Week two has been filled with research. Lots of research. In my first day on the job, I was handed a large binder containing the Town Code of Ordinances. I spent a couple of days reading through the binder familiarizing myself with the Town’s laws. The Town Code is available online, but I liked having the binder. It felt very official. Starting off with this assignment turned out to be really constructive given my lack of experience in local government and limited knowledge of the laws in my Town. After all, it would be difficult to work effectively without knowing the Town rules, right?
One of the benefits of completing my PWE here in the town manager’s office is the opportunity to work on projects like the one I completed this week. After taking the time to read the Canton Code of Ordinances, I began conducting research on sections that town officials expressed an interest in updating. My report this week related to the Town Sign Ordinance. I reviewed the current Sign Ordinance and researched ordinances in comparable municipalities then provided some recommendations in a report to the town manager. Throughout this process, I spent a lot of time searching Municode, reviewing Supreme Court cases, and reading through state statutes. Next week the Locating Legal Resources Activity is due in my Law class, and after all this research in my PWE, I am much better prepared to tackle that assignment! My experience this week also confirmed just how relevant that Law class is to a public service career. Next week I will be working on a really fun project that I am excited to share with you! Stay tuned!
On Monday, I began my PWE in the office of the town manager in Canton, North Carolina. Canton is located in Haywood County just twenty miles outside of Asheville. Surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains. Canton attracts adventure seekers who enjoy hiking the surrounding trails that include popular landmarks like Cold Mountain, floating down the Pigeon River that runs through town, or visiting downtown businesses that feature delicious southern food and locally made goods. In the center of town sits a large papermill that manufactures Starbucks coffee cups, juice cartons, and other paper products. Due to the central location and large size of the mill, the locals affectionately refer to Canton as “Papertown.”
Well, it has been a couple of weeks since I finished up my internship with the City of Salisbury, and I can honestly say I still miss this amazing experience (we can pretend that I saved the last post until some time had passed, and not that I left you all hanging because I was enjoying the beach). If you ever get a chance to visit or work in Salisbury, NC, I highly recommend it (like 5 stars on Yelp to those of you who still use Yelp).
And to all those thinking about a career in local government, RUN! Haha, just kidding. Honestly, I would certainly suggest an internship where you can see multiple departments, especially if you aren’t quite sure where you want to start your career like me. Although, I still refuse to admit to a favorite department in Salisbury, no matter how many times they ask – YOU WERE ALL MY FAVORITE!!!!
I sign off ready to finish my last year of the MPA program at UNC and start my hard core, nerdy, local government career. Hope I see some of y’all out there!!!
This is my last post for the summer, and it is very bittersweet for me. I have loved working for the City of Durham, and my last day of work this Friday will be an emotional one. I have had the best supervisors (seen below), worked on projects of great interest to me, and have been able to network with more passionate local government employees than I can count.
As a final project, I have two presentations I will be sharing with the Director and Assistant Director of the Budget & Management Services Department. First, I will give a brief explanation of what I have done this summer. And second, I will give an in-depth presentation about the local sales tax research project I was tasked with. After combing through data from 2008-2019 and running a variety of Pivot Tables, I feel ready to present my findings.
We have several local sales tax revenues that come into the City of Durham, which have been designated to us by the state. Articles 39, 40, 42, and 44 give explanations about where the money is coming from, and where it is allocated. One of my charts, explaining how revenues have changed over time, can be seen below. If you want to see more of my charts and tables, feel free to reach out to me.
When I first started my professional work experience, I was desperate for any recommendations people would have for me. So check out my tips for starting a new job or internship!
Watch as much stand-up comedy the night before to get you relaxed before the stressful first day
Find ways to connect with people in and out of your department, especially other interns
Volunteer to work on every project that interests you because no matter what it will be a learning opportunity
Write down all of your best memories, and ALSO everyone’s book/podcast recommendations, as they are usually related to the field
If you’re working for a city or county, find ways to learn the ins and outs of each department so you can apply each lesson to your career after graduation
The rest of my week will be filled with tough goodbyes and several final lunches. But in two weeks I’ll have to get back to school and I am (shockingly) excited about it. I cannot wait to apply what I learned in the field to the classroom. Now I’m one step closer to making change on a local level. Let’s do this thing.
What a summer it has been! This will (unfortunately) be my last blog post of the summer. But rest assured, my work with Chatham County is not done!
Over the last few weeks, I spent a lot of time deciphering and coding the information that I received from interviews. And let me tell you…I had quite the spread! After I coded them, checked them, re-coded, and re-coded, and re-coded…I finally had a clearer picture of what Chatham residents view as challenges to a more connected community and what they think we (the Chatham public administrators) could do to tackle those challenges. It was really interesting to see the similarities and differences of responses to my two standard interviews questions. After coding the responses, I wrapped it all up in the best public administrator package that I had — you guessed it, A MEMO!
