MPP Speaker Series

MPP Students Learn About Public Budgeting, Engagement From Experienced Practitioners

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Linda Teeter

Last Thursday, Master of Public Policy students attended a presentation by Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek, and Linda Teeter, Executive Director of Michigan Citizen Action. Both Fleury and Teeter have extensive experience in Michigan government at multiple levels. They shared their collective experiences and insights with a special focus on the importance of public budgeting.

Throughout her presentation, Fleury emphasized how budgeting and financial issues

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Rebecca Fleury

underpin nearly all public decisions. Public finance affects all levels and types of policymaking. Financial information usually plays a key role in determining what policies are adopted and if and how they can be implemented.

As Fleury and Teeter noted, the resources available to local governments have been particularly strained in recent years. This presents a challenge to local officials as well as citizens. Both Fleury and Teeter work to increase public awareness of the budgeting and decision-making process.

fleuryteeter1Fleury considers providing relevant and accurate budgetary information to public officials one of her most important responsibilities. Although it takes place behind the scenes, this work is vital to the success of any government project.

In Battle Creek, Fleury’s financial team updates elected officials on a quarterly basis. This helps the team avoid surprises. By finding out about significant changes in earlier quarters of the year, officials and staff can better plan for future needs and make important changes. Major activities include revenue forecasting and legacy cost planning.

As an example, Fleury explained that she and her staff had determined not to presume reimbursement from the state for the loss of the personal property tax when planning the city budget. As it turned out, the City did receive reimbursement, but by not counting on this money, it was in a better financial position. She noted that planning like this involves a lot of strategic decision-making. Planning for future decisions by means of methods like reserve funding for capital investments is essential. It can also mean increasing reliance on revenue streams like the income tax.

Fleury noted that expenses related to personnel take up the biggest portion of any local budget. This is especially true for police and fire. Staffing and union negotiations are especially significant in determining local expenses.Picture1.jpg

Following Fleury’s presentation, Linda Teeter emphasized to students the importance of being involved in their communities, particularly at the local government level. However, she also emphasized the importance of being aware of state and national policies. She noted there is a great need for engagement, especially among young people.

Teeter explained how attendance at a local government meeting at first inspired her to get involved. Since then, she has worked as a Legislative Aide in the Michigan House, served three terms as a City Commissioner for Kalamazoo, and has lent her expertise to getting the public more involved in policy through MCA.

Together, Fleury and Teeter made a strong case for the importance of public finance and citizen involvement in government.

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MPP Speaker Series

MEC Policy Director James Clift Shares Insights on Energy and Policymaking

jamescliftLast Tuesday, the MPP Speaker Series featured James Clift, Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council. The MEC is a nonpartisan coalition of organizations that have an interest in influencing environmental policy in Michigan. Its members are diverse and represent a broad range of groups and associations.

Mr. Clift has spent 18 years at the MEC and has also worked as a lawyer, university instructor, and as a policy director at the Michigan Senate. He originally studied Business Administration and later graduated from Wayne State University with a law degree. His career illustrates the many different paths that lead individuals to policy work.

Among other activities, the MEC and Clift educate legislators about environmental and energy policy issues. They also keep track of passed legislation and administrative rules to ensure that they are being implemented as intended.

As Clift explained, the Michigan Environmental Council has cultivated a reputation for pragmatism, nonpartisanship, and solution-oriented work. He emphasized to students the value of building relationships with many people, particularly across party lines.

Earlier in the day, for example, Clift had given a presentation on energy issues to the Michigan House Energy Committee. Activities like this are an important of the MEC’s work. Clift noted that policymakers and others involved in industry and political decisions come from a variety of backgrounds. As a result, he explained, it is important to be able to listen to different perspectives and understand how they think about issues.

The energy industry is changing rapidly and involves many challenges as well as opportunities. As Policy Director, Clift makes it a priority to emphasize shared goals to his audience.jamesclift2

Three of the MEC’s major interests are protecting ratepayers, environmental protection, and securing a strong energy economy. Clift sees renewable energy as a way to both achieve environmental health and reduce costs to Michigan’s citizens. He explained that new technology, like advanced meters, can give more control to consumers while also benefiting the company and the state as a whole. This proposal involves a range of policy matters that MPP students have studied, including economic practices, policy trade-offs, and program evaluation.

Clift pointed to waste reduction as another way to reduce harm to the environment. He described how those working in any policy field may need to wait for the right political timing and work on getting public support in order to have their ideas heard. Given their limited resources, he said, organizations must choose what to spend their time on carefully. At times, it may be  easier to try to do things through the executive branch administratively under current law  than trying to get new policy adopted by the legislature.

He also noted that in Michigan it is very beneficial to relate issues to the health of the Great Lakes given their near universal importance and the concern the public and legislators have with preserving them.

