Week Eight: From Local Government to Presidential Candidate

Local government has many incredible leaders, but the 2020 Democratic debates showed just how many people are hoping to make the jump from the local to federal level. Although Mayor Buttigeg and Mayor de Blasio are the only candidates running that are still in local government, 8 of the 20 candidates who debated this past week got their start there. That’s 40% of the candidates!

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The eight folks representing local government during these debates are: Cory Booker (former Mayor of Newark, NJ) , Pete Buttigeg (Mayor of South Bend, IN), Julián Castro (former Mayor of San Antonio, TX), Bill de Blasio (Mayor of New York City, NY), John Hickenlooper (former Mayor of Denver, CO), Beto O’Rourke (former Mayor Pro Tempore of El Paso, TX), Bernie Sanders (former Mayor of Burlington, VT), and Eric Swalwell (former City Councilor of Dublin, CA).

While I was watching these debates I couldn’t help but analyze some of their roles. As some of you may know, most local governments have either a Mayor-Council or Council-Manager form of government. In Mayor-Council governments the Mayor is in charge of day-to-day activities. One example of this is New York City, NY. Whereas, in the Council-Manager form, city managers are tasked with these activities. The City of Durham functions as a Council-Manager system.

In a recent article in CityLab, several leaders discussed their experiences in local government, and how this would inform them in the role as President of the United States. Hickenlooper said, “I do think that having been a mayor provides wonderful training and experience of finding ways to bring people together and achieving goals and accomplishments through that unity.” One book called, “If Mayors Ruled the World,” points out that local governments are capable of changing the world because they rely on collaboration and interdependence. This type of leadership will be necessary going forward as politics get more complicated.

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Personally, Governor Hickenlooper’s words were encouraging to me, because it shows that people are realizing the change-makers that exist in local government. More people are understanding our dedication to creating positive communities, and our drive to further this.

No matter what happens, we all know the best Mayor of all time is Mayor Max of Idyllwild, California.


An actual sidewalk in downtown Salisbury

First off, congratulations for looking at a picture of a sidewalk and thinking “that looks interesting” – you may be in a small but important group of people!

The truth is, sidewalks (like many local government services) are often overlooked or forgotten about because they aren’t the flashiest topic. However, a lot of foresight and planning is put into these sidewalks by people, like the engineers in Salisbury, so that the citizens they serve can get around a little bit easier. For example, sidewalks are built on a 2° slant so that stormwater will run into the gutter, instead of collecting in a puddle that hungrily awaits your brand new shoes. Further, the incline of a sidewalk ramp cannot be greater than 8° for wheelchair access. Oh, and the truncated domes that stick out right before a crosswalk – those help people with vision impairments know when they are about to cross the road. Admittedly, I think most of these features are required for ADA compliance; however, I felt it was worth pointing out the small details that go into making everyone’s commute a little easier. Sidewalks – you don’t think about them (or their features) until they aren’t there.

Just so that you don’t think life in Engineering is all about sidewalks, I’ll move on to some GIS (Geographic Information System). You may recall that I used GIS while with the Planning Department. Well, here it is again, and in case the message hasn’t come across – GIS IS HELPFUL IN MANY WAYS TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS, SO GO LEARN HOW TO USE IT! Seriously, if you can take a class, you should. I plan on taking one next spring myself.

GIS with Curb and Gutter Layer and Aerial Imagery

Ironically, one of my GIS projects involved…drumroll please…SIDEWALKS (right when you thought you had escaped). The Engineering department is updating the GIS Sidewalk layer to show sidewalks that have been added since the last aerial imagery was taken by Salisbury in 2014. Using the newer aerial imagery from 2018, I traced out every new sidewalk on public streets that I could find (cross your fingers that I got them all), which can then be viewed for various purposes, like tracking sidewalk cleaning.

For my other GIS project, we move slightly off the sidewalk…and onto the curb. Actually though, I used the aerial imagery (and Google Street View when harder to see) to highlight every Salisbury street that has a curb or gutter. This layer (pictured below) will eventually be used to help with street cleaning, insuring that every known curb/gutter and corresponding drain are free of debris so that the stormwater system can work properly.

Close-up of GIS Curb and Gutter Layer
The Entire Curb and Gutter Layer for Salisbury with Stormwater features marked by icons

Engineering may not be in my wheelhouse, but I certainly enjoyed my time in the department. At the very least, it made me appreciate the little things that make a town better for the people that live in it. And yes, I do like sidewalks! What gave it away?

