Town of Hillsborough Commissioner Kathleen Ferguson always has something going on.
When the Alabama native isn’t working her day job — customer delivery director and LCS business analyst for IQVia in Durham — she’s attending a town meetings, ribbon cuttings or other community events, or she’s traveling to neighboring jurisdictions to work on policy with a number of political boards with which she’s a member or leader.
“I have a full plate,” she said. “I recently found two newspaper articles written about me in high school, and both highlighted the laundry list of activities that I was involved in then. I’ve been this way my whole life. I’m insatiably curious and I love to meet people, get things done and be in the thick of things.”
Most recently, Ferguson is amping up for three new positions she’s been appointed to fill for the upcoming year beginning on July 1 — second vice president of the Triangle J Council of Governments (COG), member-at-large of the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) Board of Directors and second vice president of North Carolina Women in Municipal Government (WIMG).
Her new roles all fall within areas of political activity and advocacy that are different yet complementary, with a focus on local government and regionalism.
“In my opinion, local government is still the most important form of government,” Ferguson said. “One of the reasons I ran for commissioner in the first place was because I was interested in regional collaboration. We’re good at it, but there are always opportunities for our town to get better at it, too.”
The COG was created in 1970 by a statute, with the goal of establishing collaboration between regions and providing assistance to local governments. All 16 regions in the state were assigned a letter, and “J” was assigned to Orange, Durham, Wake, Johnston, Lee, Chatham and Moore counties.
Triangle J is not another layer of government in the area, but rather a mechanism that can serve as an extension of local government in ways that will serve the region. The body cannot levy taxes or pass laws, but it is governed by elected officials and it does assist local governments with general program areas including region’s Agency on Aging and regional planning projects such as the Jordan Lake Watershed.
The COG also sends representatives to the state legislature to advocate on behalf of local governments across North Carolina. Recently, the COG has focused on advocating for Broadband access for all.
In the coming year, Ferguson will be a part of this forum, championing regional and local needs on a state level.
“The COG is agnostic, it’s non-partisan and there are representatives of every stripe who work to collaborate on commonalities between regions,” she said. “In this role I’m able to communicate items of interest for the people of Hillsborough that are shared across the state, and I can also share our best practices.”
Her new position as one of three members-at-large of the NCLM goes hand-in-hand with her COG position.
The NCLM is a service and advocacy organization that represents nearly every city and town in the state, helping local governments to more effectively serve their citizens with non-partisan advocacy, insurance and other services.
“When there’s legislation that affects a city or town, the NCLM takes a position on it,” Ferguson said. “The overarching mission is good governance and town and city vibrancy and sustainability, and the NCLM also administers workman’s compensation, health and life insurance and risk management on behalf of cities and towns.”
The majority of the insurance pools covered by NCLM are composed of city and town employees, with some exceptions that extend to those beyond the local government workforce.
Cities and towns opt to be a member of the group, which focuses not only on managing risks and liabilities that a town or city may have, but also on providing for and retaining employees — ensuring that staff are well-compensated and well-trained and that they have basic benefits.
An affiliate of the NCLM, the N.C. WIMG is a group united under a goal of supporting women in municipal government.
Ferguson will also be active in this group over the next year, acting as the second vice president and working to be an example for women statewide as well as learn from her female peers in government.
“In Orange County, we are fortunate to have many female leaders, but this isn’t the case statewide,” she said. “All of us as women had someone whose shoulders we stood upon. And all of us have the opportunity for others to stand on our shoulders. The WIMG is a good springboard for women to grow leadership abilities and also to mentor others statewide.”
The group supports women in leadership by encouraging additional women to run for office throughout the state, helping those already elected with policy effectiveness and also offering a welcoming space for women legislators to bring their voices to the table.
With all of the new appointments, Ferguson is in a prime position to glean from other women and other local legislators as she moves forward in her own community service and political career, and also to inspire these peers with her own experience and passion.
“If I were to describe Commissioner Ferguson’s service as a town official in one word, it would be enthusiasm,” Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said. “There’s not a single meeting when you don’t hear the passion in her voice about the various organization’s she represents.”
Ferguson’s new appointments will keep her busy for the next year, and her current town commissioner term extends until 2021.
The commissioner is focused on the tasks at hand, and, after those tasks finish up, she doesn’t appear to be planning a break from public service.
“I wake up and pinch myself every morning because it’s just unreal that I get to do this,” she said. “Hillsborough is so amazing and this is such a vibrant town, county and region. To have the honor to represent that, it’s amazing. This is my passion.”