PDX to RDU: The Job Search with Ben Kittelson

Posted on September 17, 2014


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Kent talked me into starting a live blog about my experience job searching in North Carolina. So I’ll try and give at least daily updates on how my search is going, how I’m adjusting to the new area, and what I’m learning about local government in the Research Triangle.

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Back to PDX

Thursday 10/16/2014 3:06 pm ET

I wrote this update somewhere over Middle America, on my way to tomorrow’s ELGL Conference from North Carolina (as I post it I’m over Northern California on my way to Portland). I finished reading the book that I brought (great book called, Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides, all about the hunt for Martin Luther King Jr.’s killer) so I figure I should give an update on what I’ve been doing since Sunday.

136710d_hoy_jonathan_hirezI had two informational interviews this week. The first of which was actually a non-local government related contact. I met with Jonathan Hoy on Tuesday, who is the Chief Financial Officer for the Duke Regional Hospital. Marie’s mom put me in touch with him because he has lived in the Triangle his whole like (except for a stint in Greenville to attend ECU). They work together at Duke Health System, she runs the finances for the flagship Duke Hospital and he works at their second largest hospital, Duke Regional.

Interestingly, I found out that the Hospital is technically owned by Durham County. It used to be the Durham County Hospital and is on a very long-term lease to Duke University. The County Commissioners do still have influence over the hospital, they have a representative on the Hospital board and also appoint all of the hospital’s board members.

Mr. Hoy said that this creates a unique dynamic for Duke Regional compared to the other hospitals in the system, which are owned entirely by Duke University. One way you can see that influence is that Duke, as a part of their lease, supports the Lincoln Community Health Center and the EMS services for the county. Duke doesn’t run the clinic but they do provide about $3 million a year in addition to employing the pharmacy staff. Durham County still runs the EMS services but Duke provides $2.5 million a year in funding.

Logo_transparentAlthough it wasn’t directly related to local government it was interesting to hear about how the health system works with the local government, and Durham’s relationship with Duke is important because it’s such a big employer. It was also fun to get to know Mr. Hoy. He is a big fan of barbecue and I got some great recommendations from him, I’m really excited to try Bullock’s Barbecue in Durham and B’s Barbecue in Greenville. He also had a great quote for success in any career: “Success is about attitude and being willing to talk to people and build relationships.”

Yesterday I met with Rob Shepherd who works for the North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM). I have heard great things about the NLCM from seemingly everyone I met. The NCLM serves the cities in North Carolina similarly to how the NCACC serves the state’s counties. nclm logoThey handle insurance pools as well as a unique debt service program that collects money from citizens with unpaid local fines or taxes by taking the money from lottery winnings or income tax returns. It is a pretty cool program that has lead to national recognition for the NCACC and NCLM.

Mr. Shepherd was fun to talk to; he started as an intern at Kernersville, NC a town east of Winston-Salem in Forsythe County. Then he took a job as the first manager of Walkertown, NC a small, rural town that ended up having a lot of political tension. After three years in Walkertown he saw the writing on the wall and tried to leave before they fired him, he wasn’t quite that lucky and ended up resigning. But he landed on his feet back in Kernersville where he worked as an Assistant City Manager before taking a job with the league where he has been for 18 years.

He also informed me about resources on the NCLM’s website and recommended going to the February North Carolina Managers conference. He also explained to me the role that Council of Governments play in North Carolina. The councils in urban areas are pretty active and handle some regional planning and tackle issues that cross jurisdictional lines. He said that some of the COGs in rural areas are a little less active, which has caused frustration from cities in their regions.

IMG_2097The month went by really fast, but I think my trip to North Carolina has been a great success. I’ve had a ton of fun and met a lot of people in the area. I think, even though I haven’t found a job yet, I have a great base of support and a couple of pretty good leads that I will keep everyone updated on. My plan, after the conference, is to pack up the rest of my stuff and road trip back to Durham. I’m sure I’ll make plenty of nerdy local government stops.

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Birthday Weekend

Sunday 10/12/2014 3:35 pm ET

Friday was my birthday so I used that as an excuse not to update you all on what I have been doing. It’s been a really fun weekend and I made two great contacts. I had informational interviews with Lee Worsley of Durham County and with Ben Shivar, the Town Manager of Cary, NC.

lee worsleyMr. Worsley is the deputy manager of Durham County a position he’s held for 3 years, before that he was in Catawba County, Greene County and the City of Goldsboro. He was the second person I talked to who helped a community recover from a hurricane early in his career. He helped with hurricane recovery in Goldsboro but his experience in Greene County was a little disturbing. Because of the rain from the hurricane that hit while he worked in Greene the water table rose and in the town cemetery the water pushed coffins out of the ground! He had to work with contractors to put all the caskets back in the ground. That is a job duty that could only happen in local government.

We talked about how much Durham has changed in the last 15 years and he said one of the big things the County is dealing with is adjusting to a new manager who has been on the job for about 7 months. Mr. Worlsey has also had the unique experience of coming back to an organization that he had interned at. During graduate school he interned at Durham County and now he’s the supervisor of some of the department heads he used to work for. I had fun chatting with Mr. Worsley and Durham County sounds like a great place to work. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

ben shivarKent’s dad connected me with Mr. Shivar the town manager of Cary, a town of 150,000 people between Raleigh and Durham. He has been in the profession for 38 years! His first job was working for Ed Wyatt in Greenville, North Carolina and he considers Kent’s dad a mentor. We chatted about his career path which took him through Siler City, NC to Chatham County and then as an Assistant City Manager in Cary before taking over the head job. (The picture above is me posing with one of the busts on Cary’s Town Hall grounds.)

