community Food Strategies will offer a state-level perspective, and Resilience Task Force Co-Chairs Sue Hinman of Granville County and James West of Wake County will share their insights into what successful collaboration and strategies look like at the county level.

Friday, August 13, 1:30 – 4:45 p.m.

The Futures Game: Realizing the Long-Term Implications and Consequences of Decisions Made Today

Decisions have unrealized and unintended consequences that only become evident years into the future. What if you could see into that future, and make more informed decisions today that help your county or region reach its desired potential?

The Futures Game is an interactive tool that demonstrates the future impact of decisions. In this two-part session, Dan Clark, Director of the Montana State University Local Government Center, will facilitate conversations with small teams of participants as they devise strategies that will achieve the best 25-year outcome for a region. The simulation integrates decision-making across the community, economic and environmental dimensions, while incorporating global, national and local issues.

While the game is set in a region in the U.S. Midwest, the takeaways can be applied to your decision-making process.

Session time includes a 45-minute break to allow participants to attend the LGFCU Excellence in Innovations Award ice cream social.

Friday, August 13, 1:30 – 2:45 p.m.

Navigating the Media: The Essentials of a Constructive Relationship

Building constructive relationships between elected officials and members of the media is integral to public service. When media relations are at their best, there is a symbiotic relationship where everyone benefits. Elected officials benefit when the media amplifies their priorities and accomplishments, and reporters benefit by receiving important and authoritative information that may not be readily available from other sources. When media relations are at their worst, misinformation or disinformation can occur, causing risk to the county’s reputation. During this session, you’ll learn strategies to foster a constructive relationship with reporters and ways to develop consistent and accurate public messaging. You’ll also learn tips for interviews and weathering crises. Participants will hear different perspectives on communications planning, receive inside tips from a former news reporter, and gain unique insight from an elected official with more than 20 years of experience as a communications professional.

Speakers: NCACC President Elect Frank Williams, Commissioner, Brunswick County; Tim Buckland, Intergovernmental Affairs Manager, New Hanover County; Jessica Loeper, Chief Communications Officer, New Hanover County; and Lacy Pate, Public Relations Manager, NCACC

A Path Forward for Local Public Health: Discussions on Immediate and Future Priorities

The past 18 months have underscored the importance of strong public health leadership and infrastructure. This panel discussion with local health leaders from across the state will examine local health department responsibilities, models and anticipated future needs; and will introduce potential uses of settlement funds to address the opioid epidemic at the local level.

Speakers: Battle Betts, Director, Albemarle Regional Health Services; Kathy Colville, President and CEO, NC Institute of Medicine; Wes Gray, Director, Martin-Tyrrell-Washington District Health; Lisa Harrison, Health Director, Granville Vance Public Health; and Stacie Saunders, Public Health Director, Buncombe County

Reap the Benefits of Investing in Employee Resiliency

Bo Dean
Bo Dean

A career in public service is a rewarding one, but trauma and chronic stress can be part of that journey. New Hanover County’s award-winning Culture of Resiliency initiative works to create trauma-informed and resiliency-focused practices to help employees develop and utilize a set of skills for self-care, so that they can best prepare for and respond to the demands of service. In addition, as employees build their understanding of personal resiliency, they achieve a higher level of wellness and drive a healthy county government culture through learning and development, emergency response and peer support.

Speaker: Bo Dean, Senior Human Resources Analyst, New Hanover County

The Dump That’s Not a Dump: A Riding Tour of New Hanover County’s Unique Landfill

Joe Suleyman

New Hanover County’s landfill is a marvel of innovation, featuring several award-winning initiatives, including a composting program, robust recycling facilities and the State of North Carolina’s only double reverse osmosis water treatment facility for landfill wastewater. And don’t worry about the aroma or getting dirty – New Hanover County Environmental Management Director Joe Suleyman will facilitate the tour from an air-conditioned van!

Advance sign-up required; a wait list is available for once seats are filled. Additional tour options are available on Thursday morning.

Friday, August 13, 2:45 – 3:30 p.m.

LGFCU Excellence in Innovation Awards milkshake break

Two great inventions – milkshakes and the LGFCU Excellence in Innovation Awards – come together at this special break, when this year’s class of 10 winning programs will be announced. Even if you don’t like milkshakes, you’ll love that the winning programs are selected in part due to their replicability in other counties.

Chosen as award recipients by their peers in county government, the winning teams have implemented programs that demonstrate innovative solutions to county needs. Attendees will hear a brief overview of the awards program and winning programs, and time is allotted for attendees to visit with award winners to learn more about what makes them unique and successful.

This session will extend through the concurrent session block that runs from 3:30 – 4:45 p.m. to provide attendees with additional time to meet with program winners.

Friday, August 13, 3:30 – 4:45 p.m.

Visit with LGFCU Excellence in Innovation Awards Winners

The conference break will end at 3:30 p.m., but attendees are welcome to remain in the Exhibit Hall to continue to visit with representatives of award-winning programs.

