Environmental policy and food waste will be tackled by Delaney King in her Professional Work Expereince at the Department of Enviornmental Quality

This post was written by current MPA student Delaney King.

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My name is Delaney King, and I am currently an MPA student an UNC Chapel Hill. Before enrolling in the MPA program, I graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 2020 with a major in Political Science, concentrating in American Politics and Environmental Policy, and a minor in History.


Work experiences in high school and college, like assisting my congressman with veteran and military casework, taught me well-intentioned policies often fail those they are meant to help because of red-tape, inefficient organizations, poor intergovernmental relations, etc. I began to realize that this was less an issue of the policies and more an issue of administration. This realization was underscored, bolded, italicized, and typed in ALL CAPS as I witnessed the disastrous effects poor administration can have on an entire country during the COVID-19 pandemic. My undergraduate studies primarily focused on public policy development and less about how to administer policy or how to avoid poor administration. Then, I graduated during the first stages of the pandemic, and suddenly, I had more questions but no longer a venue to ask them.


When deciding what I wanted to do next, I reflected that I enjoy learning about and working in policy development, but my work could be more impactful by insuring well thought out policies are equally well-implemented. *Cue the MPA program*


I recently completed my first year, and I am confident I already have a far better idea of how organizations can ensure efficient, effective, and equitable service delivery. I am excited to continue learning more next year, but in the meantime, I am gaining real world experience and applying what I learned during my Professional Work Experience (PWE). This summer I am working as a Research and Program Assistant for the Recycling and Materials Management Section at the NC Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Specifically, I am helping create materials and organize a stakeholder meeting to expand DEQ’s food waste reduction efforts. I am beyond excited to work within my field of interest –environmental policy–, learn from individuals with years of experience, and speak with people and institutions who have the capacity to help make a difference.

UNC MPA Student Elisabeth Butler utilizes DEI theory in her summer work with RACE for Equity

This post was written by UNC MPA current student Elisabeth Butler.
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My name is Elisabeth Butler, I am from Charlotte, NC, and I studied environmental science at UNC Chapel Hill for undergrad. In undergrad, I gravitated toward urban planning, and I was particularly interested in transportation and sustainability. However, after taking a couple of planning classes, I wasn’t quite sure if it was the right fit for me. Later on, I learned more about local government, and I decided that the more general Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree better suited my interests than a Master of Urban Planning.



I still decided to work for a year because I wanted to have some time and space to think before I jumped right into graduate school. During the gap year, I discovered that an MPA degree was critical to my entry into local government and overall very helpful to getting a job in the public sector, so I decided to apply for graduate school. I ended up selecting the MPA program at UNC Chapel Hill because I was already familiar with the quality of education provided by the university, and I was impressed by the network of alumni and connections the program had in North Carolina. I am also particularly interested in community engagement, and the program had a variety of courses that would allow me to further explore this particular area of interest.

For my Professional Work Experience (PWE), I am working for a consulting company called RACE for Equity, LLC. The company’s name, RACE for Equity, stands for Results Achieved through Community Engagement for Equity. I decided to conduct my PWE with RACE for Equity because I would like to work in community engagement in the near future. I was also intrigued by the company’s focus on using an equity lens to approach community engagement. I am still fairly new to the world of community engagement, given that my background is in environmental science, so RACE for Equity seemed like a great way to gain experience in my field of interest.



RACE for Equity is a fairly small and completely remote company, so I have been spending a fair amount of time in Zoom meetings and corresponding with my teammates via email. The company’s unique selling point is that it specializes in Results-Based Accountability (RBA), a framework based on data-driven practices. In my mind, RBA attempts to combine systems thinking and performance measurement into one framework. I see the value of RBA, but I have yet to be convinced that this loosely described framework should be considered a best practice in the consulting world.

In addition to the RBA framework, RACE for Equity uses the Groundwater Approach as a foundational theory of practice. The groundwater metaphor is designed to help people internalize and gain awareness of the racially structured society we currently live in. I found the groundwater metaphor as a very helpful and easy to understand metaphor in terms of how racially created structures leads to inequities and injustices along racial divides. I see how the systems thinking component of the RBA framework connects to the groundwater metaphor, but I sometimes wonder if the RBA model is sufficient. I wonder, how do you know if you are truly transforming the groundwater?