Week Seven: The Fellowship of the Interns

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One of the most important parts of any internship is the network you make along the way. Working with the Budget & Management Services Department and getting to know everyone better has been incredible. After a few weeks, I realized I also wanted to get to know other City interns as well. Although I love working with my department members, I wanted to gain more insight into what other folks in a similar experience to myself are learning. The Assistant Director of BMS recommended that I send out an email to all department leaders asking for their interns’ contact information. Thankfully, all of the department heads were excited to have their interns involved, and quickly shared their names with me.

We now have a cohort of around ten interns within the City of Durham. We come from a variety of departments, including: General Services, Community Development, Budget & Management Services, City Manager’s Office, and Economic Workforce Development. Everyone has unique interests in local government, and we are all hopeful that this experience will allow us to learn more about how local government functions.

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We had our meeting earlier this week, and it was an incredible experience. Each member had fascinating insights into local government, and we all found ways that our work tied together. For example, one intern is working on a project with General Services that will increase trails in the Durham area. He was discussing the financials of the project and budgeting for the improvements, and as I listened I realized just how much I had learned about the fiscal year budget process. It was really incredible to have conversations with folks just as nerdy about local government as myself, and I cannot wait to see where our careers take us.

One of my fellow interns is within the Office of Economic Workforce Development, and she is learning about Durham’s policies on minority and women-owned businesses. Her assignment is to find data on these businesses and create an open data portal for folks in the community to learn more about locations to shop. One of the most beneficial things she has taken away is how complicated gathering data can be, but that community partners can make the process easier.

As we learned about in Human Resources this past semester, the people you surround yourself with at work can change your own experience. Creating relationships in any position is essential to the well-being of yourself and others. I think that by connecting with other interns I won’t just have support from budget staff but also from others in the same career stage as myself. This is crucial to a local government career because as you talk with others about the field, you learn more about changes that can be made, which can lead to positive changes in your community.

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Weeks 3 and 4– Urban Institute– Center on Labor, Human Services and Population


Weeks of June 3-16.

The quest for knowledge is at an all-time high and well suited at a place like Urban Institute. I immensely enjoy learning more about the Institute and working with Teresa Derrick-Mills, as well as, conversing with my junior buddy and other junior staff during the weekly check-ins. During the staff meetings, I get to learn how each research associate is working towards their goals and meeting expectations. Some have the fortune of being child or family welfare administrators and writing research protocols or requests for budgeting large-scale projects that impact many people. It is fascinating how many tasks and external research the associates are managing at one time. One notable task is working on building stronger fathers in the inner-city neighborhoods in the Bronx to build strong families.

Another special experience was attending the Convening held at Urban Institute by the National Women’s Law Center. The Center and advocates from around the United States met to discuss female and minority empowerment in the work place. They discussed litigation methods and ways to fight discrimination in the work place. The speakers ranged from a PhD in employment litigation, to experts in behavioral analysis and empowerment methods. Some had studied worker representation in the restaurant business, some had studied sex discrimination in the military, some had conducted research on employer retaliation methods and others provided consultancy for workplace inclusivity measures. I found an innate interest in the intersection between human resources and legal compliance within organizations relevant to the Urban Institute as an organization and its research projects.

Finally, the many brown bags offered by Urban Institute include topics from web scraping, to fighting the rising cost of living in poverty and importing data files in R. The opportunities to develop oneself professionally and learn more about American neighborhoods and demographics is so unique.



Don’t be fooled – this is NOT City Manager Bailey. It’s just Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation (tv show) after becoming City Manager

This was it – my week with Administration. I try not to play favorites, but I am earning a Master of Public ADMINISTRATION degree, so I forgive myself. Plus, I was very excited to learn from City Manager Bailey, a highly regarded City Manager and a great example to follow if you want to be a City Administrator someday (like me).

Monday featured a Management Team meeting in preparation for Tuesday night’s Council Meeting, when the FY20 (Fiscal Year 2019-2020) budget was to be adopted along with an agenda full of other action items. City Manager Bailey went around the room to check with every department, making sure not only that they were good to go, but also that he knew about any potential issues with the council or with people attending the meeting. For example, a Pickleball versus Tennis debate rages on in the City (it’s a long story that I will hopefully get to during my Parks and Rec post), and the Parks and Recreation Director made note that some people may use the public comment period to discuss that debate and how it affected the budget to be adopted.

Monday night, the City hosted a Public Hearing on “Fame,” a statue in the middle of downtown (and actually in the median of a main road, so really in the middle) that is owned by the Daughters of the Confederacy group and has made groups in town uncomfortable. As someone who was on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus when Silent Sam fell, I was very familiar with the debate. We will see what Council decides to do (or not do) after hearing public comment for 2 hours, but I will give my praise to the people of Salisbury for being civil and neighborly despite such a divisive issue.

