Program Excellence Award for Citizen Involvement

Public Management, September 2000 | Go to article overview

Program Excellence Award for Citizen Involvement


Populations of 50,000 and Under

ICMA's Program Excellence Award for Citizen Involvement recognizes successful strategies designed to inform citizens about the local government services available to them and to include citizens in the process of community decision making. The award concentrates on such areas as community consensus building and adult (nonstudent) citizenship education. This year, IGMA presents the award in the 50,000-and-under population category to the city of Kannapolis, North Carolina, and to City Manager David A. Hales and Assistant City Manager and Vision Coordinator S. Greg McGinnis for their "Weaving a Shared Future" initiative.

Kannapolis, North Carolina (pop. 38,241), owes its existence to James W. Cannon, who founded Cannon Mills in a rural area of the Piedmont in 1907. In the best tradition of corporate paternalism, the Cannon company provided water and sewer service, police and Lire protection, roads, and recreational amenities in the form of the largest YMCA in the country. Cannon Mills also constructed and maintained more than 1,600 company-owned homes in villages around the mill and provided jobs for the majority of the town's residents. Self-government and public financing of services were foreign concepts to Kannapolis residents.

Then everything changed. In the early l980s, an investor acquired Cannon Mills and a substantial portion of the town's real estate. He sold the houses in the mill villages to their occupants but retained ownership of the mills and virtually the entire central business district. But his vision to turn Kannapolis into a thriving city were foiled by the skepticism of residents who were resistant to change. Kannapolis found itself with an antiquated industrial base, an infant city government, and a divided population. The mill's workforce dwindled; property values, tax revenues, and new investment lagged well behind neighboring cities. Citizens resented the fact that service fees and taxes were now required to fund things they had once received for free.

In 1998, Kannapolis ushered in a new group of leaders. Mayor Ray Moss and City Manager David Hales were convinced a new civic milieu was needed to turn the community around. Citizens needed to interact with civic issues in a way they could physically see, touch, and feel.

The first step was to convince Kannapolis' businesses, institutions, and organizations that they must lead this effort. After a series of meetings with elected officials and the city manager, key players from local business and industry, educational institutions, government entities, churches, and civic organizations formed a "Citizen Cabinet" dedicated to involving every resident in the process of civic re-invention. …

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