We talked about the fast growth Cary has dealt with and he told me that when he was at Chatham County the manager of Cary approached him to borrow inspectors because there was such a need for inspectors and they didn’t have time to hire more. The development isn’t back to those hey-day levels and one reason for that is that they are starting to run out of developable land, an issue the council will be dealing with in the future.

“If there is a managers position on the earth that’s the best, this is it,” Mr. Shivar said in reference to his time in Cary. But he told me his favorite job was in Siler City a town of 8,000 where he could have his hands on more of the organization. When he came to Cary he had to learn how to manage a bigger place, because you can’t be as hands on. That recognition actually led to a large restructuring last fall, he changed Cary’s organization from being more “flat”, with all the department heads reporting to him, to a structure with functional groups and assistant managers taking on more of the departmental supervising. It was fascinating to hear about the change and how the organization is still adjusting.

IMG_2091After my fun morning I got to do some of my favorite things for my birthday, including eating barbecue, going to breweries and eating cake. Yesterday, in a continuation of my birthday, Marie and I went to the Durham World Beer Festival, where we could enjoy unlimited tastings! It was awesome. There are some good breweries out here including Fullsteam, Crank Arm and Foothills. It was almost like being in Oregon (we even had rain) and I got to be really nerdy about beer, which is one of my favorite pastimes.

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The Town of Cary

Friday 10/10/2014 7:17 am ET

Yesterday I got the chance to visit the Town of Cary, North Carolina, a community of about 150,000 residents located between Durham and Raleigh. Cary has experienced a ton of growth in the last couple of decades, in the 1980s they added about 8,000 residences but in the 1990s and 2000s they added 17,000 homes in both decades. This rate of growth has been great for the town government because there was always new revenue coming in and until very recently they hadn’t raised their tax rate since the early 1990s. The Great Recession has slowed the amount of growth significantly and I learned yesterday that means the town is learning it needs to be more strategic with what it places on its Capital Investment Plan and actually whittle it down to what they can afford.

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I met with Karl Knapp in Cary and before I get into the meeting I have to say the Town Hall grounds were crazy nice! The building is set in a park with water features, statues, beautiful landscaping, and even a historic building nearby. Mr. Knapp is originally from upstate New York and moved here with his wife over 20 years ago, he’s still not used to the humidity or it being 85 degrees in October and I can understand that. He started working for the State government and then for the City of Winston-Salem before ending up at the North Carolina League of Municipalities. He was at the League for 6 years until he got the Budget Director job at Cary.

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It was great to catch up with Mr. Knapp, we had met at the CPBB Conference in Denver earlier this year, and he had a lot of great advice for the job search and especially the interview process. He said whenever he interviews he sits down with the job description and brainstorms as many questions as he can for what he would ask if he was hiring for the position. Then he thinks about, “What’s the me I want to sell for this position?” And he goes through and comes up with a good answer for each question. It’s a new strategy for me that I definitely want to try out for the next interview I have.

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Code for America and the Town of Carrboro

Thursday 10/9/2014 8:50 am ET

Yesterday I spent the day in Carrboro, NC for both the Code for America webinar and a meeting with two Assistants to the Town Manager. Carrboro is a town of about 20,000 residents that flows right into Chapel Hill. The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are almost indistinguishable, where I spent most of the day in the heart of Carrboro was only about a 15-20 minute walk to the UNC-Chapel Hill campus. If it weren’t for the signs at the town limits it’d be really hard to tell where you were.

it's carrboroI learned that Carrboro prides itself on being a walkable community and from what I’ve seen it does a decent job, especially for North Carolina. The best thing about Carrboro has to be its motto, “It’s Carrboro… Feel Free.” One big issue in the community is affordable housing, (it’s not just a Carrboro issue either, Chapel Hill is struggling with it too) they have a task force and it’s something the town is working hard on.

I set up camp in a really cool coffee shop, the Open Eye Cafe. I sat on their patio for the Code for America webinar, so if you heard any car noises or beans grinding I apologize. The place had great coffee and a really nice set up with big tables, couches, and the patio. (I also bought some of their beans and they make some great coffee even at home.) The webinar was a huge success we had about 48 attendees and Garrett Jacobs covered everything from Code for America’s mission to different ways cities are being innovative. We’ll get the recording up later this week but you can scroll through the #ELGLinnovation hashtag on twitter to check out what we discussed.

julie eckenrodeAfter the webinar I met with Julie Eckenrode and Nate Broman-Fulks who were both hired on this summer as Assistants to the Town Manager at Carrboro. Julie used to be a high school social studies teacher and decided to make the switch to local government after realizing she wanted to do something with a little more variety than following the same syllabus year after year. She got her MPA while she was still teaching and landed the job in Carrboro literally a week after graduating. Connect with Julie on LinkedIn or Carrboro’s Twitter which she runs.

nate broman fulksNate, who I met at the Southeast ELGL Happy Hour on Friday, went to the University of South Carolina for undergrad and North Carolina State for his MPA. After a year working for the Triangle area Council of Governments he landed the job in Carrboro. Nate is spearheading the town’s efforts around affordable housing. Connect with Nate on LinkedIn or Twitter.