Tuesday, I was able to shadow and talk with City Manager Bailey. After a check-in conference call with the Police Department (who are having an ironic problem of not getting grants because crime is getting too low to qualify), he had a conversation with a council member wanting to make sure they were fully prepared for the Council Meeting. At the Council Meeting, City Manager Bailey and staff presented the budget with 3 different options in regards to what Council wanted to do with the extra revenue gained by NOT lowering the tax rate, which I thought was an interesting way to make things simpler for council. The budget was adopted (WOOT WOOT) and will be posted here by July 1.

One important note worth mentioning, especially for future City Managers: whenever Council criticized something, Mr. Bailey was adamant that he was recommending the budget because he supported every decision in it, never coming close to blaming staff.

One cool project I have been working on all week is researching community engagement done by local governments across the United States…and a few in Canada. Salisbury has a few great programs, including Community Engagement Walks on Fridays and Chit, Chat, and Chew events, all in different neighborhoods throughout the City. However, staff want to know how they can reach more citizens to increase participation at Council Meetings and other community events. One cool option many cities are doing is to use online engagement, especially through a single website that lists all projects and events. This allows engagement from people who have tough schedules or simply don’t want to go to a Council Meeting (I understand that others don’t love them as much as me). Another interesting option is Participatory Budgeting (PB), where local governments allocate money to projects submitted and voted on by citizens. In fact, we had a conference call with the City of Durham this week, which allocated $2.4 million to PB projects, and lets students under the age of 18 vote as well!

If you want to know more about PB or the City of Durham, go check out Hallee Haygood’s blog! Otherwise, you can stick with me and come back next week for some engineering!!! (seriously though, you should check out the other blogs!)

Week Six: Hallee Haygood or Mark Brandanawicz?

Hello everyone!

This week I spent a lot of time talking about city planning, so it only feels appropriate that I dive more into my dual degree with y’all. I originally applied as a dual degree with City & Regional Planning on top of Public Administration because of my senior thesis. I wrote about how city planning impacts the anxiety and depression levels of residents in neighborhoods of Chicago. The findings I discovered during this project furthered my love of using planning to affect the lives of those living in a community. So when it came time to apply for graduate school, a dual degree felt like a necessity.

Many of us know about the planning department from “Parks & Recreation,” and the most boring character on the show, Mark Brandanawicz (pictured below). Although he may appear like he hates his job, most planners are extremely passionate about the work they do. Most folks only hear about the zoning work that planning departments do, but  right now the City of Durham has a unique project going on. They are working on an update to Durham’s “Comprehensive Plan”, which will analyze  the infrastructure of the City and plan for growth in the future. I have the opportunity to work on this with them, and will keep everyone updated on my progress as it continues.

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Durham’s Comprehensive Plan hasn’t been updated in thirteen years, so the City is ecstatic to make changes to the original. These plans are essential to the future of Durham because they ensure that going forward, plans are already in place for improvement, and not all decisions are made on the fly. Additionally, this forward-thinking plan allows for more voices to be included in decisions because there will be more opportunities for discussion.

One of the benefits of being a dual degree student is that I can examine initiatives through an additional lens. For example, dockless scooters came to Durham this past week, and the differences in my degrees changed my analysis of the project. The MPA side of me was focused on the permits that would need to be approved for dockless transportation, while the Planning side was considering the changes to the general transportation system that this would cause, and what it implies for the future. Dockless transportation, such as scooters and bikes, will impact planners and the way they develop and zone the City going forward. Don’t worry, our trip was documented, and proof that I rode a scooter in heels can be found below.








For those of you considering a dual degree in Public Administration and City & Regional Planning, I highly recommend it. I realize I am slightly biased, but the dual degree has allowed me to take advantage of opportunities both programs offer. For example, this upcoming semester, most of my courses will be in the Planning department, and focusing on community development. I believe that these classes will pair well with my MPA courses, and allow me to be a better public servant in the future.


Toby Flenderson from HR in The Office

I know it may be hard, but try and ignore the impression of HR you got from Toby on The Office (okay, maybe I made it harder by putting a picture of him, but how could i not?). Not only is the Human Resources department more lively, they are also seen and used as a crucial asset by all of the departments in the City.