Implicit Bias Training for the Workplace

Linda Thompson
Linda Thompson

The work of diversity and equity is exciting, complex and often times intense. Employers that embrace it find their workplaces transformed with positive employee engagement, improved customer and job satisfaction, increased production and dramatically improved employee relations. Prior to implementing the practice, we must look at our individual truths and examine our own individual biases, especially those implicit biases that often creep into our workplaces and cause harm. This session on confronting implicit bias will help you begin the work toward building greater diversity and equity in the workplace.

Presenter: Linda Thompson, New Hanover County Chief Diversity and Equity Officer

Meetup on County Parks, Trails and Greenways

Join Commissioner Sig Hutchinson of Wake County to share your success stories, current projects and ideas for future parks and outdoor recreation projects in your county.

Facilitated Tour of Airlie Gardens

Airlie Gardens’ history dates back to 1884, when Pembroke and Sarah Jones purchased the property and transformed it into a picturesque garden. In 1999, a commitment from the New Hanover County Commissioners, along with a grant from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the support of local residents, made possible the county’s purchase and restoration of Airlie’s 67 acres of gardens.

Shuttle transportation will depart from the Convention Center at 3:30 p.m. Advance sign-up required.

Facilitated Tour of Historic Thalian Hall

Thalian Hall, which has shared a building with City Hall since its construction in 1858, is one of Wilmington’s true jewels. New Hanover County Commissioner Rob Zapple serves on the Board of Trustees for Thalian Hall and will guide a tour of this historic and active venue.

Shuttle transportation will depart from the Convention Center at 3:30 p.m. Advance sign-up is required due to limited seating. A second tour previously scheduled for Saturday afternoon has been canceled due to a conflict.

Saturday, August 14, 10:30 – 11:45 a.m.

Conflict, Complaints, Confrontation and Compliments

Navigating conflict is an essential skill in leading all types of teams – including those within a county government – to achieve high-end results. In this session, Coach4aday Founder Dan Kenney offers thoughts and presents strategies on how elected officials can best deal with conflict, complaints, confrontational issues and yes, even compliments, from their constituents.

Navigating the 2021 NCACC County Map Book: A Guide to Help Inform Decisions and Set Direction

Each year, the NCACC is pleased to share the most relevant North Carolina county-specific data maps in the County Map Book. These data and map visualizations highlight demographic, economic, health, and educational information from all 100 counties. Join NCACC Associate General Counsel Paige Worsham and research intern Brenden Lucas to gain insight into some of those interesting data points contained in the 2021 edition and engage in discussion on how the data could be used to inform funding and policy decisions in your county.

How Emergency Response, Diversion and Pretrial Services Fit into Rehabbing Criminal Justice

In December 2020, the Governor’s Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice (TREC) issued a report with 125 recommendations aimed at making North Carolina’s criminal justice system fairer, safer and more effective. In this session, TREC representatives will discuss the work and highlight recommendations most relevant to counties, including reforming emergency response services, enhancing diversion programs, and promoting effective and cost-effective use of pretrial services. This session will also feature a video message from Task Force Co-Chairs Attorney General Josh Stein and Supreme Court Associate Justice Anita Earls.

Speakers: Judge J.H. Corpening II, Chief District Court Judge, New Hanover and Pender counties; Sonya Harper, Director of Criminal Justice Services, Mecklenburg County; Mike Hawkins, Chair, TREC Local Policy Committee; Taylor Jones, Emergency Services Director, Buncombe County; and Jasmine McGhee, Director of Public Protection, NC Department of Justice, and TREC Staff Co-Lead

Jumanji 2020: Lessons from the Seemingly Never-Ending Disaster Exercise

Anna McRay
Anna McRay

On a month-by-month basis in 2020, we never were quite sure what the next “emergency” would be as New Hanover County worked to support the community through the COVID-19 crisis. This presentation will review the many different – and sometimes surprising – planning and collaboration opportunities across multiple agencies at the local, state and federal levels that were needed to prepare for, respond to, and recover from (with all apologies to Robin Williams) “Jumanji 2020.”

Presenter: Anna McRay, Assistant Emergency Management Director, New Hanover County

Saturday, August 14, 2 – 2:45 p.m. (following the Annual Business Session)

The Story Behind the Settlement: Leading a Fight to Provide Hope for People Addicted to Opiates

In April, Attorney General Josh Stein and the NCACC unveiled a historic Memorandum of Agreement to maximize national opioid settlement funds flowing to North Carolina communities on the front lines of the opioid epidemic. Those funds are now close to becoming a reality following the July 21 announcement of the national settlement, and counties could soon begin to put those dollars to use locally to treat and combat opioid abuse.

This special general session will share the story of how a collaboration of counties – led by a “5-5-5 Committee” consisting of five county commissioners, five county managers and five county attorneys – and the NC Attorney General’s Office worked to establish a national model for how settlement funds would be distributed and utilized to have the greatest impact in the battle to treat the opioid crisis.