Tuesday, April 23, 2024

New Hanover County hires former Star News reporter for new intergovernmental affairs coordinator position

The new position will help the county keep open lines of communication with local municipalities and organizations, neighboring counties, and state and federal legislators.

A joint committee to address issues like racism and discrimination has been formed by New Hanover County and The City of Wilmington (Port City Daily photo/FILE)
The new intergovernmental affairs coordinator position is designed to help the county keep its lines of communication open. (Port City Daily photo/FILE)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — New Hanover County has created a new position as part of ongoing efforts to maintain good communication with both its neighboring governments and regional legislators.

Former Wilmington Star-News senior government and politics reporter Tim Buckland was hired in the newly created “intergovernmental affairs coordinator” position earlier this month. The position, which pays $70,000 plus benefits, was created to assist with both “top-down” relationships with the beach towns, Wilmington, an regional organizations, and “bottom-up” relationships with state and federal legislators.

Buckland and County Manager Chris Coudriet sat down this week to discuss the new position and its goals.

Seats at the table

“The goal is to keep everybody in the loop, including our local beach communities, the city [of Wilmington], and our neighbors, and state state – and even federal – legislators. We don’t want anyone to feel they don’t have a seat at the table,” Buckland said. “[Coudriet’s] directive to me was, ‘I want to know what their priorities are, early in the process rather than late.'”

Buckland noted as an example that he had attended Carolina Beach’s budget workshop, “so that they know, three days on the job, New Hanover County is sending a representative, so they know the county is invested and cares about what they’re doing.”

Coudriet said the county already had good communication relationships with its neighbors, but noted “we can also improve, we can always tweak things.”

Another main goal, Coudriet said, was to avoid potentially unpleasant surprises.

“We want it so that all of our partners – including agencies we fund, and some we don’t fund – have direct access to the county as we develop policy,” Coudriet said. “We don’t want there to be surprises; no one should ever be surprised by a policy that is coming out of the county as a recommendation to the county commissioners.”

As an example, Buckland pointed to overarching beach re-nourishment plans, including contingencies for if federal funding falls through, or ensuring open communication if – hypothetically – the county’s room-occupancy tax were to be developed.

A ‘fast conduit’ for legislators

While Buckland’s focus is primarily on legislative affairs, he won’t be serving as a traditional lobbyist (the county already has lobbyists for both state and federal legislation). Coudriet said that, while lobbyist focus on particular pieces of legislation, the coordinator position would be geared more towards ongoing conversations — keeping the delegation from the Cape Fear area well-versed in the county’s interests and policies that may be coming down the pipeline.

For Buckland, these won’t be new relationships.

“I already know the legislators, they are for the most part just a text message away,” he said, adding that some will need to adjust to his new role away from journalism, “There is some getting people to understand that not everything they say is on the record anymore type stuff.”

Buckland said the conversations would mostly boil down to the local priorities put forward by the county’s Board of Commissioners, a list that includes beach re-nourishment, encouraging renewed expansion of the film industry, and drinking water quality concerns, as well as several state-level funding issues (you can read a fuller description from Coudriet in this week’s ‘Manager’s Message.’)

“We’re not going to tell them how to vote or craft a piece of legislation — they make their own decisions, but we want them to be informed,” Buckland said.

A large part of that has to do the potentially overwhelming intensity of the General Assembly in Raleigh. As anyone who has been to the General Assembly floor can attest, it is organized chaos — “a firehose,” as Coudriet called it, with dozens and dozens of bills being worked on and filed simultaneously, alongside meetings with committees, lobbyists, and constituents (not all of whom, most legislators will note, make appointments).

Buckland said that, since Coudriet’s schedule was already exceedingly busy, part of his new job is to provide rapid response to legislators who need a quick answer on a policy questions.

“A fast way for our legislators to call someone and say ‘you need to give me a refresher on this issue,” Buckland said. “I’m hoping to be a fast conduit, to ‘yes sir,’ ‘yes ma’am, here’s what you need.'”

Buckland said that, one week into the job, he had already filled his calendar.

Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at ben@localvoicemedia.com, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.


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