One of the topics that stuck out to me this week was benefits, which can be a bit of a problem for the City. For example, many people applying to jobs with the City don’t realize or don’t place importance on the great benefits that come with the job. The impression is that many people look at the pay and don’t apply or don’t accept the job because they are only focused on what they take home at the end of the pay period, missing the usually great benefits. This has unfortunately led to a few vacancies, which may require different methods of advertisement in the future. If there is one takeaway: look at benefits as much as you look at pay, because a job could have better perks than you realize.

That moves us on to interviewing! In addition to their daily tasks, each HR staff is a liaison for a few departments with the City and will help out with interviews. While departments can come up with their own question, they will sometimes ask HR for assistance in formulating questions or even style of interview. For example, we met with one department and tossed around some ideas for an interview process involving a supervisory role. One neat interview round idea was to have the applicant run a meeting, while the interviewers all took on personas that the applicant would have to deal with while presenting.

The department also started Salisbury University, which is a form of internal training. The six levels of training that involve an increasing number of classes allow internal staff to learn more about the organization and about being a leader, which ideally leads to promotion further down the line. I viewed this as another perk of the job, as leadership training and the skills it teaches add value to an employee, giving you a better chance at promotion or even skills that you could use in another organization should an opportunity arise. Plus, it shows that Salisbury is investing in its staff, which is a great environment to be a part of.

Last but not least – SWAY (the Salisbury Way). This is the new culture the City of Salisbury is trying to create for itself, and is a customer service oriented culture. In addition to encouraging staff to go above and beyond their duties, SWAY has various committees dedicated to workshopping ideas and spreading SWAY around the City. While SWAY is admittedly still in an early phase with kinks being worked out, it is already making Salisbury a better place to work and live. In one project, City staff could go visit and learn about different departments, which increases their knowledge base and builds a community. My personal favorite (which I think is SWAY related) is the Community Engagement Fridays, when a group of City staff go around a selected neighborhood and ask for feedback in person from citizens, as well as distribute flyers for any upcoming events. This is a great way to connect to citizens, especially if they can’t use the internet or come by the office. SWAY is hard for me to explain, but I definitely feel it when I am here.

City of Salisbury Employees walking a neighborhood during Community Engagement

Week Five: The Final Countdown

Welcome to my weekly blog about life here in the Durham Budget & Management Services Department! This budget adoption season Council made a variety of changes to the proposed budget. The department is currently working  on updating the budget to align with their decisions.

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City Council held a special Work Session on Thursday, because there were a variety of choices still to be made around the budget. This additional session was to make final decisions on two main items: 1) whether or not to add more police officers to DPD and 2) if part-time city workers not making the Durham livable wage of $15.46 an hour should have their pay increased over time or all at once. These discussions have been forcing me to think back on my time in class this past year. For example, in Public Administration Institutions & Values, we were constantly discussing where residents place their values, and how this will vary no matter where you work. The values of the Council members were obvious in these decisions, focusing more on equitable pay and less on policing, but it also calls into question the values of the community. Opinions on social media have shown that for many, this does not express their values, and folks appear to be frustrated with the decision.

This meeting was very special to me, as it was my first time appearing on the Durham local news, pretending to know what I’m doing. You can see the article for yourself here. As you can also see in the screen grab, a request to add 18 additional officers to the Police Department was denied by Council. The proposal was to add the officers so that the beat schedule would allow for shifts to be less lengthy, which would hopefully improve quality of life for officers.  After it was clear that a majority of Council members did not support the positions, the Mayor attempted to offer a compromise and bring it to nine officers. However, this still was not what a majority of the Councilors wanted, and in turn four Council members voted to remove the 18 officers from the proposed budget. The impacts of this decision will be seen in the next fiscal year. In the article hyperlinked above, you can see the City Manager discussing how plans will likely be pivoted going forward around this subject.

After making this decision, the Council discussed whether or not the city’s part-time workers would have their hourly pay increased to $15.46 an hour. The Human Resources Department recommended steady increases over time, which would be about $180,000 this year. However, the Council decided to increase them all this year, which will cost an additional $650,000 for FY 20.

Although the budget process took up a large part of the week, there were several other projects I was able to work on. As many of you may know, there was a gas explosion in Durham about two months ago, and all of the departments related to the accident attended a session to discuss responses to this occurrence. One topic brought up was how online communications to constituents could be improved. As social media grows, more cities need to have plans for publishing information in emergency situations.

This upcoming week I will be working on a few different projects. One meeting I am looking forward to is with the Director of the Planning Department to discuss my dual degree. In my next blog I plan to dive further into the dual degree of Public Administration and City Planning, so stay tuned.


