The Inside Scoop on the 2023 Knightdale Mayor’s Academy

Knightdale Mayor's Academy- waiting in town hall
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Thanks to the continuous support of my family, I had the amazing opportunity to be a part of this year’s Knightdale Mayor’s Academy.  Knightdale, NC, is home to approximately 20,800 people, with a projected population growth of over 36,000 residents by 2035.  With this rapid growth, the Town has created an engaging program that allows seasoned and new residents to come together to learn more about Knightdale and its operations.  

Now, it’s no mystery that I have a bunch of reasons why I love living in Knightdale.  But I wanted to learn more about my town and become more engaged.  This program was the perfect fit for me!

To briefly summarize the Knightdale Mayor’s Academy, I will use the words of Knightdale’s Town Clerk, Heather Smith.  Per Mrs. Smith, “The Knightdale Mayor’s Academy offers residents a unique opportunity to learn the ins and outs of local government, interact with elected officials and town staff, and gain first-hand knowledge of town services through training and hands-on activities.  

Topics covered include General Governance, Local Government Administration, Development and Land Administration, Recreation and Special Events, Public Works/Stormwater Management, Community Relations, Fire Protection Services, and Law Enforcement Administration.”

Most of our nine sessions were led by the Town Manager, Bill Summers, typically with an introduction and attendance by Mayor Jessica Day. Most sessions also had town councilors come up to speak about their role on the town council, which allowed citizens to truly engage with their elected officials.  Want to learn more?  Here are some highlights I enjoyed for each Knightdale Mayor’s Academy program session!

General Governance and Local Government Administration

Knightdale town hall

Town Manager Bill Summers presented the overall leadership and organizational structure for the town, including what state and federal laws can impact how a municipality can govern itself.  He also highlighted how citizens can help, including becoming involved in citizen advisory boards, volunteering, and being engaged in the town.  One of my favorite things about Mr. Summers was that, beyond his engaging lectures, he also had some of the best icebreakers for our group.  

Community Relations

Presented by Knightdale’s Community Relations Director, Rachel Morris, this piece was fascinating.  From working with current and potential future businesses in Knightdale to getting out those Facebook posts and tweets, their new department does a LOT.  

Some of my favorite tidbits I learned from Mrs. Morris’ session were:

  • Knightdale rolled out a new website design this year! (It looks fabulous, by the way)
  • A new software has started called Engage Knightdale
  • Beyond the Mayor’s Academy, there is also the LaunchKnightdale program for budding entrepreneurs and Knightdale Leader’s Academy (youth program).
  • New software will be rolling out in 2024 to allow mass communication for the town, helping to improve communications for emergency management and things like events and town-related job postings. 

Public Works

Presented by Knightdale’s Public Works director, Phillip Bunton, this was one of my favorite presentations because it was a department I probably knew the least about.  

From using heavy machinery to clear out areas for new projects, development inspections, maintaining town-owned roads, monitoring stormwater drainage systems, yard waste collection and disposal, to cleaning up our beautiful parks, this department also does a LOT.  If your roads are cleared quickly after a big storm- you have public works to thank!

My favorite part of this was getting outside and getting a chance to operate some of the trucks.  I kept thinking about how my 2-year-old son would LOVE this.  I got to try to swing the leaf-pickup arm (I whipped that thing around knocking down cones–Oops!).  Then I got to try picking up a hard hat with the knuckle boom truck.  We also learned more about stormwater retention ponds and their importance for storm drainage and the environment.  

Taylor operating knucle boom truck

Development Services

Presented by Knightdale’s Development Services director, Jason Brown, and planning department staff, this session dived into the intricacies and challenges of planning a town’s growth and development.  This session is filled with vital information for a town with such rapid growth to understand the “whys” behind how the town grows and why some things (like roadways) aren’t always easy to add or expand.  Ultimately, we got to feel like we were in “real life Sims” and planned and provided input into Knightdale’s new Comprehensive Growth plan.  

Knightdale also hosts a Citizen’s Planning Academy, with a new cohort available in 2024 if you want to learn more!

Fire

Presented by Knightdale’s Fire Chief, Loren Cone, this was a spectacular session.  We watched a live demonstration of firefighters getting up and performing a rescue on the ladder of a ladder engine.  As citizens, we got to have hands-on- experience with cutting glass out of a vehicle’s window, using the jaws of life to pry open a car door, and handling a fire hose (with the support of a firefighter standing behind you).  I always thought I had a bit of a grasp of what firefighters have to do and go through from being a nurse and interacting with them more often, but this experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of bravery.  

Taylor in firefighter gear with Knightdale Fire Chief Cone photobombing
Fire Chief Cone photobombing me!