So far, I have enjoyed my work at RACE for Equity. I have been assigned to four projects to work on this summer. The first project involves collecting documentation, the second project is about storytelling for maternal health equity, the third project involves expanding upon past training materials, and the fourth project is researching different workspace platforms for the company. I have started working on the first and fourth project and will begin working on the second and third project in June. The RACE for Equity members have been very friendly and welcoming, but the one drawback is that I do not particularly enjoy the completely remote aspect of the job. Overall, I think RACE for Equity is doing good work, and I look forward to learning more about the company as I continue this PWE throughout the rest of this summer.

Current student Ben Lasley – Interning this summer with the Environmental Protection Agency

This post was written by current student Ben Lasley.
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Hi there!

For those of you who may not know me, my name is Ben Lasley and I just finished my first year of the MPA Program. I am from Summerfield, N.C., and I graduated from UNC in 2019, majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science. After graduation, I was a community organizer in Philadelphia and witnessed the strained relationship between neighborhoods, nonprofits, and governments. This struggle over food sovereignty and environmental justice prompted my return to UNC’s MPA program.

After a rigorous first year, I am excited to witness and implement classroom concepts, while also taking a breather from readings. And with that, it is now time for my professional work experience.



My job will be as a Policy Analysis and Communications Intern with the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Office of Air Quality and Planning Standards (OAQPS) in the Research Triangle Park. I found this opportunity on USA Jobs, and the MPA program advertised it as well! I’ve long envisioned working on environmental policy at the federal level, and this pathways internship opens the door to participating in the regulatory process. Here are a few pictures of the campus!



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I will be responsible for:

1) Program evaluation of teacher environmental education workshops
2) Communication and community outreach plans for proposed regulatory actions
3) Internal OAQPS newsletters highlighting intern experiences
4)Observing and briefing congressional hearings

My first week has been off to a great start. Upon arriving, my badge was already incorrect, but a new order would be delivered in two weeks. A photo of my desk can be seen below. Thus far I have spent my time learning the ins and the outs of the OAQPS division, as well as swimming through federal onboarding videos. My first project will be assisting community outreach on a proposed ethylene oxide rule.



And the rest of the week I have the opportunity to network across the EPA and explore the RTP campus (where I can have unlimited free coffee). Thanks for joining me, and I look forward to updating you more next week!

I’m Stepping Out of the Frey, but the Debate Rages On!

This post was written by current student Stephen Thompson.




Through this blog I’ve gotten to delve into the Raleigh housing market, tax-exempt status of churches, current legislation, and meet and interview many interesting and inspiring individuals. The throughline through all of those articles is the practice of public administration and civil service. I’m halfway through my MPA program and getting ready to undertake my Professional Work Experience practicum. Through the process of researching organizations with which to partner I’ve been blown away by the vast number of public service departments, councils, and organization that make this state function. Cynical readers might take issue with the efficiency and equity that this state runs (both valid points!), but the bottom line is that it does operate. If the machine works, we can make it better, but if it stops working—then we’ll have a problem on our hands! Thankfully, local and state government are “turning over” to use an automobile analogy.



The constitution has been referred to as a “living document” in that the rules of the game described in that document are still being followed today. The game of course, is the democratic republic that is our government. Not unlike a shared document in a cloud data system, the document is still being opened, viewed, and even edited today. With each election cycle another round of the game is added, and the board continues to evolve. However, there are few games (or governing documents) which allow for their rules to be re-written if enough of the players agree on the changes. As notoriously long as the game of monopoly is, if three of the four players decided to enact an income tax on all players that game would end pretty quickly. As trying a time as it was in 1909, we’re all still passing go, hoping to collect $200, and trying to stay out of jail.

