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.



Current student Delaney King discusses the projects she has underway at the NC Department of Environmental Quality

This post was written by current student Delaney King. 

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When the spring semester began, I started applying for a wide array of Professional Work Experience opportunities, including several suggested by the UNC MPA program. The program has a relationship with the Recycling and Materials Management Section (RMMS) at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and helped me apply for a position directly with the section. Although I did not know specifically what RMMS does, I was interested in working on environmental projects for DEQ. I tried to learn as much as I could about RMMS before my interview, but in the end, the most valuable resource was the staff themselves. I asked several questions about the job and work environment to the point where I felt like I was the one interviewing staff. Luckily, they were incredibly open, patient, and kind. In fact, a UNC MPA alumna who graduated two years before helped interview me and explained how I could use my MPA coursework in the position and offered me advice about my final year in the program. A few weeks later, I found out that I received a summer internship along with one of my classmates, Elise Traywick.

During the interview I learned I would help RMMS establish a food waste reduction program, and hearing that, I knew I would love this internship! Growing up in California, these topics were always a part of my life. My family started composting before I was born, and I was fortunate to go through a school system with access to a garden program and ecoliteracy classes. I immediately knew the internship was an amazing opportunity to create something from scratch and have a long-term impact on an issue I’m already interested in!

The primary focus of my internship is to assist the new and wonderful Organics Recycling Specialist create resources for DEQ’s Use the Food NC initiative including informational documents, a social media toolkit, and website. We are also planning a stakeholder meeting for the fall to launch the campaign and receive feedback from passionate stakeholders about how DEQ can best help them reduce food waste. Simultaneously, I am visiting recycling sites across the state with staff to learn more about the field and maintain relationships with businesses, local governments, and non-profit organizations. If that isn’t enough, I am also providing additional support to staff on a variety of projects, like the Recycling Markets Directory, and taking over projects like the annual recycling program survey for colleges and universities. I love to stay busy!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.