Knightdale fire truck with jaws of life

Knightdale mayor's academy firefighter with hose

Knightdale Mayor’s Academy – Elected Officials Panel

Hosted and moderated by Mayor Jessica Day, this session was amazing.  The Knightdale Mayor’s Academy participants had the opportunity to ask questions and listen to a panel of the following elected officials:

Wake County Board of Education:

  • Tara Waters
  • Cheryl Caulfield

Wake County Board of Commissioners: 

  • Commissioner Vickie Adamson
  • Commissioner Cheryl Stallings
  • Commissioner Don Mial

North Carolina House of Representatives: 

  • Representative James Roberson 

North Carolina District Court:

  • Judge Ashleigh Parker 
  • Judge Julie Bell 

North Carolina State Senate:

  • Senator Dan Blue 

It was an honor to hear these public servants speak about how they came into office, how and why serve the community, and what citizens can do to continue to improve it.  If you want to see this session, you can watch it here

Taylor speaking with Representative James Roberson
Me speaking with Representative James Roberson

Parks and Recreation

If you love all things athletic and recreation, this was the session for you! Held at Harper Park and presented by Parks and Recreation Director Chris Wiley, the group learned about all that the department does, including planning and executing special events, planning and hosting athletic programs and fitness opportunities, maintaining all town-owned parks, and planning for improvements of current parks and development of future ones.

After our presentation, our group got to practice playing Pickleball.  Since almost all of us were beginners, a few coaches were available to teach us the quick basics, and we were off. I was impressed they could reserve any court time, as the park and Pickleball courts were packed!  It was a beautiful evening filled with great weather, and it was wonderful getting to play, learn, and exercise all at the same time.  

Taylor at pickleball court

Knightdale pickleball paddle from the Knightdale Mayor's academy

Human Resources and Finance

Our group learned about Knightdale’s Human Resources department from its director, Marcey Bell.  Learning what Knightdale does to attract talent from the Triangle and around the country was interesting. In this session, we performed mock interviews with our classmates.  

Listen ya’ll…I’m an introvert.  I hate the in-person interview process.  It makes me anxious and nervous.  But this was a great reminder that human behavior questions always trump knowledge.  Because you can teach skills, but it’s hard to teach character!

The presentation about the Finance Department was provided by Knightdale’s Finance Director, Mark Stephens.  After discussing all the sources of expense and revenue that the town must consider, we attempted to balance the town’s budget in a practice scenario.  It’s easy to ask why the town doesn’t have X or Y, but when you have to sit down and look at the numbers to consider what has to be sacrificed, you gain a sense of empathy and understanding (just like in our lives at home…most of us can’t afford to have it all).  

By the way, did you know that you can access the town’s budget and financial reports? One of my favorites because it is more user-friendly is the Citizen’s Financial Report.  This document gives you great insight into the town’s financial state.

Police

Presented by Knightdale’s Chief of Police, Lawrence Capps, this was another eye-opening experience that I will never forget.  After going over a presentation of the department’s mission and values, attendees got to rotate through three different scenarios:

  • Approaching a vehicle pulled over on the side of the road at night.  This showed us the safety implications for officers responding to these situations and informed us of the best way to keep everyone (police and those pulled over) safe.
  • Responding to a call about a prowler.  This scenario involved having the opportunity to wear a vest and operate a paint gun.  
  • Serving an arrest warrant.  This one involved placing handcuffs on an individual and searching someone for dangerous objects.

Participation in all scenarios was, of course, optional.  I chose to participate in all three, and it became clear to me very quickly how difficult this profession must be and how grateful I am to our officers. At the end of the program, we all got footage from the body cam we wore during the prowler scenario.  

Banquet and Graduation Ceremony

This last piece was an excellent way to wrap up the program. Held at First and Main in downtown Knightdale, this graduation ceremony had Wake County Commissioner Chair Shinica Thomas as the Keynote speaker.  Several classmates provided speeches, and we all had the opportunity to mingle as a group one last time and receive our certificates of completion.  

Beyond being thankful for all of the Knightdale staff who helped us learn about their departments, the attendees also shared their appreciation with the Town’s administrative staff, particularly the Town Clerk, Heather Smith, and the Deputy Town Clerk, Brittney Hunt, for all of their hard work organizing this great program.

First and Main Knightdale NC entrance

Taylor Norton at the Knightdale Mayor's Academy with Mayor Jessica Day and Town Manager Bill Summers

Key Takeaways from the Knightdale Mayor’s Academy

One of the most important things I took away from this experience, beyond having a much deeper understanding and appreciation for all that our town and its employees and representatives do, is that I got to make great connections with others in our community.  I met other residents from all different professions and walks of life.  But we were all there, united in a desire to learn more and wanting to be a part of our community.  

When we were house hunting in the Triangle, one of my requirements was I wanted to live in a town where we could feel a sense of community.  I wanted to see my neighbors out and about, feel connected, and get involved.  And this program allowed me to do just that.  I hope this is just the beginning, and I can’t wait to find opportunities to serve my community in the future.

And for all the folks out there who quickly scrolled to the bottom (Hey, we’ve all done it) 😉 — 

TLDR (Too Long, Didn’t Read)

The Town of Knightdale does a LOT.  The people who work within the town are wonderful and dedicated public servants.  So much goes on behind the scenes we take for granted.  Apply for next year’s academy because it’s a great experience and an opportunity to build community.

Taylor
Author: Taylor

Taylor, the founder of Eastern Wake Love and resident of Knightdale, NC, created the platform to celebrate Eastern Wake County’s community and lifestyle. Driven by the lack of substantial information about the Eastern Wake communities during her move to Knightdale, she wanted to create a resource for this beautiful area's potential and current residents and visitors. In her spare time, she’s chasing after her two young kiddos, getting involved in her community, and laughing with her husband about the chaos of parenthood.

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