UNC MPA Student Jennifer Taylor-Moneagudo Mora returns home to Virginia for a PWE with the Mayor’s office in the City of Richmond.

This post was written by current UNC MPA student Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora.

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Hello All!

My name is Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora. I am from Prince George, Virginia and graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009 with a Bachelors degree in Political Science with a concentration in Government and Public Affairs. Upon graduation I held many jobs due to the economic situation the country was in during that time.

UNC MPA student Jennifer Taylor-Monteagudo Mora



I ultimately found myself teaching in Houston, Texas where my passion to help communities on a local level flourished. In this position I taught elementary reading, writing, and social studies. After one year teaching it was brought to my attention that there was a high level of English language learners in our school that were not properly serviced because many teachers were unable to pass the certification exam for this specialty. I studied over the summer and passed that exam. This proved to be a turning point and where my educational expertise began to focus on immigrant communities and providing quality education to truly diverse communities while respecting and embracing cultural differences.

In this role I was able to represent my school district for large conferences on English Language Acquisition and began my path to educating educators on how to bridge the gaps for students that speak other languages. Fast forward five years and I returned to my home state of Virginia. In Virginia while still teaching I began to work with the English as a Second Language (ESL) department to reach out to parents and inform them on the United States educational system. This is where I began to flourish. I reignited my love for community outreach, combined with my love of education and learning. While my love to work with children and their families still exists, my passion for the community on a more wholistic level was not being completely fulfilled.

I decided to finally apply go back to school to obtain my masters degree. I knew I did not want to get a degree in education. I did not want to limit my community impact to a school or school district, I wanted to improve the community for everyone. I began my MPA at Chapel Hill in Fall 2020. This program was perfect for me, it allowed me to continue to work fulltime and still pursue my educational ambitions. The program has proven to be very interactive even on the virtual platform with amazing classmates and professors that keep that sense of a close community even when people are on different coasts.

I have been afforded this wonderful opportunity to participate in the City of Richmond Mayor’s Fellows Internship as my Professional Work Experience component of the MPA program. In this internship I am working with the City Treasurer on multiple tasks and a project. I am excited about this Professional Work Experience (PWE) as it is a great opportunity to learn new skills and build on the foundation that I have already developed in my career. My mentor is highly energetic and passionate about serving her constituents. I look forward to all of the knowledge she is able to give through this experience. The merging of working with elected officials, the public, and public servants is a perfect mixture of the reality of working in local government and I am excited to embrace the experience.

Student Ben Lasley reflects on equality, justice, and commradery through his experiences this summer

This post was written by current student Ben Lasley.


Hi Everyone!

This week marks my 7th week at EPA, and the official mid-point of our PWE. In the past seven weeks, I have worked on upcoming proposals for the oil and gas industry, convened with leaders on wood stove testing methods, and assisted in communication and outreach plans for Ethylene Oxide. In addition to regulatory action, I am conducting a program evaluation for OAQPS’ air quality teacher workshop. These projects and other responsibilities have taught me the incredibly important work our public agencies commit to, to protect human health and the environment.

These PWE responsibilities, as well as informational interviews across the agency, have highlighted different possibilities in being focused in one topic area, or assist in interagency coordination. I have appreciated the ability to witness different aspects and assist in various projects covering air quality.

In addition to working at the EPA, it has been inspiring to witness the agency’s dedication to Pride Month awareness and action. The pride flag was raised for the first time at the agency’s headquarters in D.C, and I’ve been able to attend multiple LGBTQIA+ history and health meetings that have highlighted the intersectional fight for justice in our country. Our administrator, Michael Regan, has been emphatic in the agency’s support and advocacy for their employees and all LGBTQIA+ Americans. Yesterday, I was able to sit in an agency-wide meeting with a white house LGBTQIA+ liaison and learn about their efforts to protect LGBTQIA+ rights, especially in the wake of the Dobbs opinion.

https://images.app.goo.gl/mGaVTsSAd71cnVGU8

EPA Headquarters in D.C. | Photo by Francis Chung/E&E News

One of the greatest parts of the MPA program has been finding comradery in fellow classmates. This past weekend Valerie Sauer, Danielle Badaki, and I visited Andrea Parra-DeLeon in D.C, where she is a pathways intern with the Department of Transportation. It was wonderful to catch up with friends and explore our nation’s capital.


We also saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, and the Emancipation Proclamation. It was awe inspiring to bear witness to these historical documents. While we have come a long way over the last two hundred and forty-six years, we still have tremendous work to be done for justice and equity for all people in this country. Those documents and our current state of affairs reminds us that it is ever more pertinent to commit to public service and collectively face our nation’s challenges, to ensure and enshrine our rights to privacy and other enumerated rights.



Elisabeth Butler continues learning about community engagement and equity at her summer Professional Work Experience

Current UNC MPA student Elisabeth Butler writes about her summer work experience with Race for Equity. You can read her first blog post here.