It was great to meet with both Julie and Nate, I feel like I’ve been meeting a lot of local government veterans in North Carolina and it was nice to connect with some peers in the area. I’ll definitely keep an eye out for openings in Carrboro and probably make Julie and Nate hang out with me again.

*As a side note, tomorrow is my birthday and I’ve mostly eaten frosting this morning. But more importantly my Fiancé’s birthday is December 14th and since Taylor Swift’s birthday is the 13th I’m trying to throw a joint bday party so help me tweet at Tay-tay.*

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The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners 

Tuesday 10/7/2014 8:41 pm ET

I had one informational interview today but I met two people during the trip and learned all about a new organization. The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) is an advocacy organization that has been operating on behalf of county governments in North Carolina since 1908. I learned that after a strategic planning effort they have identified four pillars of their mission: Advocacy, Education, Research, & Member Services.

Their advocacy efforts center around lobbying the state government on behalf of the counties, one major achievement in that front was getting rid of the county funding for medicaid. Prior to the change counties in North Carolina were paying 15% of the non-federally-funded portion of Medicaid bills. Getting this changed was a big focus for the organization and their efforts included a “Medicaid in a box” push where they gave county commissioners information about how the charge was impacting their county, which the commissioners could then use to lobby their state delegation. Recently they got this changed and counties are no longer responsible for funding Medicaid.

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Originally I was going to just meet with David Thompson, the current Executive Director, but since he is leaving for a position at the National Association of Counties he brought in Kevin Leonard the Deputy Director and eventual replacement of Mr. Thompson.  It was great to chat with both of them, you can tell that they really have fun doing what they do. Besides some awkwardness after saying I was interested in “local government” not just “county management,” we had a great meeting. They both had interesting paths to the NCACC, Mr. Thompson spent most of his career as a County Manager before joining the organization and Mr. Leonard worked for the State government before switching over. The best part of the meeting was hearing about Mr. Thompson’s plan for the zombie apocalypse, which he assured that he was ready for because he owned an RV.

Although I’m not ready to commit to the county side of local government I learned a lot about the local government landscape from this meeting and that was definitely worth the trip.

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The Weekend in Review

Monday 10/6/2014 9:16 am ET

IMG_2030This weekend was pretty jam-packed and it was a ton of fun. I’ll give you a couple of highlights, almost all of them are non-job search related. On Friday we had two big events, I won tickets to the Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh and we had the first Southeast ELGL Happy Hour. The bluegrass festival was pretty fun, it was a beautiful day and the music was very upbeat and twangy. I’m not sure if I could have listened to a whole day’s worth of bluegrass but the couple of sets that we caught were a fun time.

The Happy Hour in Durham was a great success! We had about 25 people come throughout the night from all over the triangle. A couple of the people I informational interviewed with were there and it was good to catch up with them, but it was also fun to meet other people in the area. Bull McCabe’s in downtown Durham is a great place, they have a good beer list and the appetizers were pretty tasty (what I got of them). Thanks to Rafael Baptista and John Allore for helping to organize the night.

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Saturday I went to my first UNC football game and, I have to admit, my first tailgate. I haven’t been to many big school football games and they don’t do much tailgating at the Willamette Bearcat games. I went with Marie and we tailgated with her classmates in the MHA program. After a brunch themed tailgate we wandered over to the stadium, where it was military appreciation day. The stadium was beautiful and the crowd was pretty fun, the game was close for the first quarter but then got a little out of hand. We took off at halftime but I had a great time!

IMG_2062Sunday I took a page out of the Kent Wyatt playbook and finally wrote some Thank You notes. I have one for all 10 of the people I have informational interviewed with and today I need to track down some stamps to get them sent out. If you’ve never heard Kent’s take on Thank You notes it’s definitely worth hearing (ask him about it at this year’s conference). Thank You notes are a great way to make an impact on someone and it’s unique to do in this day and age.

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Bluegrass Festival & Why Twitter is Awesome

Friday 10/3/2014 12:04 pm ET

So today is the Wide Open Bluegrass Festival in Raleigh, NC. It’s a two day event but they’ve been building up to it all week with smaller shows throughout the city. Normally a Bluegrass Festival wouldn’t be on my radar but thanks to Twitter I won tickets for both days! I tweeted about my experience riding Triangle Transit and they gave me tickets to spreading the word.

Big thanks to Eleanor Hawthorne and the staff at Triangle Transit, I do love their buses and this should be a fun outing. 

 

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Susan Austin & the UNC School of Government  

Thursday 10/2/2014 8:33 am ET  

susan austinYesterday afternoon I got the chance to meet with Susan Austin the career services director at the UNC School of Government. She is a graduate of the UNC Public Administration program and has worked for the School of Government since 2001. We chatted for awhile about the work being done at the School of Government, the people I had already met with, and different organizations in the triangle that I should contact. I also got a tour of the building, which has a really cool blend of historic and modern features.  

With no undergraduate program or PhD program the School of Government gets to just focus on their MPA Students. In addition, they do a lot of consulting work from training newly elected officials on “the essentials” of municipal administration to consulting with judges and writing articles, like this one for the News & Observer: NC voters will decide whether to expand nonjury trials. Ms. Austin also said not having undergrads keeps their building in much better shape than other schools around campus, and it shows.   sog building

I’ll try not to go on to big of a tangent, but I really loved the building. Parts of the building are historic and they have been preserved despite the school’s growth. In the picture on the right the brick wall used to be the outside of the building and they have enclosed it over time to preserve the history (and add air conditioning). Pretty cool! The building is also full of beautiful murals but the best one is next to the kitchen in the basement and features important people and scenes from the Civil Rights movement in North Carolina, including the four UNC Greensboro students that did the first sit in at a lunch counter in downtown Greensboro.  

It was fun to meet with Ms. Austin and she’s given me some new contacts in the area, but with the prevalence of UNC alumni in the area it’s really good to have a contact at the school to introduce me to the professionals in the area. Overall I was really impressed with the School of Government and if you want to find out more read the ELGL profile on it: On Campus with the UNC MPA Program.  

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Brian Bowman – Knightdale, NC  

Wednesday 10/1/2014 12:59 pm ET

This morning I met with Brian Bowman, a Durham native, he’s the Communications Director for the Town of Knightdale, North Carolina. Knightdale is a town of about 12,000 people just outside of Raleigh and has grown a lot in the past few years. Mr. Bowman began his career in the media world as a News Reporter for a North Carolina TV station. After 12 years of that grind he wanted to make the switch to local government, so that he could have more normal hours and a better work-life balance. 

brian bowman knightdaleHe was hired on at the Town of Wilson, NC by Ed Wyatt (Kent’s Dad) who then promptly retired a few months later. After a few years in Wilson, an area he had covered as a reporter, he wanted to move closer to the Triangle. He and his family moved to Wake Forest (which I learned is NOT the home of Wake Forest University) and he was hired as a Public Information Officer at Knightdale. Currently he is working to implement a branding program for the Town of Knightdale, they had brought in a contractor to help come up with a logo and plan and now the implementation work is on Bowman to do.

Mr. Bowman had some great insight into the government communications world of North Carolina, one interesting tidbit had to do with his title change from PIO to Communications Director. He felt that the title of “Public Information Officer” doesn’t really fit what local government communicators do. “To me a PIO is a military position or uniformed officer that pushes information out,” he said. “We don’t just inform the public we also do important policy advising and interacting with the community.”

He also had some great suggestions for things to do in North Carolina, including the bluegrass festival this weekend in Raleigh as well as something called RTP 180, a monthly event put on by the Research Triangle Park that features a local speaker talking about whatever issue they are passionate event. These free events include free beer and food so I’ll definitely have to check it out.

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A Day in Durham  

Wednesday 10/1/2014 7:26 am ET  

I woke up this morning and realized I didn’t update you all on what I did yesterday. For the last day of September, I had a day in Durham it was low-key and I got to do a couple of my favorite things. I got lunch with Brittany Bennett, who led the ELGL Twittersation on the events in Ferguson, MO and how the protests have impacted local governments. Brittany is a recent MPA grad from the University of North Carolina and now she works at Self Help. Self Help is a credit union but is also involved with a lot of economic development, especially in downtown Durham. Some of their projects include the American Tobacco Campus and the redevelopment of a Sun Life Bank building, one of the largest buildings in Durham. Brittany works in development for the company which includes grant writing efforts.   

IMG_2010We had lunch at the Old Havana Sandwich Shop, another Cuban place, and it was delicious. I would definitely recommend it, they had great pork sandwich and it’s in an repurposed old building across the street from a historic First Presbyterian Church, definitely a cool part of town.  

Afterwards I wandered to the Ninth Street Bakery to set up my laptop for awhile, they drew me in with the smell of cinnamon and a big patio but they kept me there with their great coffee and some 70s R&B. It was my office as I moderated yesterday’s #GreatDebate Twittersation. Setting up in a coffee shop (or bakery) all day is a pretty classic move for me, and one of my favorite things to do in Portland.

The other thing that I love to do on those kinds of days is make a trip to a record store.   So yesterday I drove a little ways out of downtown Durham to Chaz’s Bull City Records. Portland is known for its record stores, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I walked in. It wasn’t a very big place but it was packed with records of all kinds, and was well labeled and organized. I was looking for the new Jeff Tweedy record, the owner of the store showed me right to it. I asked for a recommendation of a local band to try out and right away he suggested the band Hiss Golden Messenger. They are country-rock with a little bit of folk and I’m loving the record, Lateness of Dancers. Here’s an acoustic version of the opening song of the album:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqzhsUtGCz4&feature=youtu.be  

Overall a pretty fun day in Durham. I’ve got a couple of informational interviews today so I’ll be sure to keep you all updated!  

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Catawba County  

Monday 9/29/2014 12:38 pm ET  

This morning I made the 2.5 hour trek from the triangle to Catawba County, North Carolina. I’ve heard a lot about this organization and the legendary Tom Lundy. Mr. Lundy has been the County Manager of Catawba since 1979! He’s also served as president of the state county association and the state chapter of ICMA. He gave me some background on Catawba County, the area was big in manufacturing and historically it was the heaviest manufacturing congressional district in the nation. When the Great Recession hit, many of those jobs left and have not returned.   

