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.

Internships, Student Profiles

InnovateGov Service Learning Internship Featuring Jordon Newton

jordon-newton-photoThis summer, 26 MSU students, including 5 MPP students, participated in the InnovateGov Service Learning Internship Program, and played a key role in changing the way the City of Detroit addresses a complex set of issues. Jordon Newton, second-year MPP student, was placed with Data Driven Detroit (D3), and spent his summer using data and delving into analysis to drive informed decision-making.

Jordon is originally from Spokane, Washington, and earned a Bachelor of Science in Economics from Gonzaga University. Now at MSU, he is an assistant coach on the MSU Debate Team. Jordon has always enjoyed working with numbers and data, so being placed with Data Driven Detroit was a perfect fit.

D3’s mission is to provide accessible, high-quality information and analysis to drive informed decision- making across our communities. Their primary focus is in the Detroit area, with a few projects spilling over to the rest of Wayne County. D3 works with community partners to help improve the availability of information and helps provide analytical services to help drive those decisions.

The primary project Jordon worked on is the Turning the Corner project. The Turning the Corner project is sponsored by the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, in cooperation with the Urban Institute and the Federal Reserve, to find a way to better track neighborhood economic shifts across cities in the United States. Their effort is to help find datasets that are predictive of when a neighborhood is close to experiencing a drastic shift so policy makers can act to prevent potential negative effects, such as economic displacement or the collapse of a neighborhood, from those changes. Detroit is being used as a test case to build a national model. For this project, Jordon researched a few dozen potential data sources that could be used in this effort, and collected data.

In addition to the Turning the Corner project, Jordon also worked on data research and analysis for a local neighborhood’s application to receive Promise Neighborhood status. The vision of the Promise Neighborhood program is that all children and youth growing up in a Promise Neighborhood have access to great schools and strong systems of family and community support that will prepare them to attain an excellent education and successfully transition to college and a career. Jordon also worked on visual data development for a variety of projects (using ArcGIS), background research for a project to improve neighborhood outcomes, and surveyed housing parcels for a neighborhood organization to help prevent blight and clean up abandoned properties.

Through his internship, the most eye-opening lesson was the difficulties in coordination and communication among the organizations within the community. According to Jordon, this problem goes far beyond individual actors, as there are dozens of organizations looking to help on any given issue, but in many instances they keep their actions uncoordinated, which can decrease the effectiveness of each organizations action.

Upon graduation from the MPP program, Jordon would like to do academic policy research, either as a faculty member at a research institution or for a primarily research-based organization, and would like to enter a PhD program in the future.


MPP in the Summer, The Places They Go: Marcus, Juan, Sean

This summer, three of Michigan State Master of Public Policy program students have taken on the City of Detroit’s Finance Department, Income Tax division. Marcus Coffin, Juan Loaiza and Sean Tobin are working in the Economic Policy Planning and Strategy office under Deputy Mayor Carol O’Cleireacain. This office is responsible for overseeing numerous aspects of Detroit’s tax collection process, from identifying non-filers to processing returns and providing customer service.

The project they have been working on is referred to as the Landlord-Tenant Project, in which they seek to identify city income tax non-filers in Greater Downtown Detroit with data obtained from the landlords and from the city’s tax software. This task involves a large amount of direct landlord contact and a huge data collection and cleaning operation. The goal is to develop a database that will give complete and accurate information in one place of residents that are subject to income tax and how to contact them. In finding the most effective method to do this each has played a part in offering new approaches. In particular Sean has had the opportunity to introduce and utilize his GIS skills to the current system to map income tax compliance in downtown neighborhoods over the past five years.

The MPP students were part of the inaugural class of InnovateGov, a program developed by Assistant Professor of Political Science Josh Sapotichne and MSU Extension faculty member Eric Scorsone to help students gain real-world experience in local government while assisting urban governments with complex problems. Sapotichne and Scorsone, who lead an ongoing research project on municipal fiscal distress and state intervention, worked with students throughout the summer to help connect their academic work to their experience at the city.

From the internship experience Marcus finds he has learned a great deal about how city bureaucracies function day-to-day. It has also taught him about how data is used in city government, and the importance of maintaining up-to-date data. When initially arriving in the city they were assigned to build a database from the ground up using data from disparate sources. Had their been a place where all of this data is collected and kept would have made the job far easier.

Juan has also come to find the importance of cities collecting data at present in order to ease future operations, programs and facilitate the leadership decision-making. In addition Juan has learned how to identify solutions to problems involving large amounts and incomplete data. He hopes moving forward through work such as this, more effective methods will be adapted in the public sector and cut back on current inefficiencies.

Through their time with the City of Detroit, Marcus, Juan and Sean have all come to gain a better understanding of bureaucratic operations and team building to accomplish set end goals. Their work is extremely important to the city and has come to be mutually beneficial.