In the first few days of 2023, some folks around Swansboro received an invitation to meet with Mayor John Davis at the Swansboro Convention Center.
The mystery around the invitations might have prompted a few calls among friends, but the mystery evaporated on Jan. 5 when the meeting convened that evening.
“They’re like mayor-town halls,” Davis said in explaining the first get-together, the one that followed and the third that he expects to follow. “They are called Start Stop Continue.”
Just about everything you need to know is in that name.
The 20 to 25 people who attend are asked to list – without any input from Davis – something they would like to see the town start. The “Start.” Likewise, each person is asked to write down something the town does currently that they would like to see stopped. The “Stop.” And, finally, write down something that the town does that they would like to see the town continue. The “Continue.”
Of the continue, Davis said, “What is it that we’re doing that you want us to keep doing, that is going well, that you perceive as going well,”
In an interview following that first get-together, Davis said the exercise is one used by his wife, Jennifer.
“I stole it from my wife,” he said with a laugh. “She is a teacher and she does professional development and this is one of the tools and techniques she uses to generate discussion.”
Because the exercise does not require any public speaking and, in fact, the input is written and can be given anonymously, Davis said it encourages engagement for all.
“It helps balance out everybody giving input,” he said.
As for selecting the audience for the first one, he called people who then suggested others to include.
“The first one was obviously a little more ‘people you know.’ Because it’s the first one,” he said. But, he added, “I intentionally tried to reach out to people who I thought would have a different perspective from what I did.”
For the second meeting, which has since taken place, he said that he planned to call three people, who would then invite others, and those would extend enough invitations to, presumably, reach a total of 20 to 25.
That would allow the mayor to be “hands-off” relative to the target group.
“I may know in a general sense who’s coming,” Davis said. “But I won’t know specifically.”
The “base requirement” for an invitation is that the attendees live in town, he said. However, Davis also said that business owners were invited to the first, as was a county commissioner who, Davis said, knocked on Swansboro doors while campaigning for office.
“But primarily, it was residents, people who live in Swansboro,” Davis said.
The Swansboro Board of Commissioners has not sanctioned the mayor-town halls, according to Davos. Rather, Davis said he undertook the on the project on his own.
“It’s independent. I’m doing it as mayor … because I want to be better as mayor,” he said.
He said he hopes the gatherings would allow him to get a feel for what is important to citizens.
“I want to learn what their needs are, what the desires of the public are,” Davis said. “I want to be able to speak well by the people.”
While he could have invited up to two commissioners and still not have been required to meet the terms of the N.C. Open Meetings Law, he chose to work independently. (Under the law, according to Davis, when more than three members plan a meeting, the public must be notified in advance of the meeting and the meeting must then be open to the pubic.)
Essentially, you could say Davis’s New Year’s resolution is learning the needs of the people.
“We had a new year coming up … and I wanted to be back in touch with the people,” Davis said. “I said, I think I want to use that thing … Start Stop Continue.”
It was appealing because the people generate the ideas.
“I try to stay non-opinionated,” he said. “I try to listen.”
His comments, he said, come only in the form of explanation.
“I do give context where context is appropriated,” Davis explained.
For example, if one of the attendees says that the town should have a strategic plan, Davis corrects that. He would tell them that the town does have a strategic plan.
And because the comments are written, he’s able to keep a written record of the responses.
He said during the first meeting, he offered to wrap up at about an hour, but the attendees wanted to keep going. It lasted about 90 minutes and the attendees were still fully engaged through the end.
Following that first one, Davis said he decided to schedule the second.
“I definitely want to … and perhaps even do a third one.” At that point, he explained, he would reassess, “… and probably sit down and synthesize the data and look for commonalities.
“I think that is really important, to be able to draw from the information.”
That information would come in handy for the town commission in the upcoming budget deliberations, as well as for planning in general, according to Davis.
“Some of the things you think are really important we didn’t talk about,” he said.
Clearly, Davis learned that not everybody has the same goals and objectives. And he said it is an important thing to know.
“That’s the cool part,” he said.
And with that information, he believes he can provide better representation.
“Some may be applicable at the budget workshop,” he said of the information gleaned. “Some may not.”
Other ideas submitted would be filed away and brought out when appropriate. He said he would provide that opinion when discussion at the board table requires it, by sharing the thought: “This is the vibe I’m getting from people who live here.”
Davis said that for the first meeting, the attendance was good. A total of 23 were on hand.
“We had all but one of the invitees show up,” he said. “It tells me that people want to be able share their voice. They want to be able share (what) they are thinking.
“It could be worthwhile doing one a month or one a quarter.”
Of the information gathered, when asked if that would that be shared with others members of the board, Davis was unsure if or how.
“Hopefully I can do it in a way that it’s helpful for all,” he said. “Whether that’s through conversation or writing, and I don’t know the answer to that.”
But he also said, “I’d certainly like to give it back to the people who participated and get their feedback.” It would honor those who participated, according to the mayor. “I want the people to feel that it was valuable.”
In any case, whether formally shared with the board members or not, “It would definitely get used,” he said.
Email Jimmy Williams at email@example.com.
Purchase a copy of the Feb. 1, 2023, Tideland News for more on this story.
My suggestion to Mayor Davis: resign immediately. You are not a good leader.
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