TomLundy_smThe economy of the area has changed somewhat as a result, Apple has their data world headquarters in Catawba County. So whether you’re buying an album on iTunes from Berlin, Portland, or Durham the information is routed through Catawba County. Although this is good news for the county’s tax base it doesn’t actually employ that many people. Mr. Lundy also told me more about the school system in North Carolina. The county funds about 20 percent of the schools’ operating costs and the state provides the rest of the funding (80%). But the county handles all of the schools’ capital costs from buses to buildings. He described it as a very bifurcated system that ends up confusing many residents.  

Mr. Lundy was very friendly and helpful, one piece of advice I took away was about his view on relationships, especially in regard to working with elected officials – and for counties that can mean some department heads like the Sheriff.   “Relationships are key,” he said. “It’s all about how you sustain a working relationship in good times and bad.”   His example was from when the Sheriff wanted to replace some of the regular police cars with Chevy Tahoes. It was the Sheriff’s personal preference, but he cited the increase in safety for officers as a reason. However, the budget department lobbied against it because of increased cost. Since they had a great working relationship the Sheriff, instead of fighting it out in public or in the paper, had Mr. Lundy put on a police utility belt and try getting in and out of both kinds of cars. And it was much easier to get out of the Tahoe. With that new information Mr. Lundy agreed to purchase some of the Tahoes.  

Despite the long car ride (and I haven’t even started the return trip) it was a fun trip and I learned a lot!  

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American Tobacco Campus  

Saturday 9/27/2014 2:11 pm ET  

Last night we had date night at the American Tobacco Campus in downtown Durham. The campus used to be the main plant for the production of American Tobacco cigarettes. (Read more about the history of the site and the Duke family on their website.) Once the plant closed down the city needed to figure out what to do with the historic warehouses. Capitol Broadcasting came in and wanted to redevelop the site. With partnership from the City of Durham and Durham County they transformed the area into a mixed use development with retail, restaurants, and park space. Some of the tenants are the local public radio and the YMCA, also the Durham Bulls stadium and Performing Arts Center are nearby.  

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I hadn’t been to the campus before and I didn’t know what to expect. I really loved it! We had dinner at Cuban Revolution and then wandered around the campus. There’s a great park with some natural features and a reuse of the mill race that went through the warehouses. I also like that they preserved the smokestack and water tower. It was a fun night and I definitely want to go back.   IMG_2001

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Visiting Chapel Hill  

Friday 9/26/2014 6:04 pm (ET)  

Today I got the chance to visit with Flo Miller the Deputy Town Manager of Chapel Hill. Ms. Miller has been working for the Town of Chapel Hill for over 20 years and even supervised ELGL co-founder Kirsten Wyatt when she was a graduate student at UNC and was interning at Chapel Hill. I learned a lot about what to look for in a first job, but the conversation was just as much her asking me questions.   

IMG_1999She started with asking me about my career aspirations and a little background on why I wanted to get into local government.  She was really interested in what work I had done at my different internships and what I was passionate about. I wrote down a couple of great quotes that she gave me:  

“We still have to use our brains. Don’t let the technology fool us into thinking we don’t have to think.” – In reference to the prevalence of smart phones.  

“Whatever you’re learning and where ever you’re learning it, it’s just another tool to put in your toolbox.”  – Talking about how experience in any department can help you in your career path.  

“You’re a sponge now.” – Saying how the first job is all about learning as much as you can.  

Two takeaways for me from the interview were: 1) I need to put more time into applying for jobs (which may mean less informational interviews) and more time reading the newspapers. 2) I need to look for a first job where I’ll have the best chance to enter into the organization, meaning a chance to learn a ton and get great experience. It was a really productive meeting and she even has great advice for ELGL, we should do some leadership training. So I’ll keep you updated on that.   We’re off to have date night at the American Tobacco Campus, I’m all about the redevelopment of old buildings so this is going to be great!  

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Greensboro & Mercadito’s  

Thursday 9/25/2014 6:02 pm ET  

Today I made another trek out to Greensboro, NC for an informational interview with Steven Buter a Budget Analyst for the City of Greensboro. Originally hailing from Grand Rapids (MI), Steven spent 5 years as a Management Analyst for the City of University Place, Washington.

IMG_1955It was fun to meet with another west coast transplant and Steven was a great host, he first introduced me to Larry Davis the Budget & Evaluation Director and a long time Greensboro employee. We all chatted about Greensboro, some of the issues the city is facing, and how hard it will be to follow my west coast sports teams now that I’m on the east coast.  

I learned that Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point all make up what is known as the Triad which is the third largest metro area in the state behind the Research Triangle and the Charlotte area. Traditionally the Triad was a large manufacturing center and was home to a large furniture industry, but when the recession hit many of those jobs went away and haven’t come back as the economy has recovered.  

greensboroMr. Davis noted that some other manufacturing jobs have emerged and there are jobs available but companies are having problems finding qualified workers. Many workers need to be retrained he said the the community colleges in the area have taken on that issue. I also learned Greensboro has faced multiple years of budget cuts and that’s had a big effect on the organization. They’ve started to introduce Priority Based Budgeting as a way to help city councilors understand that any more cuts will start affecting not just the level of service but whether some services should even be provided by the city.  