That’s right. It was my week with Planning! I had an amazing time with the many people and jobs that make up the Planning department in Salisbury. But before I continue, a trivia question: Why can a parcel of land within a certain airport zone NOT have a stormwater pond? The answer is at the end of this post, with the hope that you will accidentally read the whole thing while scrolling down.

I started the week learning a little more about the Comprehensive Plan, which lays out goals for the future quality of life and development in Salisbury with steps the City can take to reach them. The last Comprehensive Plan done by the City was in 2001, so they are due for an update. I had the opportunity to seek out the most recent data from the US Census Bureau in order to measure progress toward community goals. This data included measures such as housing affordability in relation to income, education levels, and employment levels and types. While the Comprehensive Plan is just a guideline, it is the first step in shaping the future of Salisbury.

Zoning is, of course, a very crucial part of planning. Zoning determines what type of development can occur in a certain area of the city and is the reason you don’t find a large industrial park in the middle of a residential neighborhood. One thing I didn’t realize about zoning was how specific the Land Development Ordinance (LDO) can be. For example, a residential zone not only requires a residential unit, but it can be broken down into different types of residential units with a certain number of parking spaces and a certain setback from the road etc. depending on the category. I definitely have a greater appreciation for zoning, knowing now that a lot of thought and planning is involved in simply making the environment around me make sense. Click here to see the current zoning map and some other awesome maps made with GIS (an essential in a planning department and life).

Something that makes Salisbury unique are the national and local historic districts of the City. Driving through downtown, it would be hard to miss the fact that Salisbury cares about preserving its past, with faded Cheerwine murals on worn brick buildings and period houses lining some residential streets. In fact, the local historic districts’ require that owners get permission before making any changes to the exterior of their building, all the way down to approving period colors of paint for historic houses in which people currently live. It sounds burdensome for business owners and homeowners alike, but the citizens love it and I’ll admit that I do, too.

A Brick Company building in the old industrial district repurposed into a retail store.
An old Cheerwine advertisement
Period House that is still in use
The Salisbury Train Station

I would like to mention an amazing program put on by the Planning Department: BlockWork. Through this program, citizens can submit applications for the city to pay for and help clean up a neighborhood block, with the hope of improving property value and encouraging others to clean up their own blocks as well. A large group of volunteers will come out and, with permission, put new paint on the side of houses, clean the landscape, rebuild sidewalks, and even repair a few roofs. It’s a great way of reaching out to the community and helps the City and its neighborhoods look better one block at a time.

Volunteer putting together fence for BlockWork

While I would love to keep going about my week with planning, I have promised an answer to a trivia question and I will deliver. Parcels of land within certain airport zones (yes, Salisbury has a small airport!) cannot have a stormwater pond because those ponds attract geese, which can then fly up into planes taking off and landing. Just another example of an easy-to-miss yet crucial development ordinance that your local government planners are taking care of for you!

Thank you for making it to the end, even if you just scrolled down for the trivia answer! Come back next week for a little Human Resources, and maybe some more local government trivia!

My favorite coffee shop in Salisbury! Koco-Java

Week Four: “I Hear People Caring Loudly at Me”

This week was one for the books. For everyone who has watched “Parks and Recreation,” we all remember the moment Leslie Knope explains the feeling of town halls and although there was no yelling, there were many moments full of folks caring for their community.

The week was all about taking the budget from proposed to adopted in the City of Durham. It started with budget work sessions on Wednesday and Thursday. These lasted all day and consisted of each department explaining their upcoming budgets, as well as highlights from the previous fiscal year. It was a great opportunity to learn more about what different departments have planned for the coming year. City Council members use this time to understand what is in the proposed budget and ask a variety of questions. This helps ensure they can answer questions that arise from constituents. A photo from the event can be seen below.

After this finished, it was clear that the Council had more information they wanted to discuss about some items in more detail before making a decision. So they will be holding another work session this Thursday to dive deeper on a handful of topics they will decide to fund or remove from the proposed budget. I will be sure to update everyone on these discussions next week.

I am excited that I will now be working on a multi-departmental project about fees in the City of Durham. The team working on the project has not decided which fees to look at, but we are in the brainstorming stages. Once this is decided, we will dive into the data and look at the equity of fees, and what changes could be made to benefit residents that need it the most. Updates will come on this initiative, but I am extremely excited to learn more from our findings.

In other exciting news, Durham reached their Participatory Budgeting goal and in the first year of voting had over 10,000 residents vote on how they want to spend $2.4 million! The votes are still being tallied and the winning projects will be  announced later in June, but it will be great to find out the winners and see the implementation of these projects. I am assisting in tallying the votes, and have loved watching the democratic process.