The important thing is that when its “our turn” we still take part in the system. Midterm elections are this year and many states have already begun to hold primary elections to determine who is to be on the ballot. North Carolina’s primary is next week. I urge everyone to take the time to research candidates, cast votes, and take part in the “game.” Many people are concerned about how divisive politics are these days—and of course there is no excuse for when peaceful discourse gives way to violence, however the debate is what makes us Americans. The argument is what keep the blood pumping in the “living document” that is the constitution. Certainly, there are a lot of ideas floating around about how we should live, work, and thrive in our county. Not all of them are good, but all of them should be discussed, debated, and put to ultimate test; a vote.

Being an MPA student I feel a bit like Neo from the 1999 blockbuster film Matrix, as he begins to see the inner workings of the façade of everyday life. As I read articles, I find myself thinking about the competing values of public administration, contemplating how “wicked problems” are affecting local communities. Unlike Neo, my clairvoyance doesn’t show me that democracy is an illusion. The opposite in fact; seeing the inner workings of democratic dialogue convinces me even more that it is fact real. Moreover, the more we get involved, the “realer” it gets.

This week I hang up my bloggers hat (for now). I hope some readers have been inspired to think more deeply about our democracy and I hope some readers will continue to check back in with the MPA Matters blog, to see what topics are being discussed and questions posed at the School of Government. Most of all, I hope all readers (past and present) will take part in the “last great experiment for human happiness,” as George Washington once said. I don’t know if our Democratic Republic is the “last great experiment,” but it certainly is a great one.

The Durham City Council are rounding the bases, but will they make it home?

This post was written by current student, Stephen Thompson.

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“Take me out to the Ball Game” was written by composer Albert Von Tilzer and lyricist Jack Norworth in 1908. With its descriptive lyrics and recognizable melody, it perfectly encapsulates the essence of the baseball experience. You’re probably already humming the song under your breath right now. What could be more American than baseball, apple pie, and democracy? Well, these days it’s the marble cake that is public and private partnership.

The Durham Bulls are a Minor League Baseball team [AAA if that means anything to you], and poster children for their hometown. Although they are a private baseball club, thanks to the international success of the movie Bull Durham, this team is synonymous with Bull City and interwoven into the culture of the community. So interwoven in fact, that in 1995 the city of Durham built the team a brand-new stadium, helping to propel the team from up to its current classification of Triple-A. [Previously, it had been a Class-A Advanced team in the Carolina League, leading to my belief that there are far too many “A” designations in American Baseball. I digress.] So, the Durham Bulls are a privately owned baseball team whose home stadium, Durham Bulls Athletic Park (D-BAP) is owned by the city of Durham, NC. If that sounds odd to you, you probably aren’t familiar with American sports. Most of the nationally recognizable sports stadiums are owned by their respective local governments. While its not too hard to see the argument for this arrangement; the team represents the city, the city’s morale and cultural clout is tied to the team, the team needs somewhere to play, the city needs tax revenue to function—it gets more complicated in application. Here in lies the predicament in which the City of Durham finds itself.

The official organization of Major League Baseball dictates the specifications of an MLB stadium: size of the field, number of seats, etc. These stadium requirements must be met for any team to play in any of the MLB classified leagues. If the MLB changes their specifications of a qualifying field—as an independent organization is free to do, MLB teams must complete renovations to their stadiums in order to maintain their member status. But that would mean that the owners of the stadium would be over a barrel, obligated to pay for these renovations on behalf of the team. The owners being the taxpayers of the city. Now you’re seeing the marble in the cake.

You can read up on the specifics of the situation HERE but the 30,000 foot view is that the DBAP requires $10.2 million worth of renovations. The team is only able to chip in $1 million dollars, so Durham County taxpayers are on the hook for the other $9 million. If the stadium doesn’t get the upgrades, the Bulls either lose their MLB league position or have to move to another stadium (presumably in another city). Its complicated situation, with a fairly simple yes or now quest. Will they, or won’t they?

This trend of cities building stadiums to attract teams to play has present dating back to the early 20th century, but it really took off in the 90s. Ever since then, talking heads (and bloggers like me) have been debating the benefits and costs of cities building and maintaining these modern-day Colosseums. There are economic benefits and social draw backs, but as an MPA students I can’t help but wonder if this is what the constitutional framers had I mind when they hashed out the details of their new democracy. Citizens of a representative democracy free from the tyranny of the king, but still obliged to kowtow to private industry. Of course, I’m oversimplifying the situation, but the principal question for the city remains: Should taxpayers pick up the check for this private sports team?