But to the fun stuff, lunch. Steven took me to Mercadito’s, a tasty Mexican food restaurant and grocery store, and I got the tacos (see above). It seemed like the whole budget department came but really it was 3 other Budget Analysts and the Parking Manager (who used to be a budget analyst). It was fun to sit with the group and see how laid back and easy-going they were.   

mercaditosAt the same time it was an educational lunch. I learned about how the sales tax is apportioned in North Carolina and contrary to what I assumed cities don’t necessarily get all of the sales tax collected in their city limits. In Guilford County sales tax revenue is distributed based on the amount of property taxes collected by each city. So the higher the property tax collected the more sales tax given. It’s an interesting system because it creates an incentive in Greensboro to add fees to property tax bills because it results in more sales tax revenue.  

I’m updating everyone one my travels this late because I met up with Southeast ELGL Leader Rafael Baptista for a drink in Chapel Hill. It was awesome to catch up with Raf, another Bearcat alum, and get to know his girlfriend Jen Della Valle more, but he did kept me up past my bedtime.

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Durham & SeeClickFix  

Wednesday 9/24/2014 1:43 pm ET   

bo fergusonSo it has been raining cats and dogs in North Carolina all day, but that didn’t slow me down. I even still took a City Hall selfie in the rain (see above). This morning I made the trip into downtown Durham to meet with Bo Ferguson, the Deputy City Manager of Durham and co-star of the upcoming Twittersation on comparing the job of City Manager vs Assistant City Manager.  It was a fun meeting, we chatted about his career path, the creation of ELGL, his use of SeeClickFix in Hendersonville, and his preference of East Carolina BBQ over West Carolina BBQ. Plus we discovered that we’re neighbors! He lives a couple of blocks from where I’m staying in Durham.  

Once again the meeting lead to great advice and more contacts for me to email. But this time I felt inspired after chatting with Mr. Ferguson. Even though the job search can be a grind and a little frustrating it’s always fun to talk with people who got into local government for the same reasons you did. Mr. Ferguson also got his MPA right after graduating from undergrad and he loves the generalist nature of local government work. He likes that he gets to have his hands in a bunch of different departments and that he doesn’t have to focus on one thing for more than a couple of days. Getting to work on something new every day is something that really excites me about local government.   

IMG_1987Instead of going out for lunch (again) today I coordinated the first webinar in our Innovation Series and it was with one of the coolest companies I’ve been exposed to working in local government, SeeClickFix. The webinar was really great, we had 25 attendees and there were a lot of great questions.

It was also cool to hear about SeeClickFix’s origin, the CEO started the company because he reported graffiti using a telephone hotline and never heard back from the city.Ryan Mannion, the presenter, said that SeeClickFix believes communication should be the foundation of interacting with government. What a great quote. Be sure to check out our other upcoming innovation webinars.  

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Adventures in Transit & Meeting Bill Rivenbark

Tuesday 9/23/2014 7:08 pm ET

gotriangleThis afternoon I had quite the adventure, I rode the bus to the North Carolina campus and then to another informational interview with Bill Rivenbark. The public transportation system here is a little strange. Back home TriMet is the only major player in the Portland area and it’s a pretty easy system to look up and figure out how to get from place to place using the bus or light rail. That is not the case here, there are two agencies that serve the neighborhood that I am in and get this, there are 8 transit agencies in the Research Triangle!

There is a regional agency that manages a bus system called GoTriangle, I’ve learned they are the Green buses. In this neighborhood (since I’m in Durham) the Durham Area Transit Agency (DATA) also picks up riders. The fees are different for each agency, to keep riders on their toes. The nice thing is that once I got to Chapel Hill the bus was free. I took the GoTriangle 400 bus to Chapel Hill today, where Marie and I got lunch, then I took the NS Chapel Hill Transit bus to the nearby Root Cellar for my informational interview. It was quite the adventure, but I made it there and back to the house without issue.

bill rivenbarkThe informational interview with Mr. Rivenbark went well, he’s the Director of the UNC MPA program and had a lot of good advice for me. Some of his suggestions included getting plugged in to some professional organizations and thinking about good answers for subjects like performance measures and data, subjects that might come up in an interview. He also told me about a few resources that I’ll be checking out, specifically the County and Municipal Government publication the School of Government produces.

Mr. Rivenbark also informed me that, unlike in Oregon, North Carolina is a Dillon’s Rule state rather than home rule. I’ll have to go back to my Local Government Administration textbook to refresh on the specifics, but in general that means cities in North Carolina can only do what the state has specifically outlined for them to do. Compared to Oregon where home rule cities can do whatever they’d like as long as the state isn’t already doing it. Definitely a fascinating difference that shapes how local governments do business here.

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Monuts!

Tuesday 9/23/2014 1:19 pm

IMG_1967This morning I met with two professionals from the City of Durham at Monuts donut shop in downtown Durham. John Allore is the Assistant Budget Director for the city and one of our friends from the CPBB Conference in Denver. The other person I met with was Josh Edwards who is the strategic initiatives manager for Durham. Big thanks to John and Josh for suggesting Monuts which besides having good coffee also had a sweet potato donut which made the fat kid in me jump for joy.

Enough about the donuts, Josh and John gave me the lowdown on what’s happening in Durham and North Carolina more generally. They turned me on to an article in the New York Times all about how North Carolina politics have become much less black and white (or red and blue) than is commonly thought: North Carolina, in Political Flux, Battles for Its IdentityWe also chatted about the Penny for Housing program, which aims to improve economic development and city services in an area of the city that was previously underserved. Josh told me to check out the Durham Neighborhood Compass, a tool to explore the different areas of Durham.

