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The strength of leadership and the resilience of community.

This is the fourth in a series of articles revolving around the topics that will be presented at the 17th Annual Leadership Summit, which will be held September 10-12 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky. The program, titled "The Strength and Spirit of Leadership in Local Government, "includes underlying themes of change, collaboration, courage and the personal challenges of serving as a leader in local government.

The ice storm was predicted, but this was late January, after all, in Kentucky where the weather changes capriciously, so no one thought too much about it. And then bad went to worse. It turned out to be a direct hit like a tsunami, or, in another analogy, a perfect storm.

As the day progressed, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the provider of power to Mayfield, Ky., and a large swath of Western Kentucky, experienced a catastrophic collapse of a major transmission line. As a result, the entire city and region were without power for six full days. Not only was this unprecedented and catastrophic in and of itself, but cell phones did not work, landlines did not work, you could not pump gas, and you could not purchase anything without cold, hard cash. The only sounds were the crash of tree limbs and power lines falling down. Mayfield was all alone and the world was shut out.

Mayfield Mayor Arthur Byrn's challenge was formidable as the crisis grew. His immediate concern was to find shelter for the 10,000 residents of his city.

"I knew we had to do something quickly," Byrn said. "People were rigging up power sources to stay warm and, in some cases, putting their lives in danger. We had to find a source of power, and we had to find it quickly."

Mayor Byrn remembered that earlier that summer--on a 90 degree day--he had brought a new program before the Kentucky League of Cities Insurance Services board. The idea would be to station emergency equipment including generators in strategic locations around the state so that needed supplies would be immediately available and transported quickly in an emergency.

As the commercial said, the price of the program would eventually be paid for in savings of hard dollars and cents through the quick and efficient action it would allow. What would be priceless would be the quick provision of critical services by the cities to their citizens. No doubt, Mayor Byrn's foresight on a blazing hot day during the summer of 2008 saved many lives in January as the lights went out and the heat went off.

Thanks to his vision and quick thinking, generators were quickly stationed at the Graves County High School while others were placed at the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. The shelters were manned by the American Red Cross, numerous volunteers and a vigilant mayor. Together they aided more than 600 residents and fed far more throughout each day of the harrowing ordeal.

In an emotional moment, Byrn recalled several scenes through the six days without power. But, as a father, he most remembered the families with young children who were kept warm and safe because of the actions of many local and state heroes.

"It was the two-week-old baby in his mother's arms that most tugged at my heart and made me remember why I went into public service, and why I am so committed to making Mayfield a better place," he commented. "... I am humbled by the actions of so many who gave so much to Mayfield during this moment of crisis and will never tire of urging all my fellow officials to commit themselves to bringing together our cities and our citizens. We never know when the next crisis will arrive."

Leaders like Byrn inspire us all to do better. Mayfield survived their moment of crisis because of the sheer strength of leadership and foresight. The city also survived because of the resilience and "can do" spirit of its citizens. We all should learn these lessons of leadership, vision and resilience.

Details: The annual Leadership Summit is NLC's premiere leadership development program for local officials. Designed as a leadership retreat, the summit provides personal leadership development that is focused on community perspectives. For more information, contact the Leadership Training Institute at (202) 626-3170 or visit the NLC website at

Sylvia Lovely will serve as the theme weaver and presenter at the 17th Annual Leadership Summit. Lovely is the executive director/CEO of the Kentucky League of Cities and serves on the Board of Directors for NLC. She is also president of the NewCities Institute, a national nonprofit organization that encourages citizens to get involved in helping their communities thrive in the global challenges of the 21st century.
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Title Annotation:National League of Cities
Author:Lovely, Sylvia
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Conference notes
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 20, 2009
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