Partners in Good Government: Town of Waxhaw and the School of Government
Officials from all 100 North Carolina counties and most municipalities take advantage of the variety of educational resources offered each year by the School of Government. This article highlights the impact that those resources can have on one community.
Why would an airplane pilot make a good town manager? Waxhaw Town Manager Mike McLaurin’s staff has identified one reason: the ability to remain calm in any circumstance. McLaurin, an instrument-rated pilot, says that the ability to plan ahead is another. Pilots rely on checklists and have to plot their course before each flight. Thinking ahead and planning for the future of his community are skills that are well-developed in McLaurin, and ones that are particularly useful in a growing community.
Waxhaw has seen a lot of growth in recent years. At the time of the 2000 census the town's populatoin was 2,600; today it's around 7,500. The town board and management have focused on preparing for and accommodating that growth, while protecting their historic downtown. Currently, the Town employs more than 40 people—McLaurin calls it a “full-service city”—with a 24/7 police department, LEED-trained planners, and a full-time events staff to coordinate events that bring thousands of visitors to the town each year.
“Downtown is very important to us,” says McLaurin. “We work to keep the area active and vibrant, but we also try to balance the old and the new, so that our town has diversity.”
Small Town Strategy? Be Creative
“The board has set the bar high for what they want the town to be,” McLaurin says, “and they have allowed me to hire the right staff in order to realize that vision and respond to the needs of our citizens. We don’t have the resources that a lot of larger cities have, so we have to be creative.” Utilizing volunteer citizen committees extends the Town’s ability to achieve many of its goals. The efforts of Beautification, Main Street, Historic Preservation, and Parks and Recreation committees have paid off. Waxhaw has been designated a Small Town Main Street Community, a Preserve America Community, and a member of Tree City USA.
It is not uncommon for Town employees to be responsible for several functions related to their areas of expertise. For instance, a code enforcement officer doubles as a part-time building inspector and a Town mechanic performs other duties within the Public Service department. In addition, the Town uses technology, including a citizen-friendly website, Facebook, and Twitter, to enhance communication with residents.
Plan for the Future
“We try to think five to 10 years into the future,” says McLaurin. For instance, Waxhaw has invested in its GIS system, a move toward being able to take an infrastructure assessment and then budget for anticipated improvements, “so we don’t get behind the curve on our needs.”
A recent leadership and transition analysis had favorable results, but McLaurin continues to build that capacity. Waxhaw employees are frequent participants in School of Government courses, and McLaurin is a graduate of the School’s Municipal and County Administration course and Public Executive Leadership Academy (PELA).
“Probably a week doesn’t go by that we don’t have some contact with the School of Government,” says McLaurin, “and the membership dues we pay are considered a wise investment—not only in ourselves, but in our citizens. The School simply helps to make my job easier.”
To learn more about Waxhaw, visit www.waxhaw.com.