At this point I image you’re thinking, “we that’s unfortunate, but what would the city of Durham do with DBAP if it didn’t have a baseball team to make it home?“ Funny you ask that; I was wondering the same thing. Turns out, the stadium is also home to two college baseball teams and hosts other events in the off season. So, it doesn’t have to be home to the Durham Bulls… Before the angry emails start to flood into my inbox, I’m not arguing that the city should balk on the renovations bill or that the Bulls franchise should move to another town [my wife would never forgive me], but I am wondering if the stadium should be owned by the city? This seem much more akin to a private venture, rather than a public service. Hats off to the city for getting the ball rolling, but now almost 30 years later, I question whether the city should be shelling out funds or issuing bonds to pay for renovations on a stadium to benefit a private organization.

Truth be told this is the type of messy situation which has given rise to the nonprofit boom we’re currently enjoying. Local governments are founding nonprofits to take these type of burdens off of the city financial books [and taxpayers]. By creating very specific nonprofits for downtown historic districts and similar ventures cities can support the cause, budget some monies toward the endeavors, but also seek outside funding. Of course, there’s more to it than just that, but local governments today are facing situations and realities never dreamed of by public administrators in 1908. The ever-shifting line between private and public sectors is getting finer and finer. Non-Governmental Agencies and Nonprofit Organizations are helping to fill that growing gray area that seems to find new questions every week. If you live in Durham, like I do, I encourage you to keep an eye on this situation. If you don’t live in Bull City, I still encourage you to keep abreast of what capital assets your local government owns. Those assets are maintained with your tax dollars. Some are good, some are bad, but you get a crack at all of them. That’s how it’s played in democracy and “in the old ballgame.”

What does Public Administration have to do with Ukraine?

This blog post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson.

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Everyone I know is glued to their phones, getting updates about the situation in Ukraine. Personally, I check the news when I wake up, a couple times throughout the day, and before I go to sleep at night. Anything more than that would be paralyzing for me, and anything less than that would be anxiety inducing. It’s a delicate balance. Unfortunately, this is a strategy I’ve developed over the last few years of national and international crises. To some extent, having a personal strategy response to world-changing tragedies is a rite of passage for millennials. The School of Government actually hosts a microsite for NC Emergency Management professionals HERE. These days, it’s not hard to see how government interacts with our daily lives and abstract concepts of liberties, freedoms, and bureaucracy are part of the national lexicon, while billions of people across the United States look to public administrators to hear updates on mask mandates, international conflict, and everything in between. For better or for worse, this is the age of Public Administrators.

            My article this week was going to be about Marriage Licenses; I’m getting married in a couple of weeks, but in light of current world affairs it felt trite, and frankly insensitive to ignore Russia’s attack on Ukraine to discuss the idiosyncrasies of Record of Deeds offices in different counties, and whether the issuance of marriage licenses was an intrusion into citizen’s lives or a reasonable regulation of federal tax policy. Strangely it doesn’t seem relevant. Americans have the most access to news—local, national, and international today than at any point in history. News is so ubiquitous that an entire subgenre of comedy has been dedicated to lampooning it [The Daily Show, Samantha B, Last Week Tonight, the list goes on…]. And while yes, the news has always been a source of material for comedians through impressions of politicians and hot takes of current events, this subgenre seems to subvert the punchline and just give updates on global events in a humorous, or even just palatable way. Some studies actually suggest that more and more young adults [that’s not us anymore, millennials] are becoming informed of news events through satire news programming. Honestly, I’m not sure I’m concerned about that.