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We talked extensively about the redevelopment that has happened in downtown Durham and how the area has changed in the last couple of years. From the repurposing of old tobacco warehouses to adding more restaurants than McDonalds, which John said was the only option downtown when he first started at Durham. John also shared the process the city went through to add the Durham Public Arts Center (DPAC), they were laughed at when it was first proposed, but now it’s one of the premier venues in the country. All this inspired me to walk down to the American Tobacco Campus and see a little more of the city.

IMG_1969After meeting with Josh and John I will definitely be keeping an eye out for openings at Durham! They’ve also connected me with some other professionals in the area and resources for finding our more about local government in North Carolina. This afternoon I’ll be meeting with Bill Rivenbark from the UNC School of Government so stay tuned.

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out to lunch

Lunch with the Wyatts

Monday 9/22/2014 8:54 pm ET

wyattsToday was a pretty low key day in the North Carolina. I spent a lot of time setting up informational interviews and doing some behind the scenes ELGL work. The big event today was that I had lunch with the Wyatts (no not those Wyatts). I got to have lunch with Kent’s parents, Ed and Jeannie Wyatt. Mr. Wyatt was a long time City Manager in Virginia and North Carolina, you can learn more about his career path from the Growing Up in City Hall post with Kent.

Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt were great to talk to for a couple of reasons, they were so welcoming and had a lot of positive things to say about the Research Triangle area plus suggestions for great places to eat and visit. And they also wanted to help me with the job search, from ideas about nearby cities to contacts that Ed has from his days in Wilson, North Carolina and being active in state associations. We also got to laugh about how much fun it is to get Kent & Kirsten’s kids all riled up and then let them deal with the consequences.

Thanks to the lunch I’ve got a couple of new leads and Mr. Wyatt will be appear in an upcoming profile for ELGL, so keep an eye out for that. One contact Mr. Wyatt gave me was Brian Bowman from Knightdale, North Carolina. After going to the Google machine to dig up an email address I found a great article he wrote for the UNC School of Government. The article is all about how to brand a downtown area in a way that showcases something unique that the district offers. The article is called The Branding of Downtown Districts and he has written a couple of other articles that are listed on the Knightdale website. I’ve sent an email off to Mr. Bowman and I’m looking forward to learning more about his work.

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The American Tobacco Trail

Sunday 9/21/2014 2:39 pm ET

We ventured out this morning for a long run because, other than football and homework, Sundays are for big runs or hikes. Marie took me to a nearby trail called the American Tobacco Trail. The portion we were on is maintained by the City of Durham but the trail extends for over 20 miles where it’s also maintained by Wake and Chatham Counties. The trail is a multipurpose trail, open to pedestrians, bicycles, and even horses, it’s called the American Tobacco Trail because it runs along what used to be a railroad track that served the American Tobacco company in downtown Durham.

IMG_1963We ran about three miles of the trail over a sweet bridge, which connects sections of the trail over the I-40 freeway, to a nearby park. Since it was so hot and humid we took a little break at this park and drank some water. C.M. Herndon park, also a City of Durham facility, had a several nice little league baseball fields and soccer fields (as well as a good bathroom situation). Our way was much slower on the way back, which I blame on the heat, but we got more time to enjoy a really nice public facility and I’ll definitely have to run that trail again while I’m here.

On a complete side note this whole time zone thing is throwing me off. Last night the Oregon Duck game didn’t start until 10:00 pm ET! (started!) I hung on as long as I could but when it hit 12:15 am (ET) and the third quarter was just getting under way I had to shut it down. Here’s hoping the late night Duck games aren’t close for the rest of the season.

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Real Estate Concert

Saturday 9/20/2014 9:42 am (ET)

Last night we went to Cat’s Cradle for a concert, Cat’s Cradle is a venue near the UNC campus (but in Carrboro not Chapel Hill) that has been bringing acts into town for 40 years. It is a good sized venue, that has a nice open floor plan and capacity for about 750 people. Last night we went to go see a band called Real Estate. Here’s a song of there’s to give you an idea of their music:

First takeaway from the concert: I have never seen people sit on the floor of a venue and just hang out before a show. There were a ton of people just lounging on the floor in front of the stage well before the concert started – don’t do that it’s weird. The opener was described on the Cat’s Cradle website as “post punk” – I don’t know what that means but it was not okay. They did not make me into a fan, but that made Real Estate sound that much better. Marie and I did a very Portland thing while the opener was on – we danced ironically and talked the whole set, I don’t think people got it.

Real Estate played a great show! I bought their latest album (on vinyl) when it came out earlier this year and it might be my favorite album of the year – definitely top five. Last night they must have played most of the songs from that album and then some that I didn’t know, which caused me to buy their other album. Their base player made some good jokes and some jokes that didn’t land, which I can relate to. They have a guitar heavy pop sound and the song that caused me to fall in love with them, and which you need to listen to if you did listen to the one above, is “Talking Backwards”:

 

After the concert we wandered down to get drinks with some of Marie’s classmates and I made my first trip to a North Carolina brewery! steel string brewerySteel String Brewery is in Carrboro but would fit right in on the Eastside of Portland (which, in my opinion, is the highest praise a brewery can achieve). They had a great ambiance, good music, and you can see back into the place where the brewing happens. I had their IPA and a Session Pale Ale. Their IPA was good, dry hopped and flavorful. But my favorite beer of the night was their Session Pale Ale a smooth beer with a complex hop profile – in a good way. I would definitely recommend them if you’re ever in Carrboro.