Clift’s presentation was an interesting look at how those working with legislators can approach their work both at the Capitol and around the state. His expertise in this area gave the students valuable information about the workings of the energy and environmental policy fields.

The Michigan Environmental Council offers internships throughout the year. Interested students should visit their website at http://www.environmentalcouncil.org/.

 

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: MSU Professor Dr. Amita Chudgar Shares Research on Education and Development

img_0616Dr. Amita Chudgar was the featured presenter at an engaging session of the MPP Speaker Series last Wednesday. Chudgar is an MSU specialist in education policy, particularly in the context of international development. Her open presentation style encouraged participation from our MPP students, who took advantage of the opportunity to ask questions and comment on her ongoing research.

Dr. Chudgar’s work focuses on educational access and attainment in areas facing serious resource constraints. She utilizes both national and cross-national datasets to uncover how different environments and policy factors affect educational participation and achievement outcomes. Her academic training in economics and methods complement her knowledge of policy and social contexts.

Chudgar noted that, over the past two decades, primary school enrollment has risen dramatically around the world. Now that access has been improved, however, communities, teachers, and policymakers must face the challenge of ensuring that children receive quality instruction and attain learning goals. Keeping students enrolled in school as they move on to the secondary level is an additional difficulty.

Many countries lack a sufficient pipeline of students interested in becoming teachers. chudgar1Chudgar’s research has uncovered several reasons why this is the case. Attempts at solving any of these problems often affect other aspects of the educational environment. For this reason, education policy in the developing world is a complex and interesting field of research.

A recent project funded by UNICEF examined the demographics of those who teach the most marginalized students. As in other studies, Chudgar and her fellow researchers found that experience level among other factors is important in understanding teacher distribution.

In many countries, younger teachers are assigned to more rural or less desirable locations. As they gain experience and expertise, they transfer to more attractive positions. This leaves many marginalized students with the least experienced instructors. Many promising students are discouraged from becoming teachers and are instead pushed to enter other fields. Some countries, Chudgar explained, have reduced requirements for becoming a teacher in order to address shortages, but the tradeoff is that educational quality may suffer.

MPP students added to this discussion by sharing their own experiences with teaching and learning in North America, Europe, and Africa. Questions were raised about the role of technology in improving educational outcomes. This is connected to tendencies to package education in a uniform manner in hopes of more efficient delivery. Chudgar noted that this may raise ethical and pedagogical issues.

chudgar2One research note that students can take away from Chudgar’s presentation is the availability of large-scale databases that can be used to examine interesting policy questions. Making good use of existing data, often in the public domain, has been an important component of several of her recent projects.

Chudgar’s research brings to mind the fundamental policy question of balancing cost efficiency, equity, and quality. She believes that research can inform policy and that research on educational policy should also be responsive to ongoing policy debates and questions.

Dr. Chudgar is currently teaching a course on Economics of Education. This course focuses on American domestic issues and shows how economic tools can inform education. She encouraged first-year MPP students to consider taking this class next spring and to explore other special topics courses in MSU’s renowned Education Policy PhD program.

 

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: IPU-MSU Director Dr. Jan Beecher Shares Infrastructure Commission Report Findings, Experience

downloadDirector of the Institute of Public Utilities at Michigan State University Jan Beecher presented Master of Public Policy students with an engaging overview of Michigan’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission Report and discussion of her own work with the Commission and at IPU. This was a great opportunity for students to hear from an expert about a critical and complex policy area.

Dr. Beecher has several decades of experience in applied research and is an expert in public utility regulation. As Director, she performs a wide variety of duties at IPU, including guiding research, managing development, communications, funding, and the Institute’s educational and program work. She was one of 27 individuals appointed to the infrastructure commission when it was formed by Governor Rick Snyder in 2016.

The Commission was charged with studying Michigan’s infrastructure and related issues and developing recommendations. The water crisis in Flint was a key impetus. Their goal was to assess conditions and make recommendations for how Michigan should invest in its public infrastructure. Safety, reliability, and affordability are a few of the key qualities by which infrastructure can be measured.

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IPU-MSU trains regulators from across the U.S. and from many other countries. Utility regulation is a very interdisciplinary area, drawing on public policy, economics, law, accounting, finance, and engineering. Beecher sees the economic regulation as one of several policy domains affecting utilities and infrastructure, which provides checks and balances. Infrastructure can be complicated because of its nature, including the mix of public and private operations and incentives.

As Beecher noted, American infrastructure as a whole gets low marks from the American Society for Civil Engineers. Michigan’s state and local infrastructure spending per capita is about 60% of the U.S. average.

