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360 Review with Colleen Casey, UT-Arlington School of Urban and Public Affairs, Associate Professor

Posted on March 5, 2015


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Who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned performance review? ELGL loves them so much that we’re embarking on a “360 Review of Local Government.” We’re going to evaluate every single inch of the local government arena by talking to ourselves (a.k.a: other local government professionals), tech companies, journalists, professors, and anyone else who hasn’t blocked our email address.

8mD-X4YYColleen Casey, Ph.D. (LinkedIn and Twitter)  received a Ph.D. in Public Policy Analysis with an emphasis in Urban and Community Development from Saint Louis University. In addition to UTA, Dr. Casey has taught at Saint Louis University and the University of Connecticut. She began teaching at UTA in August 2008. Her research has been published in journals, including the Journal of Planning Education and Research and Critical Sociology, as well as in edited books published by the Brookings Institution and the University of Pennsylvania Press. She most recently served as a Visiting Scholar with the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta in their Community and Economic Development Division.

Evaluator

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What I’m Listening to:
Everything—I listen to everything from jazz, to country, R & B, to top 40.  I like to just let the iPod play at random.
What I’m Reading:
Robin Hambleton’s “Leading the Inclusive City”

What I’m Watching:
I do not watch much television, but when I do, it is typically something on HGTV (such as Love it or List it, or the Property Brothers) or sports (preferably track and field).
What I’m Doing: 
Working…I’m usually always working on my research, teaching or spending time with my family.  When I’m not doing that, I’m running!

What I’m Proud of:

That I have wonderful and supportive friends, family and colleagues.
What I’m Thinking:
What running route will I take today?

What I’m Afraid of:images (1)

I like to think that I’m not afraid of anything (smile)….but, driving on the ice in Texas is  pretty scary.
What I’m Missing:
Time….I couldn’t definitely use some more time!

What I Want to Know From You:

How did you get involved with ELGL?


Evaluation

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Best part of working in the local government arena. Most frustrating?
As an academic, I don’t directly work in the local government area. However, through my work in the university setting, I often meet many local government administrators and often invite them into my classroom to talk with my students. The best part of working with the individuals I have met is the commitment and passion they bring to their work, their service to their communities and their willingness to share this information with our future local government workforce.
For me, the most frustrating part of the local government arena is the regional fragmentation that it can create.

Describe the current state of local government. Grade?

I would give local government a C, so passing, but average. I give local government a ‘C’ because from place to place, I still see such a wide degree of variation in transparency, adoption of high technology, and development of innovative and inclusive participatory processes. For me, I think this is an area where local government officials can learn from one another through their professional members, continue sharing knowledge with each other and forming key partnerships with other local governments.  I think academics can help here as well by conducting and disseminating research that speaks truth to the policy or political forces that may hinder efforts in these areas.

Give us three areas in which local government is succeeding.

  • Social Media Usage for Information Communication
  • Adoption/streamlining of processes to improve the timeliness of response to citizen needs’/requests
  • Planning

Give us three areas in which local government needs improvement.

  • download (1)Development of ‘inclusionary’ and ‘authentic’ participatory processes.  Particularly, local government can do a better job of utilizing different tools and technologies (alongside traditional public meetings, surveys or hearings) to align with the participation needs of a complex, diverse, information and data rich (and perhaps information overloaded) society.  This includes the development of participatory processes that facilitate two-way forms of communication, where residents are both educated and informed about issues from the perspective of local government and experts, and local government and experts are informed by information and data from residents.
  • Increased transparency. Open government is improving, but there is still much that can be done to enhance transparency in local government.
  • Greater regional coordination or collaboration around key policy areas such as transportation, designing healthy and livable communities, jobs and economic development.

For local government, was there any good that came from the Great Recession?
I might be a “glass half full” type person, but I do believe that out of negative times good things can emerge.  For me, it is the relationship between local government and the community that matters. I think in communities where local government, citizens, private businesses, and nonprofit organizations have good relationships and high levels of trust, innovations emerged in response to declining revenues, some of which may have a lasting impact or create a new way of doing things.
Evaluate whether local government is prepared for the ongoing wave of retirements. What could it do to prepare?
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The ongoing wave of retirements will have an impact on every sector, public, nonprofit, for-profit private, and every level of government. My guess is that there is quite a bit of variation in local governments preparedness for this transition, due to external and internal factors.  For example, externally, location may matter.  Internally, organizational planning may matter.  Local governments in cities, served by universities and active professional associations, may be best prepared for the transition. However, it is critical that they have taken advantage of their locational advantage by forming key partnerships with universities and professional associations composed of the next generation of workers.  In other locations, local governments may need to develop and adopt innovative recruitment strategies to attract young talent to their community or find ways to recruit and retain retirees that have a passion for public service as volunteers in their organization.
In your opinion, does local government have a lack of diversity in its workforce?
Yes, I think local government does have a lack of diversity in its workforce, but I do not think increasing ratios based on age, gender, race or ethnicity always increases diversity. Diversity is a word that often gets reduced to questions of gender, age, race and ethnicity, and in an effort to attain it, sometimes it can lead to recruitment efforts focused only on symbolic diversity (achieving the numbers). Diversity strategies may be better informed by thinking about the constructs of lived experience and respect for differences.
13percentMorpheusTo me, a workforce is diverse when it is representative of people with varying life experiences and respect for others with different lived experiences.  For example, given that I am a Caucasian woman, saying that a workforce is composed of a certain percentage of Caucasian women does not really tell me anything about the diversity of the workforce, or how much that workforce reflects or respects my unique lived experience as a woman. The adoption of hiring and recruitment strategies that seek to create a workforce reflective and respectful of the multitude of lived experiences in our society may help us move beyond a symbolically diverse workforce.

“Innovation” is a trendy word and thrown around a lot in local government. What examples would you point to as government innovation?

  • Using crowdsourced data;
  • Adoption of inclusionary decision-making processes; and
  • Developing locally-based and informed strategies to address public sector challenges or deliver public services

Evaluate local government’s willingness to embrace new technologies.
I think local governments are willing to embrace new technologies, but I also feel that only a few local governments are really on the cutting edge, or the leaders of doing so.  I would suggest that the others are slower to adopt or embrace technologies, and may wait to do so until they have an external push from factors outside of their organization or have sufficient data on the effectiveness of the technology under consideration.

Wave a magic wand – what three wishes would you grant local government?

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  • Increased ability to coordinate and collaborate
  • Improved public understanding of what local government does and its processes
  • Diversification of revenue streams

What question(s) should we ask the next person that completes this questionnaire?
What strategies do you use to engage community-based groups and organizations in your economic development decision making and planning?

Supplemental Reading

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