Annual Conference Speakers and Session Descriptions

Keynote Speakers

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, and will be made available in mid-July. Attendees will be asked to complete a brief, online Real Colors profile assessment prior to attending that will provide you with your color spectrum. A limited number of assessments will be available on-site for any attendees who have not completed the online assessment prior to attending.

Session time includes a 15-minute break.

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 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; seats will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis to early bird registrants on a sign-up form that will be distributed the morning of July 16. Van will depart for hour-long tours at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m.


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, 2:45 – 3:30 p.m.

LGFCU Excellence in Innovation Awards: Ice cream break

Cool your heels during this special ice cream/milkshake break that will celebrate the 2021 winners of the LGFCU Excellence in Innovation Awards. 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.


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.