20170207_161423Beecher shared her view that governance is one of the most important aspects of infrastructure. Getting funding commitments from stakeholders, especially elected officials, and motivating action is harder than finding good ideas. The commission’s findings and recommendations were based on a comprehensive approach and a consensus process

Beecher emphasized the importance of bringing a consumer perspective into the discussions. While nearly everyone is reluctant to accept tax increases and higher rates, their can be especially hard on low-income households. The commission held listening tours throughout the state, but public engagement is an ongoing need.

The commission took the view that infrastructure as a “multi-year, multi-generational” challenge but that meeting it “creates a foundation for the future.” Safe and reliable infrastructure is critical for protecting public health. Good infrastructure can also help build a strong economy and livable communities, which can help attract and keep workers.

Road conditions, broadband access, and water are especially popular infrastructure topics 20170207_162931in Michigan. Beecher also explained that more effort is needed in terms of optimizing systems in cities with heavy population loss to help lower the cost of infrastructure over the long term. Coordinated planning and asset management are critical tools in this area.

The report’s recommendations include the creation of a state infrastructure council and regional pilot programs. Despite the immense challenges, there are also opportunities, including the idea of making energy, water, and transportation systems “smart.”

Dr. Beecher’s talk with MPP students illustrated how critical and complex issues like infrastructure can be, and how policy analysis can play a role. Her presentation provided a great introduction to infrastructure for those unfamiliar with the topic. You can read the Commission’s report here.

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: Career and Resume Workshop

workshop2At the first event of the spring semester Master of Public Policy Speaker series, Michigan State University PhD candidate Erika Rosebrook led a resume and job search workshop for MPP students. Our students have a diverse range of experiences and career interests, but each can benefit from guidance and feedback during their searches for internships and future positions. This workshop included valuable advice about resumes and cover letters, a discussion of the importance of networking, and a chance for students to get feedback from their peers.

Rosebrook has substantial experience in policy, including at the Michigan Office of Urban and Metropolitan Initiatives, as a policy and administration consultant, and in several analytic and administrative positions in Michigan county government. These experiences as both a job candidate and manager have informed her not only about common mistakes but also the importance of knowing what kind of work is best suited to a particular person.

As Rosebrook explained, knowing one’s own strengths and preferences is essential. Students partnered with one another to share their impressions of one another’s strengths. They also considered what factors might make a job difficult or unappealing to them.

Workstyle preferences, values, and interests can determine whether a candidate is suitable for a position. Examples include preferences for working alone or with others, or for routine work versus frequent new projects. Sometimes these insights may only come with experience. Rosebrook noted that simply having the skills required for a job does not mean it is necessarily a good match.

Students also teamed up to review one another’s resumes, having received personal feedback from Rosebrook. This helps students develop effective resumes that emphasize their strengths and are suitable for their jobs or industries of interest.group1

She encouraged students to emphasize the results they were able to achieve at their jobs. Discussions of experience that simply lists tasks performed are usually ineffective.

Candidates should highlight the most relevant experiences and skills at the beginning of the resume. Many people make the mistake of hiding their skills and achievements in other parts of the document. These can be overlooked.

Resumes and cover letters should be adapted for each position. They should show that students can fulfill the employer’s needs. Thinking from an employer’s perspective is essential to crafting a strong resume and cover letter.

A recurring theme at the workshop was the importance of emphasizing the most relevant experiences in a clear manner. Rosebrook also reminded students to be honest about their skill levels, especially when describing proficiency with languages, coding, and software.

Other important parts of internship searches and job hunting were also discussed. Social connections play an important role in many organizations’ hiring processes. Having a strong network puts candidates in a much better position during their search. Rosebrook suggested that those who are not comfortable networking befriend someone who is.

Another important preparation is creating an “elevator pitch.” Students should think about how to succinctly describe their experiences, strengths, and interests to a potential employers or new acquaintance. Being able to briefly but effectively express these points will benefit them as they grow their network.

The workshop was an excellent chance for students to get feedback as they prepare and edit their resumes. They will use what they have learned to better prepare for their current and future searches for internships and employment.

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: Detroit City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López

castaneda-lopezDetroit City Council Member Raquel Castañeda-López visited Michigan State University as part of the MPP Speaker Series November 4th. Her passion for service and understanding of a wide array of policies have helped her to be an effective council member and policymaker. She serves the ethnically diverse District 6, in Southwest Detroit, where she herself grew up. Her visit allowed MPP students to hear firsthand about council activities, current policy issues, and her own career experiences.

Council Member Castañeda-López is on a council committee and is involved in many activities throughout Detroit. She is also a liaison for Detroit Public Schools. To fulfill all these roles, she draws on her knowledge, information from constituents and public officials, and her experiences as a social worker and non-profit employee. Her long history of service to families and to people in poverty or facing social and economic challenges informs her work as a council member and community representative.

