The GNA’s October House Dinner featured a discussion about “Municipal Innovation through Civic Engagement” with students, faculty, and staff.
The Global Neighborhood Association hosted its monthly House Dinner on Oct. 5, with more than 60 faculty, staff and students dining on German food and gathering to hear from Burlington Mayor Ian Baltutis, a member of Elon’s Class of 2008.
While at Elon, Baltutis and a friend participated in the entrepreneurship program and founded Vibration Solutions, a company that produces polyurethane products to control vibrations in washing machines and many other types of machinery.
As a local business owner and resident, Baltutis became interested in local issues and politics. When he heard that several local officials were running unopposed in 2013, he ran for mayor.
Though he lost the election, he was successful in raising awareness about Alamance County’s lack of public transportation. When Baltutis ran again for mayor in 2015, he was elected. Baltutis is the youngest mayor in the city’s history. And in June 2016, the transportation problem was resolved when Link Transit began servicing Alamance County with a bus service.
Baltutis regularly rides the bus and talks to riders, who are pleased that they can now reach stores, jobs, and health care even if they don’t have access to a car. Baltutis declared his interest in the “human aspect” of infrastructure.
Baltutis discussed several challenges and initiatives affecting Burlington. One issue he feels passionately about is how to open up community leadership to people of any age. Another is to try to bridge the geographic and socioeconomic divides in the city and to create a more inclusive mindset.
He talked about his desire to bring services like greenways and food truck rodeos to Burlington, amenities that are perceived by some residents as “big city” things. Baltutis began a program called “Belong in Burlington” to help new residents feel at home in the community. He has embraced new ways and technologies to interact with residents, such as social media and online surveys rather than just the traditional community meetings.
Baltutis believes that “cities are the laboratories of democracy.” Cities, because of their smaller size, can innovate more rapidly than states and nations, so many novel ideas can be tried in cities first.
The audience discussed several questions about municipal issues that are relevant to Burlington and other communities. One was the question of how to balance the needs of long-time residents with newcomers. Another issue was how to engage all residents to strengthen the local community. Students offered thoughts and suggestions, some based on their own experiences. For example, one student proposed a youth council like the one in her hometown. Baltutis could be seen taking notes on the students’ comments.
The Global Neighborhood Association’s next House Dinner will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7. The GNA will be holding the next event in its film series on Tuesday, Oct. 24 in Global Commons 103.