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While conducting my Professional Work Experience (PWE) at RACE for Equity, I was recently introduced to a tool developed by RACE for Equity called the Community Engagement Continuum (CEC). The CEC outlines a process for engaging community members in an equitable manner. The CEC focuses on engagement from a racially aware vantage point, and it incorporates aspects of Results-Based Accountability (RBA) and the Groundwater Approach into its methodology. My task in relation to the CEC is to take the lengthy 44-page document explaining the CEC and boil it down to two pages. The two pages will serve as a more easily understandable and accessible handout for clients or partners who are interested in learning about the CEC.

I find the CEC interesting because I feel that it is trying to shed light on a question a lot of organizations are currently grappling with. How do you engage community members in an equitable manner? For decades, experts and those with resources and power have dictated the course and flow of development, but now there are many who have decided including those who are impacted but such decisions have knowledge and perspectives that should be included in the decision-making process. This idea of giving community members a voice seems easy in theory, but it has proved to be challenging to put into practice. One of my supervisors even noted that most clients who are interested in the CEC are only in the initial stages of the process, few organizations actually are or have made it to the later stages. Even though community engagement is easier in theory than practice, I look forward to seeing how organizations overcome current challenges in creating sustainable and equitable community engagement processes.

In addition to discussing the CEC, I also wanted to bring up my experience of working for a completely remote company. Before I accepted the PWE position with RACE for Equity, I thought a completely remote job was ideal. A remote job would allow you to work from any location and is more flexible in work hours in comparison to a typical 9-to-5 job. This is not a critique of RACE for Equity, but, instead, my own realization that in the future I would prefer an in-person or hybrid job. I enjoy the flexibility offered by RACE for Equity in terms of work hours and location, but I feel a completely remote experience hinders some of the comradery and bonding that occurs in in-person jobs. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy working from the comforts of my home, but it would be nice to see my coworkers in-person now and then. It would be nice to know you at least have the opportunity to stop by your coworker’s office or cubicle to socialize or bug then about an email you had sent earlier in the week. As I search for a job in the future, I will keep this realization of mine in mind.

Overall, I have enjoyed my experience with RACE for Equity so far. RACE for Equity has been very mindful about giving me enough work to meet the MPA hour requirement, and I have been introduced to new concepts that I have found interesting. This PWE experience has zoomed by, but I look forward to finishing up my PWE over the next couple of weeks and taking what I have learned from this experience to future jobs.

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!

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.

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.

Tiny Homes for Raleigh, Giant Leap for Local Government

This post was written by current MPA student Stephen Thompson


Tiny homes coming to Raleigh, NC

If you’re like me, you have only a cursory understanding of “tiny houses,” –the somewhat recent trend in single family dwelling construction which features structures of about 600 square footage or less. This movement has been sweeping the first world by storm for the past decade and it’s hard to have not encountered the term at least once via conversation, real estate focused television programs, or obnoxious magazine covers in the supermarket. I’ve primarily seen it discussed on TLC-style reality TV shows which focus on younger couples looking to downsize their consumer-centric lifestyles and “get back the basics.” Noble as that motivation is, it has always felt very bourgeoisie to me. Just the notion of, [read in a posh Northeastern accent] “I’ve had so much access to stuff in my life that I’m just tired of buying things, so I’ve chosen to purposefully not buy as many things, because that will make me a better person.” In spite of my cultural objections, the city of Raleigh did something recently which made me see tiny houses in a different light.

This week the city council of Raleigh, NC unanimously approved the use of “tiny homes” within city limits, a building regulation not often approved by cities. As an MPA student, this piqued my interest. The city council is promoting tiny houses as an affordable option in the midst of the triangle-area housing crisis, which has many first-time home buyers priced out, and those who can afford the inflated prices having to put in offers on homes sight-unseen, due to sky rocketing demand. Even before the pandemic the tri-city area was listed as one of the most expensive markets in the county. Since the Covid scourge, it’s not uncommon to hear about houses selling before they even get to their first open house event. Reporting on the council’s decision, WRAL noted that a new construction tiny house with 300 square feet in the Raleigh area can sell for as little as $65,000—water and electric hook ups included. With this new zoning regulation going into effect in 90 days, this one council vote is poised to have a big impact on the economics of local homeownership. I have to say, this application of a modern trend sounds like something that can really make a difference in this area.

Land and home ownership is often the first way families can acquire and build generational wealth in this county and with so many young families being priced out by the pandemic-boom, this is beginning to become a serious threat to millennials and Gen Z’ers wealth acquisition. In regard to the long levity of a city or community, drops in homeownership—frequently the most valuable asset upon which residents pay property taxes, means less money for municipal budgets and public services. Meanwhile, less generational wealth results in more folks using the aforementioned underfunded public services. To subvert a common expression, a falling tide strands all ships. The city council are wise to take note of this problem down the road and take “tiny” steps [excuse the pun] to fix it early.

Public servants in the 21st century are faced with new and unique problems markedly different from those of previous generations. To address these new situations, we have to use new tools. I applaud the Raleigh city council’s out-of-the-box approach to this public issue, and I look forward to seeing if this lets a little air out of the ballooning housing market bubble. I’m going to be in the market for a house in a few years and who knows, maybe a tiny house could make a perfect starter tiny home.