Castañeda-López discussed her entry into politics. An experienced social worker, Castañeda-López shared that she did not start out hoping for a political career. An experience interning with a state representative and a job running a campaign increased her understanding of political work, but it wasn’t until her neighbors urged her to run for council that she thought of entering politics herself. Castañeda-López won her first election in 2013.

Her success shows how people involved in policy don’t always follow a specific career path. She was able to gain a voice in council on behalf of her constituents through the hard work of community campaigning, door knocking, and speaking with voters. Her sense of responsibility to her community was an important motivator for her decision.

Castañeda-López has been an important proponent of Detroit’s Welcoming City status. She has also worked on a variety of initiatives related to pollution, supporting education, and strengthening city services.

At Friday’s event, a major topic of discussion was Detroit’s new municipal ID program. City residents will soon be able to obtain a personal ID card that will be accepted by the City as well as many businesses and institutions. These cards allow people who do not have access to other forms of identification to access community benefits as well as private services. Uses include opening bank accounts and accessing social services. The card may also help capture a sense of identity among Detroit residents.

It is expected that a diverse group of people will choose to obtain a city ID. Castañeda-López said that her office has received many requests for information about IDs from Detroiters as well as people from other communities. Other Michigan cities have also expressed interest in creating similar programs. Municipal IDs will be distributed at health and recreation centers to ensure accessibility.

Castañeda-López emphasized the importance of responding to her constituent’s needs and values regardless of their background. She also discussed the importance of transparency and accountability, and noted how policies can gain or lose strength based on mayoral support.

MPP students had a diverse set of questions. Issues included environmental pollution in the city, the City Council’s relations with the executive, and evaluation criteria for the new ID program. The Open Streets initiative and improved mobility for the whole population were also discussed.

It was valuable for students to hear from a very active and dedicated Council Member like Ms. Castañeda-López. Her discussion provided valuable insights to students interested in any type of policy work. She encouraged them to look for opportunities to intern in the Detroit area and learn more about community engagement and policy.

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Speaker Series: City Manager Rebecca Fleury

fleury.jpgThe MPP Program welcomed speaker Rebecca Fleury, City Manager of Battle Creek, last Thursday afternoon. The event was part of the ongoing MPP Speaker Series. Prior to her current role, Fleury held several positions in Kalamazoo, worked as Community Development Specialist in Hastings, and was Village Manager and Financial Director of Middleville.

Throughout her career, Fleury’s talents and experiences have enabled her to adapt to new roles while serving Michigan’s communities. Her visit gave students and faculty an opportunity to hear her share the lessons she has learned as an effective city manager. She also offered advice to students interested in similar careers in local government.

As City Manager, Fleury directs the administration of Battle Creek. She supervises all departments, oversees operations, and handles many of the day-to-day activities of governing. She also works closely with and advises the city commission, helps resolve problems, represents Battle Creek to the public, and ensures that the government acts as a unified body when implementing its decisions.

Fleury discovered her passion for local government while working at Michigan State University, facilitating community and university relations. She calls city management a “viable, rewarding, and professional career.” Each day requires attention to a different problem. These new challenges and her closeness to the community’s residents makes her work interesting and rewarding.

Being a good manager requires a diverse skill set. Fleury urged students to use every opportunity to learn new skills and familiarize themselves with government activities. Fleury herself learned about many different departments, particularly financial divisions, prior to achieving her goal of a managerial position.

Fleury emphasized the importance of relationships to her work as a city manager. In this role, she must communicate effectively with employees, elected officials, residents, and representatives from other communities. She called collaboration and personal relationships essential to effective management.

20161027_160210_resizedWithin the community and government, conflicts over issues like schools, demographic changes, and economic development decisions require careful consideration and a balancing of relationships and priorities. For example, Battle Creek has taken a proactive role in becoming a Welcoming City. This is part of an inclusive program where communities work to make all who live in a community feel like they belong.  The city also promotes reuse and revitalization of buildings, in part, by marketing closed school buildings to developers, as part of its economic development efforts.

These examples fit with Fleury’s theme of managing situations even with a limited capacity for action. She noted that, like many communities around the state, Battle Creek struggles with difficult budgetary decisions, such as funding police and fire needs and managing employee benefits. Fleury stated that these problems require “constant due diligence” and are often dependent on state-level policies that contribute to fiscal uncertainties.

Students asked insightful questions about policy challenges and Fleury’s experiences. Topics included the role of sustainability, public school mergers, experiences with sexism, and what would-be managers should know about the communities they want to serve in.

Fleury encouraged students to learn all they can about any place they want to work and consider whether it is a good fit for both the individual and the community.

Fleury’s talk was a valuable opportunity for students to learn more about city management, but her experiences and knowledge are relevant to students interested in any level of government. She illustrated how knowledge about a wide range of policy issues and careful management of relationships can help improve decision-making.

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