Society, at least American society, has so well-defined civic service that there are several archetypes of just public servants in our collective consciousness. Whether it’s the sleazy politician, or the “make a difference in my community” council members or even the DMV Sloth from Zootopia (psss, that’s a public administrator), most of us can think of what a few different types of public servants look like. I think it’s good that these roles are so visible they’ve become fodder for humor. Likewise, I think it’s good that there are so many streams of information available—one of which has become a self-referential parody of itself, which now, in it of itself provides the news to millions of Americans. And now at this moment, during the largest land war in Europe since World War II, it seems more relevant than ever that they are so present in our society. I don’t mean to imply we’ve achieved the epitome of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, or even that we’ve figured out the best method to evaluate government programs [psss it’s not Randomized Control Trials on consumers of public services]. We’ve got a long way to go, but what I do mean to say is this:

Our government is only as good as we make it. The more we put into it through electoral participation, political discourse, and even career administrating, the more we get out of it. It’s inspiring to me that we as a nation are so plugged into current events far and near that we’re developing new ways to digest that information, and that we have so many visible examples of public servants [some more flattering than others] in our entertainment sphere. This doesn’t illustrate the difference between Russian and American politics, or even begin to unpack the damage done to public institutions by western European oligarchs [or American ones for that matter], but during times like this, it’s hard not to appreciate the progress we’ve made. Today the world stands with Ukraine, and American Public Administrators are the ones that deliver that message of support. –And that is why I was drawn to public administration, to help do the things we all know need to be done.

To Be or not to Be; But make up Your mind.

This post was written by current #uncmpa student Stephen Thompson.

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Currently, there is a bill in the Florida state senate which has been called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Alternatively, it has been called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Officially, it is unnamed: you can read it here. This bill features a few different friction spots which folks are arguing over, however the big point of continuation lies between lines 75 and 78 which read, “A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students,” [This is where they’re getting the “don’t say gay” tagline]. As an MPA student, this bill caught my attention not entirely for the topic, but rather the text, [sub and metatext!]

There’s a lot of strong feelings on either side of this bill—you can find blogs, news articles, and “talking heads” from here to Tallahassee using ethos, pathos, logos, and any other rhetorical tool Aristotle could philosophize, to argue yay or nay, but this bill cuts to the core of public administration in a fundamental way. Yes, because it regulates the conduct of government employees [local government!], and yes because it resonates with free-speech-ers, but also because it calls for a public discussion of the competing values of public administration. These four values which pull in opposite directions on a X-Y Axis form the four quadrants of public issues: Liberty, Community, Prosperity, and Equality.

Breaking this down we can see how this question of “what can and what can’t teachers tell children?” lands in all four areas. Liberty; Everyone should be able to say whatever they want, using their own personal discretion as to what is and isn’t appropriate for the situation. Community; but maybe what doesn’t offend me, is downright vulgar to you, so maybe let’s agree on some basic standards. Prosperity; in order for children to succeed they need the best education for them, which may include parents and guardians teaching some topics in more intimate environments. Equality; on the other hand, maybe we should lay some basic groundwork down to ensure everyone knows at least the bare minimum on commonly discussed topics. [Wow, that was a head jerker].

Returning to the document in question [of which there are many questions], we can certainly see how some folks may feel the topic of gender and sexuality are mature concepts, better left to be discussed when a child is older. Conversely, some folks feel that gender is so closely intwined with identity that it should be discussed when children are first forming their own identities and imitating role models in their lives. All of that is well and good, but there’s another piece to this debate that seems to underlie the heated discussion. “…may not encourage classroom discussion… in primary grade levels, or in a manner that is not “age-appropriate…” For me this digs deeper to another fundamental concept of public administration: policy making vs. policy administrating.


Dusting off the age-old argument of “letter of the law” vs. “spirit of the law,” the more consequential question is, “who is interpreting the law?” Public administrators have an awful lot of discretionary power when interpreting policy. One person may interpret “encouraging discussion” as answering a student’s question—one as innocuous as “What does the rainbow flag on bumper stickers mean?” This may lead lawsuit-weary school officials to enact classroom policies which prevent teachers from using terms which acknowledge the concept of homosexuality [don’t say “gay!”]. Other school officials may decide that teachers are permitted to discuss “queer” or “non-binary” identities with students in 5th grade (considered a primary grade in Florida), even though this may differ from some parent’s interpretations of “age-appropriate.” Many times, policy makers enact laws which are vaguely worded specifically because they allow room for multiple interpretations [shoutout to PUBA 710: Institutions and Values], however the stakes become cataclysmically high when violating these laws could result in personal repercussions for individual government employees. Many administrators will opt for an overly restrictive interpretation, rather than expose their staff and organization to lawsuit, every time.