My beautiful memo outlined the findings of my interviews and research thus far. The top three challenges that Chatham residents mentioned fell into three broad categories – equity, division, and infrastructure. These broad categories were then broken up into corresponding subcategories such as race, geography, and broadband. (side note: Did you know that some Chatham residents do not have access to internet because the internet companies never placed fiber in their areas? Talk about a market failure…). And some of the suggestions I got were around building stronger community relationships and the opportunity to share stories across town lines. In addition, my memo outlined possible paths that the County Manager’s Office could take in working towards unifying Chatham County.
And then…I got to present to the County Manager…So on Wednesday of last week, I got to present my findings and ideas to Dan. Dan was super receptive and supportive. He provided me with some good feedback on what the County Commissioners would likely want to know. I left that meeting knowing that I had the support of the County Manager! So, in September I will be presenting my findings and recommendations to the County Commissioners at the Board of Commissioner’s meeting.
As I move forward, I will continue to map out how we can implement some community building events in Chatham County. Hopefully, in the next fiscal year a position can be funded to carry out this work!
It has been a pleasure sharing my experience with you all! I hope to continue doing this kind of work in the future so be on the look out for me! In the famous words of Tigger, “Ta ta for now!”
My supervisors have been incredibly supportive of me getting a well-rounded local government experience. One of their goals as part of my time in Durham, was for me to have several ride-a-long opportunities. As the summer has gone on, I have been able to meet with Inspections, Public Affairs, Solid Waste, Police, and more.
For my Inspections ride-a-long, I was with a member of the building inspections team. They generally look at the framework for incoming businesses and new homes. This division recently started using GIS to map out their route each morning to determine where they needed to go. Previously, they would have to create their own map, which added about an hour every day. By creating this system, it has increased productivity and allowed for more inspections per day to be accomplished.
On this ride I learned more about the City of Durham, and all of the moving parts that go into accomplishing a project. For example, for a house turning into an Airbnb that is changing its basic structure, at each stage of the changes, all divisions of Inspections must go to the site to approve their work. This can create “red tape” but ensures that all structures are as safe as possible.
One of the jobs of the Public Affairs Department within the City Manager’s Office is to run the live-streams of the City Council meetings. Although at first it might seem simple, once you get a behind-the-scenes preview, you can better understand the complications. There are six different cameras, on at all times, and two people need to be in the back room monitoring them the whole time. Additionally, someone not on-site works on the closed captions the entire time. There is usually a delay in speech, and that is because they are on a call listening to the meeting. City Council nights can be exhausting for those who stay to create the televised session, but it adds to transparency.
This was an INCREDIBLE experience. I really got a better understanding of the City of Durham by spending four hours on a garbage truck. I was on one of the “exempt” trucks, which means that the truck picks up garbage from a resident’s address if they cannot take it to the curb themselves. These trucks go to each home, find the trash can, and empty it in the back of the truck personally. I did not even know this was offered by the City of Durham, and was in awe of the benefits it provides.
During my ride-a-long, I was on the recycling truck, and realized just how inaccurately people recycle. Although I’ve always known the process isn’t perfect, I was surprised by some of the things people considered to be recyclable materials. Durham’s Solid Waste Department is working hard to educate people about how to get rid of their trash, but hopefully more people will catch on.
The Police Department was one of the ride-a-longs I was most excited for, and it lived up to the hype. Although it was raining and nothing too wild happened, I gained valuable knowledge on how the department functions. First, all issues that are called in need to have someone dispatched. Someone has to deal with the situation, even if it may seem insignificant. Further, a lot of people call the Police for problems that officers cannot do anything about it. For example, if two people bought something together and one of them takes it, the Police cannot file a theft report, because they technically obtained it together.
If you ever get a chance to attend any sort of ride-a-long, I recommend you take it! You’ll learn more than you could imagine.
Is Salisbury Parks and Recreation anything like the show Parks and Recreation? While I don’t think real life can live up to the crazy antics of what is admittedly one of my favorite shows, it is important to note that there is the same (if not greater) level of dedication toward serving the community. There also aren’t any pits in Salisbury as far as I know.
While there are no pits, people are still able to bring in their own ideas for public parks and programming, which Parks and Recreation is always happy to hear. In fact, one program was proposed and considered this week involving an organization that would like to use a kitchen space in the Teen Center for cooking classes. The organization primarily caters (puns are good for you) to youth who have some sort of criminal past to help them get back on track, but they are willing to offer classes to general community youth as well. Such a program can teach youth life skills, potential vocational skills, and how to operate under stressful conditions (wait, I’m not the only one stressed out in the kitchen right?). While I don’t know whether the program will be able to start this year, it is certainly inspiring to see Parks and Recreation open to any ideas from the community it serves.
It is not often that a parks and recreation department has an opportunity to add a large park to the downtown area, so I was fortunate in getting to attend a meeting about just that. The Bell Tower Green project involves turning a large, mostly parking-lot-filled area into a beautiful park with a kids play space, plants and trees, a grass field, and a stage for potential events. For you budget nerds (don’t worry, me too) who are looking through the Salisbury budget for the secret magic account full of money, the City does not own this property yet. Instead, an outside organization owns it and is funding the creation of the park, which will later be given to the care of the City (the deal may be more complicated than this, but you get the idea). Keep this project on your radar because this place is going to be gorgeous when it is done. Click HERE for the website with a model drawing!
Don’t worry, I did get outside some this week. The City is currently looking into a new greenway space that would connect other existing greenway trails. Interestingly enough, one of the best locations for this new trail was in a Duke Energy right-of-way, where there are no trees in the way. To get a feel of the space, we met with Duke Energy (who was very willing to work with us, so shout out) and representatives from the Carolina Thread Trail (definitely check this out) at the site of the proposed trail. It definitely makes you appreciate the trails more having to walk them before they are trimmed up and paved!
Parks and Recreation has a lot more going on as well, including awesome facilities that give youth a great place to hang out and play, and some fantastic events that bring in tourism and business from out of town (which requires A LOT of planning ahead by the way – Cheerwine Festival 2020 is already being planned). On top of everything else, they are planning for growth in the future. It was definitely a great experience being with a group of people who are dedicated to expanding the Salisbury Parks and Recreation scope in any way that can benefit the community.
While this was my final week with The City of Salisbury (I know, it’s sad), come back next week as I do a final recap of my amazing experience and do a final sign off! If you have any questions on any of my experience, feel free to leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it. See you next week!
Yep, you heard that right – we got new County Commissioners outside of the election cycle.
Ok, so maybe they weren’t exactly sworn in, but they did volunteer to serve and make decisions about the County’s future. Oh, and I should also mention that they are all under the age of 19 years old. Here they are…
Let me explain…
The Orgullo Latinx Pride youth group of El Vinculo Hispano/The Hispanic Liaison and Lindsay Ray, the County Clerk, organized a mock Board of Commissioners meeting to show Latinx youth a little more about the role of County Commissioners. The youth got to serve in varying capacities throughout the activity such as commissioners, the clerk, and residents.
It was truly a fun experience. The “newly elected” commissioners got to listen to public input about social media use to promote awareness of local government and help for a fundraiser. Then, they got to listen to public hearings about school uniforms and banning chewing gum in schools. They even got to discuss and vote on the hearings. Lastly, they were able to decide which projects to fund for the upcoming fiscal year. The votes were taken by using starburst candy. (I may or may not have eaten quite a few of the candies myself).
After the activity, the County Manager’s staff and the commissioners stayed and chatted, answering questions and listening to the youth voice their concerns about their communities. Honestly, it was great to see local government being explored by Latinx youth. As a person of color, I know that building a level of comfort with local government spaces and having the social capital to access those spaces are often prerequisites for entering the local government sphere. I was so happy to be a part of building that foundation of comfort, understanding, and (maybe) trust. One thing I do know is that this won’t be the last time I see these Latinx youth doing great things!
By far, this was probably one of my favorite things since joining Chatham County!
Thank you all for coming back to my blog, despite a lapse since my last post. I was on vacation back home! Although it was good to be back, we spent the majority of the time packing because I have finally convinced my parents to move to North Carolina. But now I’m back and can finally update everyone on the incredible conference I attended from July 10th-12th.
The North Carolina Local Government Budget Association hosted their annual summer conference this year in Wilmington, NC, and I had the opportunity to attend. Just another one of the many reasons I feel so thankful to the City of Durham this summer. Many of the budget folks in attendance lovingly dubbed it the annual “Nerdfest.” And although we did have our moments of “geeking” out about certain topics, it was also a great time for networking and making new friends. See the photo below for a blurry example of new friends.
There were also amazing sessions. I have attached the agenda here if you want to take a look. A large focus was placed on natural disaster relief due to the increasing number of hurricanes that are being experienced in the state. Additionally, the planners of the conference focused on including general state policy updates. One of these was the “Municipal and County Legislative Update,” which provided time to learn about laws being made that will impact cities and counties. We also learned about the economics of the state, and how federal changes would play a role in the upcoming year.
As someone starting their career, one of my favorite sessions was on the pension system. This is one issue I did not know much about going into the conference, but felt extremely knowledgeable on after I left. For those of you who are looking at working in the state of North Carolina, it has one of the best pension systems in the United States. So if you weren’t already interested, hopefully you are now.
Finally, the NCLGBA 2019 Conference has been one of the most growing experiences for me in my graduate school career. `I was able to meet people who have similar interests, while learning more about the field. Although not everyone may find that budget is their passion, there are conferences for everyone. I highly recommend everyone look into a similar opportunity.
I will preface this week’s post by saying that Public Services does A LOT around the City of Salisbury. What I describe may not encompass everything and will definitely not do the department justice for their awesome work, but it would probably be bad blogging if I didn’t try.
P.S. – Sorry for the long post, but I broke it up with some pictures to help!
The first hat (and of course I mean role/job – they actually all have the same matching hats) I was exposed to was that of the crews repairing and replacing asphalt and concrete. Crews of around 4 will go to different locations where a road/sidewalk issue was either reported by a citizen or spotted by staff and repair it.
While every job is different, the asphalt crew above laid down a sort of adhesive that helps the new asphalt stick, filled in a sunken spot in the road, and leveled it out again (call it a top-off to show off to local gov friends!). The concrete crew below is finishing a sidewalk (sorry if this triggers any of my repeat readers) that was torn up to gain access to a pipe below. While crew members have certain preferences or jobs they are better at, Public Services values flexibility, so most staff are cross-trained to run any crews or machines necessary.
The second hat of the week was with solid waste, more commonly known as the people that come by once a week and take your trash to a magical far off land (SPOILER ALERT – it’s the Rowan County landfill). Trash pickup itself is a pretty simple concept, BUT WAIT, I brought a gift in the form of a fun fact: the trashcans have to be somewhat cylindrical so that the automatic arm can get a good grip. One day this week, a lady called to ask if we had mistakenly taken her trashcan. After calling up the driver on her route, it was discovered that she had an older model can with a square shape, which the mechanical arm decided to throw away for her (the can slipped out of the arms grip).
Recycling has been a hot topic lately, since China decided to stop taking the highly contaminated materials from the US (top challenge in local government: teach citizens proper recycling practices). Salisbury waste is fortunate to work closely with Rowan County, that has a neat recycling program that managed to find buyers for the materials it does recycle. At the Rowan recycling locations, one of which is seen below, the main materials accepted are aluminum cans, steel and tin cans, cardboard, 1 and 2 plastics, and glass. Feel free to ask me for more information, but the neatest thing to find out is that Rowan actually found a company in North Carolina that will buy their glass and use it for glass (glass-to-glass recycling instead of grinding it up for another purpose). This is neat because the lack of market for and heavy weight (more expensive shipping) of recycled glass has forced a lot of places in the US to stop recycling it.
The third hat is worn especially by one man, who is a landscape architect and arborist among other certifications. He helped design a number of neighborhood parks and is extremely knowledgeable about tree and plant life. One cool service Salisbury is testing is having the arborist respond to calls from concerned citizens to educate and prevent future damage from dying trees. This is certainly a position that could get overlooked in government, but it goes a long way to making Salisbury look beautiful and feel safe.
Stormwater control is a crucial and fascinating hat of Public Services. Not only do they maintain those storm drain systems you see on the road (gutters that lead to grates in the ground) that help prevent flooding, but they work to ensure that stormwater enters the streams and other water systems without harmful contamination. They even bought a new street sweeper, Unicorn 1, as a cost efficient way to keep harmful metals and other trash out of the system. My personal favorite part of the job is that they not only test the water with probes, but they look at the aquatic life as an indication of water quality. The Mayfly, for example, is a sensitive aquatic based insect that cannot survive in poor water – the more Mayflys you find, the better your water is doing.
Cemetery duty is important, especially in a town as old as Salisbury. While it comes with the maintenance of the cities cemeteries, it also includes helping with more historic based projects. One such project, currently getting ready for phase 2, is the creation of a memorial and cemetery for the nearly 500 unmarked African-American graves that were discovered in a field in town.
This job also comes with the crucial job of protecting “the foot”. In this case, the picture says more than I can – and YES, it is an actual grave.
I admit that as I write this, I have not yet been with the Fleet division of Public Services. However, I am told that they can maintain and repair all of the city equipment, from new street sweepers down to weed eaters, internally. This in itself is amazing considering that, at least for the street sweeper, the equipment goes well beyond the complexity of your average car. I am very eager to find out more.
A LOT OF HATS
I am sure that there are even more hats that Public Services wears, but I have already written way more than intended on my week of experience alone. Let us just say that Public Services does a lot for the City, and there would AT LEAST be potholes, flooding, and mucky water everywhere if they were not as good and dedicated to their jobs as they are.