Monday was a busy day for Fayetteville City Councilwoman Kathy Keefe Jensen, the five-term District 1 representative of north Fayetteville.
It was a day of meetings with the N.C. congressional delegation.
“I just got in after a long day on Capitol Hill, meeting our delegation and going over our needs for Fayetteville,” Jensen was saying. “Getting the message out that we are the largest neighbor to the largest military installation. I learned we are one step or two closer to getting a direct flight to D.C. from Fayetteville. We are meeting with our senators to let them know we are working and are accountable for our money that was provided to us. I am getting ready to talk with the Department of Transportation on our roads, connectivity and beautification. A big part of my being up here is connecting the military with Fayetteville for retention and collaboration.”
Jensen was one of nine council members attending the 2023 Congressional City Conference, a three-day meeting that concluded Tuesday at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in Washington. Other council members who attended, according to the city, are Shakeyla Ingram of District 2; Mario Benavente of District 3; D.J. Haire of District 4; Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins of District 5; Derrick Thompson of District 6; Brenda McNair of District 7; Courtney Banks-McLaughlin of District 8; and Deno Hondros of District 9.
The purpose of the conference was for more than 2,000 city leaders to represent and advocate for the interests of their cities.
Mayor Mitch Colvin did not attend.
Council members, according to Jensen, were not alone in the nation’s capital.
“We are very fortunate to have eight of our youth council members here to do workshops and participate with other youth councils all over the nation,” Jensen says. “Fayetteville Cumberland Youth Council has national representation on the National League of Municipalities.”
A long Monday on Capitol Hill
Busy, the council was in Washington.
“We had a full day of networking, advocating and support-building for our city,” Hondros, a freshman councilman, says about Monday’s schedule alone. “At 8 a.m., together with Mayor Pro Tem Dawkins, council members Jensen, Benavente, Haire, Thompson, McNair, Banks-McLaughlin and I met with our consultant team of Debra Bryant of Unified Solutions, Ron Hamm of Hamm Consulting, and Leslie Mozingo and Ryan Murphy, a Fayetteville native and Terry Sanford High School grad, both with Strategics Consulting. We then met with Jim McClesky, director of the N.C. Washington office who champions Gov. (Roy) Cooper’s priorities, and advocates for North Carolina in D.C. We discussed the new EPA guidelines with regards to PFAS and forever chemicals and trying to secure funding at the federal and state levels to assist water systems such our hometown utility, PWC.”
Other topics, Hondros says, included advocating for the N.C. 421 corridor, “which is slated to become I-685 in the future and will connect I-85 to I-95 to connect to I-295” and then connect to I-95. “This could save the N.C. Department of Transportation roughly 30% for the last leg of that I-685 corridor instead of an alternate route through Harnett County in the Dunn/Erwin area.”
Monday just kept becoming longer.
“We requested the state taking a lead with mental health, light rail to the Triangle and for more support with homelessness,” Hondros says.
And the day got all the longer.
“We then met with Charlie Hobbs, legislative assistant for Sen. Ted Budd,” Hondros says. “We thanked the senator for supporting our BRIC grant application, which would bring $15.4 million for a bridge and stream capital improvement project for Russell and Person streets and an additional $2.6 million for an improvement project on Wayland Drive. We advocated for direct flight from Fayetteville to D.C. and also thanked them for supporting our FEMA and EPA grants.”
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Meeting with Rep. Hudson
Hondros says Ingram joined the council members to meet with U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson and Elliot Guffin, who is Hudson’s chief of staff.
“We thanked them for supporting our RAISE grant, slated for $22 million for the Fayetteville Greenway Community Connector project,” Hondros says about the grant known beyond the acronym as the Rebuilding American Infrastructure With Sustainability and Equity grant. “We advocated for a direct flight to D.C. as the largest neighbor to the largest military installation in the world. And also thanked them for supporting our FEMA, BRIC and EPA grants.”
Next was a meeting with U.S. Rep. David Rouzer; the congressman’s legislative director, Bubba White; and his senior legislative assistant, Abigail Michos.
“We thanked them for supporting our Fayetteville Airport International Terminal request and advocated for direct flight to D.C.,” Hondros says. “We thanked them for submitting the NORCRESS request. This is a $2.2 million wastewater system rehabilitation that is supported by Fayetteville, Cumberland County and Fayetteville-Cumberland Economic Development Corp.”
A long Monday, all of us would have to agree, and a longer Monday to come. That’s when Hondros says council members decided to, in his words, divide and conquer.
“Council members Jensen and Thompson visited with Rep. Don Davis’ staff,” he says. “Mayor Pro Tem Dawkins and council member Haire visited with reps from DOT, and council member Benavente and I accompanied by Mr. Hamm met with HUD.”
That meeting with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Hondros says, may have been one of the more impactful ones.
“We discussed housing (affordable and workforce), mental health, homelessness and veterans,” he says. “HUD reps shared forthcoming grants and helped us identify potentially $8 million in additional annual funding we may qualify for in addition to HUD grants we already receive. …”
Other council members, Hondros says, sought meetings with representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Meeting with Sen. Tillis
“Oh, and forgot to mention, Tuesday we are meeting with Sen. Thom Tillis and his deputy, Kyle Sanders,” Hondros says, “shoring up support for our $22 million RAISE grant request, Fayetteville Airport international terminal request, advocating for a direct flight to D.C. and RAMP, aka Reserve Advisory & Management Partnership, funding.”
RAMP assists businesses with automating financial operations.
You may have surmised by now that government speaks in a lot of acronyms, which is another reason so many of us are so frustrated with government. Just say what it is.
And somewhere along the way, Benavente was elected to serve as treasurer of one of the National League of Cities’ six constituency groups, Benavente says, which brings together Asian Pacific American municipal leaders to network.
“During the Congressional City Conference, council has been able to meet with our elected officials and federal agency staff to express our appreciation for the federal funds and programs that benefit our residents while advocating for the continued needs of our community,” Jensen says. “During the conference, the National League of Cities also has a variety of information and education sessions available on topics like supporting military communities to affordable housing, sharing insight and best practices from across the nation.”
Something else you may wish to know.
“I’m exhausted,” Jensen was saying Tuesday morning.
So was Hondros.
“It made for a long day walking approximately five miles on the Hill, but the rewards are worth it,” he was saying before heading back to Fayetteville. “We did it all with a smile in service to every single resident and taxpayer in Fayetteville.”
Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-624-1961.