So, here in lies the question: If laws are vaguely worded to allow individual communities the flexibility to determine their own values regarding the finer points of the human experience, should those laws dictate the punishment for violating those statures? Building in civil redress certainly raising the stakes to the point that many profession poker plays would recommend folding; adding the topic to the list of banned discourse and moving on with the lesson plan. –And that is where lawmakers do their constituents a disservice. Allow administrators to set the parameters of policy and define the consequences, or explicitly layout out the penalties associated with a clearly defined policy. One without the other is the illusion of choice with a supersized side of subtext.

I personally hope this bill is voted down, regardless of politics, because it sets a poor precedent for future bills which erode the values of local government and community democracy. Public administrators have a hard row to hoe, whether they’re in the “sunshine state” or the “show me state,” but it’s these dedicated public servants which shape the daily lives and values of our communities. Shakespeare famously wrote, “To be or not to be.” Law makers should take a page out of his book [Hamlet, to be exact], because concise clear language tells the reader exactly where they stand and knowing where you stand makes it a whole lot easier to see where you’re going.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

This post was written by current MPA student, Stephen Thompson.

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On January 6th, 2021 a group of protesters gathered around the US Capital Building and attempted to gain access to the building to disrupt the American democratic process. That was a significant day in American History. The recent anniversary of this pivotal date has me thinking about the current state of the American society. I’ll stop myself short of a soap box rant (I promise), but I think this incident brings some larger issues to light that are happening in our contemporary society which are about, or at least affected by government, both federal and local. There are some extreme views about this event, what it says, what it means, and what it was, which I want to steer clear of, given the divisiveness of online blogs. So, lets just look at some implications that this event might indicate about how citizens interact with their government.    

I grew up in Northern Virginia, about 40 miles from Washington, DC. I went to the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums, and other federal buildings on numerous field trips starting in middle school. My father worked in the Pentagon, which I visited many times growing up, and whenever relatives came to visit it seemed like we all had to pile into my family’s minivan to give an impromptu tour of the nation’s capital (cue impression of bus megaphone: On your left is the Lincoln Memorial!). As a child I complained to my mom, “Why do we have to do this every time someone comes to visit us?” My mom would patiently explain to me, “Not everyone is lucky enough to live so close to the Capital. Some people only get to see these places once in their life.” I would think to myself, “I wish I was one of those people…” As I got older, I understood what she meant, and I was able to take advantage of my proximity to DC. I learned that Washington, DC is a real place, and the people who work for the federal government are real people.  

As my mom keenly pointed out, many American citizens only get to visit DC one time in their life, let along visit enough to have a season pass at the museums or learn the incredibly confusion naming devises used in the spoke-wheel layout of the streets (designed to confuse invading armies and 18-year-old going to concerts at the 9:30 club). It saddens me that for many of the protesters who attended the January 6th protest and subsequent insurrection event, this might have been their one visit to the Capital.  For some, they may only have been familiar with the layout of the city from playing the post-apocalyptic, first-person shooter game, Fallout 3. Perhaps, to some they felt like they were playing a game, because the government is such a distant concept to a lot of Americans. To many Americans, government is an ephemeral group of people who make decisions that both heavily impact and hardly reflect the everyday lives of ordinary people.  

Even as an MPA student I can admit, sometime the notions of legislation, congressional approval, executive orders, and federal oversight are too big and cumulous-like to grasp. I am glad I have my pervious experiences to fall back on, during the seemingly never-ending political debates around economic stimulus plans, infrastructure investment proposals, regulatory oversight discussions, and pandemic management ideas. For someone who hasn’t ever been to Washington, DC, who hasn’t ever met a federal worker; doesn’t know anyone who works for Congress, I could certainly understand how they might disassociate the federal government from “reality.” With all the political divisions over the last several years, the chaos of the pandemic, and the incendiary rhetoric of message board radicals, it isn’t hard to see how someone could feel very angry, scared, and helpless against the government.  

