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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Hire An MPP, Student Profiles

Hire An MPP: Zach Polselli

Many of Michigan State University’s second-year Master of Public Policy students will be graduating this May. They have a wealth of experience, knowledge, and passion that will allow them to put the skills they’ve acquired to good use. We’re posting profiles of all our soon-to-be graduates so you can get to know them—and maybe find the next addition to your firm or organization!

blogzachName: Zachary Polselli

Ideal Job Location: Detroit, MI

Ideal Job: Zach aims to use his considerable knowledge of the policymaking process to improve program development and implementation in a large city or county in Michigan. Ultimately, he would like to become a city or county manager.

Through the MPP program and his experiences, Zach has developed the skills and understanding necessary for these demanding roles.

Work Experience: Zach has performed valuable policy work related to both program planning and legislative processes. Over the last three years, he has completed four internships with his state representative. As he explains, “I have seen all steps in the process of turning policy into law. This has helped me see what is politically feasible when trying to implement a policy. The policy content is as important as the political environment in which it is introduced.” He believes he could use his knowledge of the state legislator in his future policy work.

Last summer, Zach completed another internship in Detroit with the Wayne County Health, Veterans & Community Wellness as part of the InnovateGov internship program. This was one of his favorite and most valuable experiences in the MPP program because he was able to assist with policy from creation to evaluation.

Skills and Academic Training: Zach’s training in the MPP program has allowed him to combine analytical skills with his insights into the real world of policymaking, as he did when making plans to fulfill the needs of Wayne County’s citizens. He credits MPP faculty members Dr. Valentina Bali and Dr. Josh Sapotichne with inspiring and strengthening his knowledge and passion for policy.

His Policy Evaluation course was particularly valuable in helping him understand how to design and conduct sound program assessments. This type of work requires the thorough understanding of politics and policy that he has demonstrated in his previous roles.

Zach is well-prepared to take on the challenging policy needs of Michigan’s urban areas.

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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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Internships, Student Profiles

InnovateGov Service Learning Internship Featuring James Laney

james-laney-photoJames Laney is a second year Master of Public Policy student, and one of the five MPP students that participated in the InnovateGov Service Learning Internship program this summer. James attended Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas and graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biomathematics. Before arriving to East Lansing, he was a math and science tutor at his university and privately around the city. He also led the tutors at the university tutoring center and graduated as a Ronald E. McNair Scholar.

Upon arriving to MSU, James was a grassroots coordinator for the Climate Reality Project and a legislative intern for Michigan House Representative LaTanya Garrett. This summer, he was placed with the Wayne County Department of Health, Veterans, and Community Wellness (HVCW), where he worked in a team of three interns to design a method of optimizing service delivery to county residents. Wayne County HVCW was established to coordinate and administer health, educational, youth, veteran, senior and social services to residents and communities in Wayne County in order to address the social determinants of health and community wellness. Their vision is to reduce and ultimately eliminate disparities and inequities related to social and environmental justice by focusing on financial education, healthy living and healthy neighborhoods.

james-laney-photo-2During his internship, James had two main projects. The first was designing a method of service delivery in the parks, which the intern team dubbed a “Wellness Zone.” The system developed required a comprehensive health needs assessment of the communities surrounding all the Wayne County Parks as well as an assessment of park resources that counter the negative trends in health in the host communities. These park resources may include a community garden to provide physical and social wellness, walking trails, and park-based festivals and farmers markets to specifically provide any dimension of wellness that may be lacking in the host community. After spending the summer researching and visiting the various parks in Wayne County, James and the other interns created a business plan and presented it to the Director of HVCW, Dr. Mouhanad Hammami. The business plan has now come before County Executive Warren Evans for final approval.

The second project James was tasked with was working in the community garden and beautifying the campus of the Health Administration Building. James found working in the garden to be one of the most satisfying experiences of his internship, and he enjoyed the days where they spent the entire day in the gardens.

According to James, his participation in InnovateGov was a defining experience and one that he will continue to look back on and draw inspiration from. Through his internship, he learned how to share his ideas and better manage his time. Professionally, he learned how to delegate responsibility more efficiently and tactfully resolve conflict before it arises. He also discovered a connection between what he is learning in the MPP program and the work he was doing through his internship, which was a great moment of insight for him.

Adaptability is a strength of James’, and he is open to all opportunities that are available. When he graduates, James would like to work for a local government or a think tank. He is also interested in teaching, and giving students a different perspective to public policy analysis. He does have political ambitions, but ultimately, wants to help organizations that are doing good in the world continue to do so.

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Internships, Student Profiles

InnovateGov Service Learning Internship Featuring Elizabeth Raczkowski

Many cities in Michigan are challenged by insufficient resources and increasingly high expectations from their residents. City and county leaders, community advocates, and non-profit organizations may attempt to meet those demands, yet lack the resources or timgroupphotoe to design and see these innovations through the policy process. The goal of the InnovateGov Internship Program is to place MSU students in these organizations to help deliver and assist with these demands, while also providing our students with an opportunity to do real work on public problems.

One of these students was Elizabeth Raczkowski. