Week 1 at the Urban Institute
Day 1 walking into the wide glass doors and spacious marble floor of the Urban Institute located at 500 L’Enfant Plaza in Washington D.C. was impressive. Urban Institute is a non-partisan organization founded by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as a response to the need for more equitable social science research to develop urban communities. In their “Next 50” campaign Urban Institute sets goals to attain more progress, more funding and more sustainable impacts on the surrounding communities by improving the policy making process with research. My internship concentration is promoting a more diverse research breadth by recruiting more diverse research associates and interns. The ability of the Urban Institute to retain and gain more diverse employees is crucial to developing policy that is more reflective of urban communities.
The other interns are from universities throughout the U.S. and relocated to the DC area for the summer. They work in centers such as labor, human capital and population, urban development and international development. The interns contribute skills in public policy, international relations, data science, economics and business. Throughout the Urban Institute there is a sense of pride in each intern class and junior hires. They are also proud of the research that the associates and senior staff produce in the long term and contribute to public policy as a whole. I am impressed with the academic and research backgrounds of all my colleagues.
This summer, I am joining UNC MPA alumna, Teresa Derrick-Mills (1992) as she contributes to Urban Institutes efforts to improve the diversity of staff composition, equity and inclusion in workforce culture, and diversity and equity-respectful content and language in the research. Teresa is a principal research associate at the Urban Institute who obtained her PhD in public policy and public administration at George Washington University after using her MPA to support early care and education systems-building efforts in North Carolina for 15 years. She now studies early care and education issues, workforce development systems, juvenile justice, and various human services, and supports research and evaluation capacity building for governments and nonprofits.
Each day is a fantastic opportunity to walk through the DC neighborhoods and see famous sites such as the Capitol Building, Jefferson Memorial and the Wharf District. It truly is remarkable location and place to be interning this summer.
Even the best public administrators make mistakes, which is why it is important to surround yourself with excellent staff (and summer interns of course). My shining moment in my week with Finance came after reading through the proposed budget, when City Manager Lane Bailey walked in and asked me if I had any thoughts. I mentioned my interest in an “Animal Tax” in the budget ordinance that charges $1 per dog, and went on to explain my real concern – that cats were not being charged, too (clearly the tax was created by a cat lover). At this moment, City Manager Bailey realized that he wasn’t aware of this tax and had not paid it for his own dog, pulling out a dollar and handing it to the Finance Director. It was certainly a close call, but thankfully an MPA intern was there to catch the oversight.
On a more serious note, I had some interesting conversations about the budget with finance staff throughout the week. One question I had was why more line-item detail was put in this years’ budget compared to last year. Apparently, a council member (or multiple) requested more information compared to last years’ budget, which mostly had totals for different departments and funds. This prompted another discussion about how the council members shape the budget details and priorities, and specifically how these areas can change with changes in elected officials. This is especially true for Salisbury, as all 5 council seats come up for election at the same time every 2 years, meaning the council could actually be 5 new and completely different people from cycle to cycle.
Another interesting part of Salisbury’s budget is the inclusion of capital replacement funds. That is, the budget already allocates money to replace capital assets when they reach their designated use life, without departments having to request new funds whenever a piece of equipment gets old. For example, when a computer is 4 years old (not sure on the lifetime assigned to a computer but go with it) funds are already there to replace that computer without requiring a department to complain about a slow computer and send in a request for new computers in their next budget. You may have the same question I did – what do you do with the old computer? The City of Salisbury utilizes a website called GovDeals.com, which allows local governments to sell equipment to anyone (YES, EVEN YOU!) and make some money back for the City. Supposedly one municipality used the site to sell a whole water tower for $2, but they saved the $50,000 it would have cost them to tear it down as the buyer is responsible for picking it up (I don’t really know how the process of taking a water tower works because I doubt it fits in a truck bed, but I assume the buyer paid for it to be taken apart himself).
I would like to end by mentioning a tougher meeting I attended with Finance this week. Essentially, a department was getting feedback on potentially requesting an expensive but important backup generator setup. The setup would cost nearly $80,000, but would be the backup if the power and first generator went out at the location, potentially providing power to crucial systems during an emergency. Further, the setup would also provide power to the designated Emergency Operations Center that houses those systems, which is a crucial location to have power in emergency situations. It is tough to spend a lot of money on something you hope you never need to use, and while the decision seemed to be in favor of the project, the question then becomes about when you pay for it, especially around fiscal year end.
That does it for Finance Week. Feel free to check out Salisbury’s proposed budget here, and check back later to see the adopted budget (fun fact: Salisbury’s adopted budget includes an Addendum that lists changes between the proposed and the adopted budgets).
Come back next week for Planning!
As a reward for making it through this long post with no pictures, here is my current fav restaurant in Salisbury, Yummi Banh Mi:
It’s week three and I am hitting the ground running! I found my two favorite Pittsboro coffee shops and a restaurant that sells an amazing strawberry red velvet cake. So, I think it’s safe to say that I finally feel like I am getting into the swing of things out here in good ol’ Pittsboro, NC.
Before I dive deep into what I’ve been up to over the last few weeks, I figure I should provide some context to the Human Relations initiative that I am working on with Chatham County. So, prior to starting my internship the County Commissioners expressed a desire for wanting a Human Relations entity. The County then created a Human Relations Task Force to establish a framework for the entity, which they are now hoping will be a community-led Human Relations collaborative.
One of my key tasks for the summer is to learn about the County through engaging with community members. The hope is that I will be able to identify some challenges that the Human Relations Collaborative will be able to rally around and tackle. Two weeks ago, I started meeting with Chatham County community members to get a better understanding of the community. So far, I have completed 14 interviews. Each interview is semi-structured with four main areas of exploration:
- the interviewee’s connection to the community
- the challenges the County is facing
- how the interviewee envisions a human relations body addressing those challenges
- additional contacts that may be interested in participating in this work
So far, I have been handwriting notes during interviews and then transcribing them into an excel document so that I can code them to find key themes. I am very excited to see the outcome!
My weeks haven’t been filled only with interviews…I have also attended some community meetings as well. I’ve met with the Public Health Department, Better Angels, faith communities, and I can’t wait to do more! Last week, I went to a community lunch hosted by St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church. Their mission is to provide a healthy, appetizing meal at no cost to all who come to us hungry. The community lunch had a great turn out with even better food! I was able to talk with people involved at the church as well as a local artist and a farmer. This lunch gave me the opportunity to meet people from all over the County.
If there is anything I know about community engagement, it is that you first must listen to and learn from the community. While at the community meetings, I am often just listening and taking notes of comments and concerns and looking for key themes.
Through the interviews and meetings, I have learned quite a bit about the history of the County and some of the challenges it faces. For me, the best part about this process has been making new connections to community members.
Look forward to updating you again next week!
For many public servants, the democratic process is viewed as a key to success. Personally, I have always loved this aspect of local government. Local government has the capability to impact people’s lives in a direct way, which is why it is so essential to have residents’ opinions on the community.
In the City of Durham Budget & Management Services office, this is of the utmost importance to all who work there. The department is implementing a new process of “participatory budgeting.” $2.4 million dollars has been set aside for projects decided on by those who live in different parts of Durham. The initiatives are currently being voted on, and the projects with the most votes will be implemented in the next year. Much of my work the past few days has been around this process, as voting comes to a close at the end of May.
Through participatory budgeting outreach I have interacted with constituents in ways I never have before. One way I have been able to reach out to residents is through text messaging. This communication channel, allows folks in the office to hold a conversation with anyone who may have questions, instead of just sending out an email blast that will have little response.
Residents can vote either online or in-person on a paper ballot. Whenever we have new responses cast on a paper ballot, we input them online so that everyone’s vote is included. I have been able to add folks’ votes to the online server, allowing me to see what their preferences are, and get a better idea of the City of Durham.
In addition to participatory budgeting, I have been included on the work to implement the City’s Strategic Plan adopted last summer. The City of Durham has five general goals and each department is assigned to one, and they work together to form objectives and initiatives that can be achieved under each goal. Staff will be presenting next month on the progress made on these initiatives, and as the departments work on their presentations we have been working with them to ensure they are prepared. This has allowed me to better understand general strategic planning, as well as the future of the City of Durham. A photo from one of these meetings can be seen below.
That’s all for this week! Stay tuned for next week, when I’ll update everyone on how budget presentations go this Wednesday and Thursday for each department- it’s sure to be a good time.
As a small introduction, I am interning with the City of Salisbury this summer, and have the exciting opportunity to jump from department to department every week. So, if you are looking to learn a little more about a bunch of different sides to local government, then you have come to the right place!
My first week with Salisbury was spent with Salisbury-Rowan Utilities (SRU) under Utilities Director Jim Behmer, who is currently earning his MPA at Appalachian State (I don’t hold it against him). One thing I learned from Jim was that employees usually have a preference for either water or wastewater (sewer).
Despite the ripe smell, I found myself fascinated by the wastewater side of things. Without getting too deep into details, the wastewater plant process involves removing things that shouldn’t go down a sink or toilet in the first place (including grease and the so called “flushable” wipes), using microscopic organisms to break down organic matter in the wastewater, and using chemicals like bleach to disinfect the water before it is released back into the Yadkin River. Plus, a bio-solid bi-product can be given out to farmers to use as fertilizer for crops consumed by livestock. It may not be a pretty process, but it involves some fascinating solutions and highlighted for me the importance of educating the public on some proper procedures – don’t poor the grease down the sink, and don’t flush the wet wipe.
While it may seem like common sense to some, I also learned the importance of gravity in the wastewater process. Pumping wastewater is expensive, so SRU utilizes gravity lines wherever possible. This requires a lot of planning and is somewhat like putting a puzzle together, as lines need to go toward the wastewater stations, but always downhill. In fact, both stations are located beside creeks as they are natural low points in the topography. Planning here can mean the difference between spending thousands of dollars to operate a pump station, or letting gravity transport the wastewater for the cost of the pipe alone.
Going back to the water side, I have to bring up what I thought was an example of brilliant problem solving at the water reservoir. As water sits in the large open pits, sunlight reacts with organisms and algae forms on the water. Among the other chemicals added to clean the water is a very expensive chemical that has the sole purpose of killing the algae. In order to cut down on costs with this chemical, SRU put thousands of plastic balls on top of the water to take away the sunlight and, by extension, eliminate algae growth. While the balls were a significant initial cost, SRU was able to eliminate the need for most (if not all) of that particular chemical, which will save the utility a fair amount of money in the long run.
Well (pun definitely intended), that does it for this post. Feel free to comment for more details on anything I did with SRU this week or check out their website here. Come back next week for Finance!
Ok, so maybe this blog title had a little bit of click bait, but I definitely consider these folks celebrities…public servant celebrities!
Merriam-Webster defines public servant as “a government official or employee.” Personally, I think this definition doesn’t give public servants enough credit! So, to do us some justice, I would like to highlight some key people that I’ve met over the last week that add to that bare-bones definition of public servant.
Celebrity Sighting #1:
On Monday, I attended my first ever Board of Commissioners meeting. Honestly, I was in awe because I got to see topics from my MPA coursework in action, like public hearings and budget proposal presentations. I also got to witness a new commissioner being sworn in!
However, most importantly, I got to see a truly dedicated public servant be honored for his service to the community. Fire Marshall Thomas Bender received special recognition for his 26+ years of service to Chatham County. Even during a public hearing for a zoning request, the person making the request said that he remembered Fire Marshall Bender making presentations at his elementary and middle school. Even though this community member’s request to the Commissioners was completely unrelated to Fire Marshall Bender, he still took the time to acknowledge how Fire Marshall Bender had an impact on the community – a true public servant and community celebrity.
Celebrity Sighting #2:
So…this next celebrity is fairly new to the scene (compared to Fire Marshall Bender) and is one of our very own – Stephanie Watkins-Cruz! She has been working with Chatham County for about a year now as their policy analyst. Last week, I attended a really cool “town hall-type community conversation” sponsored by Our Chatham and Chatham News + Record. It was mostly a Q&A on housing and inequity with a panel of community leaders. Stephanie, of course, was on that panel.
I will say, I am quite fortune because I get to talk with Stephanie quite regularly in the office. But, on this day, I got to see Stephanie in full public service mode! Stephanie presented data, shared stories, and answered questions without breaking a sweat! She was honest, poised and responsive to community members. Even when she was hit with hard questions, her responses were authentic and showed her dedication to serving the County to her best ability! I was, and continue to be, in awe at her ability to be so open, authentic, and committed. I am glad to have such a great role model right here in the Chatham County Manager’s Office with me.
Celebrity Sighting #3:
So this last celebrity was not spotted in Chatham County, but rather in Durham! Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL) conference, #ELGL19. And with that, I got to meet Kirsten Wyatt!
#ELGL19 was amazing, to say the least! Not only were there great conference goodies and thought-provoking conversations, but there were great opportunities to network and meet people across the country doing great work! I even got to meet some people that do the type of work that I would love to do in the future. The cool thing is that the co-founders of ELGL are Kirsten and Kent Wyatt, who also happen to be graduates of the UNC-Chapel Hill MPA program! And yes, I did get to shake Kirsten’s hand! She’s as innovative, intelligent and lovely as she seems online. So, if you get the chance…attend next year’s conference in Oregon! I know I’ll be there.
Service is what led me to pursue degrees in social work and public administration. I am so grateful for all of the amazing homegrown “celebrities” that are adding to the Merriam-Webster definition of public servant through dedication, authenticity and innovation. Thank you for all that you do!
Hello again! This has been a whirlwind of a week, so I hope you enjoy following along as I explain all I was able to experience. Right now the Budget & Management Services Department is putting together the Fiscal Year 2020, or FY20, budget. This means that most of the work I am involved in is ensuring that numbers are aligned and descriptions for departments are accurate. Reading through the current 286 page document (it will continue to get even longer) has allowed me to better understand initiatives being taken on by the City of Durham. This has also helped me to improve my Excel skills as I work to make changes to the numbers that need updating. If you would like to see an example of Durham’s previous budget, FY19 documentation can be found here.
When I am not working on the FY20 budget, I have an individual budget assignment that has been assigned to me by my supervisors, Ben Kittelson and Pat Madej. Currently I am analyzing Durham local sales taxes from 2008-2018 to create an analysis of changes to collection, policy, and rates over the ten year timeline. Most of the data is coming from North Carolina’s Department of Revenue and old files from the City of Durham.
As I said in my post last week, I also was able to attend #ELGL19, which was put on by Engaging Local Government Leaders. On Wednesday, there was an Innovation Summit, where leaders in the field discussed best practices for finding creative solutions in local government. As someone breaking into this work, it was fascinating to hear more about what other governments have been doing, and how I can work to improve innovation in whatever role I serve in going forward.
Thursday and Friday were the main days of the conference, with a variety of sessions discussing changes being made by local government leaders around the country. One of my favorite sessions was called, “Engaging Local Government Employees.” The leaders on this panel discussed ways that cities and counties can improve the wellness of employees, and continue to recruit the best and brightest minds. My favorite photo can be seen below, of Brian Farmer (MPA ’20) and myself, imitating Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson.
The conference finished Friday afternoon, and right after, folks from our department went back to the office. Pat and I attended a meeting with the Durham Emergency Communications Center, where we discussed the end of FY19 with staff.
On Monday, most of my day consisted of HR workshops but during the breaks in the day I went to the Budget & Management Services office to prepare for the City Council meeting that night. Before the Council adopts the FY20 budget, they must ensure that the democratic process is being followed, and share information with the public. Members of the community gathered to hear more about changes and proposals that the City Manager is recommending to the Council. A photo from the event can be seen below.
Residents brought forward their thoughts on the positives and negatives of the budget. Many discussed the proposed increase to police staff, as well as a request for a livable wage for part-time City employees. The Council has a lot to ponder before adopting the budget but I look forward to keeping everyone updated as we continue.
It’s May! And it has been too long since I’ve posted, but we have been doing so much work to get our Class of 2019 graduated. We had a total of 41 MPA students graduate this May, and we are so proud of them. Most of them have jobs already, and they are solidly equipped with the education and skills needed to go out there and lead! Stay tuned for a later post on what some of them are up to.
Another thing that happens in May is the beginning of Professional Work Experience (commonly referred to as the PWE) for our current MPA students. It is similar to an internship except that this really is about leading and managing some sort of project. These PWE’s are higher level opportunities where you will actually be contributing more than answering phones or filing. And each May, we invite a few of our students who will be taking part in their PWE’s to blog about their experience.
Our PWE Coordinator (and UNC MPA grad), the wonderful Susan Austin completed a brief interview with me to give us a little frame of reference for the PWE and our Summer Bloggers. Read on, and follow the blogs which will be posted weekly. They’ll surely give you an idea for how MPA education is put to work.
Cara: What is your role, and how long have you been with the MPA program at UNC?
Susan: My title is Associate Director of Professional Work Experience (PWE) and Alumni Relations. Whew! One of my primary responsibilities is to work with all students on their required PWE. I started working with the MPA program in 2006 after joining the School of Government in 2001. I’m also an alumna – Class of ’97.
Cara: Can you talk about what the Professional Work Experience (PWE) is?
Susan: The PWE is an opportunity for our students to apply their classroom learning in a real-life setting, develop their competencies, and gain additional professional experience. The PWE is always one of the highlights of their time in the program.
Cara: How many MPA students are enrolled in a PWE this summer?
Susan: There are 23 students completing their PWE this summer. 13 with local governments, 4 in state agencies, 1 with the federal government, and 5 in nonprofit organizations. The ratio of students in different sectors varies with the interests of the students in each cohort.
Cara: Please introduce our student bloggers for this summer and what roles they’ll be taking on?
Susan: I’m excited about our summer bloggers! They are:
• Courtney Cooper-Lewter with the Chatham County, NC Manager’s Office
• Micayla Costa with the Urban Institute in Washington, DC
• Brian Farmer with the City of Salisbury, NC Manager’s Office
• Hallee Haygood with the City of Durham, NC Budget & Management Department
• Sydney Lawrence with the US EPA Office of Air Quality Planning Standards, Policy Analysis & Communications in Durham, NC
• Karson Nelson with the NC Department of Public Instruction Superintendent’s Office in Raleigh, NC
Cara: What do you hope our readers gain from our Student bloggers on their PWE experiences?
Susan: This is a great opportunity for readers to understand the scope of career opportunities an MPA degree opens up for our graduates. For those with an interest in public service, learning about the student experiences provides an inside look into the practical work that makes our communities better places to live.
Cara: Where will you be reading the blogs from this summer?
Susan: Ha! Well I read all of them all summer so that will vary. My favorite place will be at the lake.
Welcome to my blog post! My name is Courtney Cooper-Lewter. I am a dual-degree student with the Public Administration and Social Work programs. I just finished my first year of the MPA program, but technically this is year two of graduate school. Two down, one to go! More than anything, I am really excited for my professional work experience this summer with Chatham County!
This summer, I will be serving as an intern in the Chatham County Manager’s Office in Pittsboro, NC. I will be working on helping the County create a community-led Human Relations collaborative to address some of the economic and racial inequities in the County by:
- Researching and identifying effective tools for outreach and engagement of the community around social justice
- Studying existing effective collaborative efforts around social justice
- Interviewing community leaders to assess what they view as important for the collaborative to be successful
- Developing recommendations for the collaborative to move forward
So far, everything has started off great! Everyone is so supportive! And I realize, I am pretty spoiled with my office space. I have my own office and a window (see below)! I have already interviewed quite a few community leaders and feel like I am getting a better understanding of the community dynamics.
I can’t wait to continue exploring Chatham County. For now, check out this beautiful video of Pittsboro and maybe you will notice why it is called Circle City.
I look forward to talking with you more next week about what I am learning! See you then.
Hello there! For those of you who may not know me, my name is Hallee Haygood and I just finished my first-year of the MPA Program. As a dual degree student with the City & Regional Planning Program this means that I am 1/3 of the way done. And with that, it is now time for my professional work experience.
My job will be as a Budget & Management Intern with the City of Durham, in their Budget & Management Services Department. For me, as someone who hopes to work in a municipal budget office after graduation, this opportunity is ideal. The projects that I will be working on and blogging about this summer, are:
- Creation of the FY 2020 budget document
- An analysis of historical sales tax and property tax revenue
- Durham’s new participatory budgeting, or PB, process
- Durham’s Strategy and Performance (DSAP) meetings
- Process improvement projects with operational departments
My first week has been off to a great start. Upon arriving, my desk was covered in Parks & Recreation themed decorations. A photo of my desk can be seen below. Thus far I have spent my time learning the ins and the outs of the budget process for Durham. My first project will be working on compiling historical local option sales tax data.
And the rest of the week I have the opportunity to attend the Engaging Local Government Leaders, or ELGL, Conference! The conference is in Durham, which will allow me to learn even more about the city where I’m working. It will also be a unique opportunity to learn about trends in the field, and what practices I can put to use after graduation. Thanks for joining me, and I look forward to updating you more next week!