“Against the government.” That’s how those persons felt on that Wednesday. They were so disassociated with the democratic process, they felt like the government was against the people; not for, by, and of the people. Please don’t misinterpret my sympathy for disenfranchised people with agreement or justification of their actions. What happened at the Capital on January 6th, 2021 was not democracy, was not civilized discourse, and was not acceptable, however, I think it was symptomatic of a greater problem in American society. –And addressing problems in our society is one of the jobs of the American Government. Now, I don’t mean to say that those involved in the Assault on the Capital shouldn’t be punished, and justice shouldn’t be delivered for an egregious affront to American Democracy, but once the sentences are passed out, there is more work to be done. We, all Americans have more work to do. We need to both embrace the imperfect system of Democracy and to improve that system. We need to remind ourselves that government is made up of us. It is not an “Us vs. Them” thing. It’s a “we for us” thing, and that starts by talking to our neighbors, co-workers, and community members. Volunteering at polling sights on election days, speaking our minds and listening to one another. Democracy is messy and consensus is hard to achieve, but the alternative is what we saw on that infamous Wednesday in 2021. The alternative isn’t an option.  

In reflection, I don’t think we’re “too far gone,” and I don’t think those domestic terrorists represent any significant portion of the US population, but I do think they are a wake-up call. We can’t turn away, isolate, and ignore the divisions between us any longer. It is time to talk, listen, and learn from one another. So, to paraphrase Mr. Rogers, “Won’t you be my neighbor [and make our national a better neighborhood].”     

New Year, new you?

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson.

———————————————————————————————–After the excitement of the holidays has begun to dissipate, and the novelty of seeing my extended family has all but worn off, my attention is beginning to turn to the upcoming Spring Semester. If you’re in a similar situation, you know the exhaustion of doing all the things you never have time for, mixed with fatigue from baking, social engagements, cooking, pre-holiday shopping, family time, post-holiday sales, and more social engagements with the family. Now, we find ourselves ramping up for the new year [When does the vacationing start on Winter Vacation?]. The MPA program’s focus on Leadership and self-development has me thinking about the tradition of resolutions. If you’re feeling intimidated about coming up with a resolution for 2022 [“2020, Two” I’ve heard it called], I wanted to pass on some sage wisdom I’ve learned regarding self-improvement plans. Here are three tips for setting goals/resolutions for the new year.

1. You don’t have to

Many people feel pressured to pursue “progress,” in the new year. There can be existential pressure to “be a better you,” or change your life or habits when the calendar strikes one each January. For some folks this is an energizing feeling, which motivates them to start reading for pleasure again or dust off that exercise machine, but for others this feeling can be anxiety or depression inducing. If you are in the latter camp, it is perfectly OK to abstain from reform. If you like your life, as is—that’s a gift all by itself! Or perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed by work or school [For example, my research project is due at the end of this semester], and all you can do is just keep on keeping on, that’s ok, too. Resolutions are for you, and for you alone, so if you won’t enjoy the challenge, you’re allowed to say “no, thank you” to New Year’s resolutions.

2. You don’t need to submit your resolution for approval

Often times people feel their resolutions need to be big enough to qualify as a New Year’s Resolution. There can be pressure to make a big change like losing a lot of weight or kicking a stubborn habit [any nail biters out there?], but resolutions are not a go big or don’t bother getting off the couch kind of thing. They’re about motivating you to make a change that will improve your life. That change can be as small as walking for 10 minutes on your lunch break or giving up one of your Saturdays to do an activity you’ve been putting off for a while. If you’re one of those people that worries your resolution is “too small” or “doesn’t count” let me, be the first to assure you there is not a self-improvement primary election in which you need to qualify in order to get on the ballet for betterment. It’s a democracy of one, and your vote is the only one that matters.

3. Resolutions are non-binary

Somethings are yes or no, to be or not to be like McDonald’s breakfast [10:30 sharp BTW] or binary code however most things, including New Year’s Resolutions are not. I often hear friends say “oh, I’ll never be able to do it, so why try?” or “I slipped up on Wednesday, so I guess I failed.” Resolutions are not check boxes on a form. It is not either do or do not [Sorry Yoda], trying still counts! The process of setting a New Year’s Resolution is all about the resolve. If you want to quit drinking soda with your lunch, but you’ve had a really stressful day and you could use a pick-me-up, its ok that you “cheated” today. Resolve doesn’t mean, “Opps—now I failed. It means “Opps—I slipped, but I’m getting back on the path.” In case you haven’t heard it enough: We’re in the middle of a pandemic, cut yourself some slack! The only real failed resolutions are the ones which you abandon. Additionally, its ok to take a break on your resolution if your schedule won’t accommodate five gym visits this week, or if you’re going over to a friend’s house and you know they are serving pizza for dinner—as long as you come back to the plan. Just make sure you and hit the play button again, after your pause your resolution, and it most certainly still counts!

As we head into a new year its important to take stock of ourselves and our lives. It is important to evaluate what’s working and what needs a little work, but what’s working needs just as much attention as what’s not. New Years Resolutions are a great tool to help you build the life you want to have, but it’s important to pick the best tool for the job, and you certainly need to calibrate the tool to the task. So, whether you opt into new year’s resolutions or opt out this time around; Happy Winter Break and have a happy New Year!

Christmas in July? Or July in December?

This post was written by current student Stephen Thompson.
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While hanging up Christmas lights this week, I had a thought. I was dressed in flip flops and a t-shirt, which made it easier to navigate the small forest of potted plants which dominate my fiancée and I’s first-floor apartment patio. One of our retired neighbors stopped by to talk with us while we strung lights in the outline of our storage closet door frame. My neighbor, Tom, talked about fishing, holiday travel plans, and the weather—really, he talked about the weather’s effects on the first two. “Climate change is real,” he concluded. That’s a statement I’ve heard frequently over the last couple of years. My thought: what responsibility do public servants have to be caretakers of citizens verses faithful bidders of the people’s will?

My neighbor Tom is an intelligent, wise, 81-year-old man. Like many people in this county, he’s a skeptical, seeing is believing kind of person. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. After a couple of trips around the block myself, I tend toward the “show me the money” side of the spectrum. The trouble with the type of proof which is in the pudding, however, is that you need to eat the pudding to see the truth. This brings me to a crucial question about representative democracy (the flavor of democracy the United States features). Is my representative’s responsibility to vote on legislation in congress as I would vote or as I should vote? Of course, the ideal manifestation of representative democracy is that those two are the same, however people and societies are far more complex than School House Rock ever led us to believe (“I’m just a bill [which could have dramatic effects on the lively hoods, personal safety, and liberties of millions of people across this county] on Capitol Hill).

One interpretation of our governing system might suggest that our representatives’ job is to be more educated and steeped in policy implications than the average American has time to be. We voted them into to office, to make decisions on our behalf, because we don’t have the time or resources to educate ourselves about those decisions. This is certainly the approach we take regarding the executive branch. The president and west wing staff make hundreds of decisions a day in our steads. We elect the president and grant them our nation’s proxy vote. On the other hand, isn’t congress supposed to check the executive branch’s power? Shouldn’t congress be the will of the people, in light of the assumption that the president is the “spirit” of the people? Many state and federal legislators take that view. It is the job of the politician to vote as each of their constituents would on any given issue. Some politicians, though, take this charge to mean they should educate their constituency. That is, their voters would choose this option, if they were privy to the information those representatives are.

Bringing this back to my conversation with Tom, I wonder if the public servants of the 80s, 90s, 2000s, and 2010s let us, the people, down with their collective resistance to ecological policy over the decades. Ruling out super-packs, corporate donors, and other controversial applications of our representative democracy, if we assume that federal and state legislators have acted purely as we citizens have directed them, is that how it should work?

As I’m starting my second year of the MPA program, these are the types of questions I’m pondering, and exploring. How does one equably apply democracy? We know the letters of the laws which govern representation, but what is the spirit of those laws? My fiancée and I finished up our conversation with Tom and plugged in our lights. It is unseasonably warm for December, but the lights bring a festive spirit to the patio. There are some big questions with which public servants have to wrestle, but for now, let’s look forward to a brighter new year.