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hillsborough town hall

Visiting Hillsborough, NC

Friday 9/19/2014 5:01 pm (ET)

Today I hit the road again on my whirlwind tour of the North Carolina local government scene and met with the Town Manager of Hillsborough, NC – Eric Peterson. Hillsborough, despite what you Portlanders might think, is not spelled wrong, the “ugh” just makes it much fancier. Hillsborough is west of Durham/Chapel Hill and is the county seat of Orange County. It’s a town of about 6,400 people, but it provides water services to twice that many in parts of unincorporated Orange County.

The town has an adorable historic district and main street, and was founded in 1754! (I don’t know if I’ll get used to how old stuff is here, it’s crazy!) The town hall is in an old historic house, but the Town Manager’s office is in an honest to goodness barn. Kent, who had interned there as a graduate student, told me about the barn but I was not prepared for how barn-like it would be (I wish I took a picture, I’ll have to go back and take one so stay tuned). The Town Council meetings also take place in the barn, it is pretty cool how they’ve repurposed it.

Eric Peterson, the Town Manager is a really great guy, he told me all about his career path in local government and his time at Topsail Beach, NC a coastal community where he had to deal with the stress of rebuilding a town after a hurricane came through. It’s amazing all that goes into evaluating damage, cleaning up debris and rebuilding an area after a natural disaster. Eric also took me on a great tour of Hillsborough from the new developments that will grow their population by 30% to a new park and the Riverwalk trail in town. I learned a ton about the town and about race car driving and ping pong as well (two of Eric’s hobbies). I’ll definitely have to go back to Hillsborough while I’m out here because they have a well known brewery in town called Mystery Brewing Company.

Stay tuned! Tonight we’re going to a concert at Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro which should be a ton of fun!

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First Interview

Thursday 9/18/2014 10:44 pm

I had my first North Carolina job interview today!! I think it went well. As is always the case I thought of a couple better answers on the drive home from the interview but all in all it was a good experience and I think I have a good shot. I also took a sweet selfie outside of the historic county building and the Greensboro City Hall (see above), see if you can figure out which one was pre-interview and which one was after.

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To follow up my interview I managed to get horrible, terribly lost on the way back to Durham from Greensboro (the county seat of Guilford County). Like so lost I had to stop and wait for my phone to charge so I could have directions before going back on the road. I blame it on the crazy signage for the North Carolina freeways, it’s like instead of deciding on one name the state takes the top three suggestions and calls the road by all three names. It’s very confusing.

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For my NC local government tidbit I found out, as I prepared for my interview, that public schools are organized differently here than back home. The counties in North Carolina send most of the money directly to the k-12 schools (58% in Guilford County!). And interestingly the schools are organized by county. So instead of school districts having their own borders, independent of city or county lines, they align with the county borders.

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Guilford County & My Capstone Project

Thursday 9/18/2014 10:10 (ET)

I have finally recovered from flying all night and operating on less than 3 hours of sleep, GuilfordNCwhich is good because I have an interview at Guilford County this afternoon. I’m interviewing for an actual job, a Budget & Management Analyst position, so I’ll be reading a lot of budget documents today to prepare. I also need to figure out how to get there, which may be the biggest test of the day – wish me luck!

I got a text yesterday from Ben McCready asking about my capstone presentation, so I’ll share it with anyone that’s interested. Here’s the link: Kittelson 509 Presentation. If you want more details and some insight into the City of Gresham you should read the report I created, which also includes the best practices research I did as well as questions organizations should ask as they go through their own new technologies project. Here’s the report: Gresham Report. If you have any questions or you want more details just let me know!

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Caffeine & Durham’s Yard Debris Collection

Wednesday 9/17/2014 5:51 pm (ET)

I got into the Raleigh-Durham Airport this morning at 9:00 eastern time, for those of you keeping track at home that’s 6:00 am pacific. I managed not to sleep very much on the plane so I’m riding quite the caffeine buzz now (I almost like it, reminds me of pulling all-nighters in college). I spent the majority of my day unpacking the giant bag I brought and once I had done that I went for a run. While running around the neighborhood my fiancé’s parents live in (and trying not to get lost) I kept seeing these stickers on all the yard debris bins:

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Being the local government nerd that I am, these stickers confused me because back home in Oregon local governments don’t pick up garbage, recycling, or yard debris. Each organization sets a fee for the homeowner and then they hire contractors to do the dirty work. But these stickers gave me a great idea for this running blog of my trip, I’ll pick something local government related each day to do a little research on in order to learn more about local government here and then report back.

So when I got back all sweaty from running in the humidity I visited the City of Durham’s website and it turns out Durham does solid waste collections for homeowners and, interestingly, the sticker that I saw for yard debris is proof of participation in an optional yard debris program. So if you don’t plan on doing yard work, yard debris collection isn’t included in your solid waste bill. Durham also has a cool searchable GIS function that tells you what your pick up day is.

ELGL C0-Founder. Interim Communications Manager for the City of Tigard, Oregon.

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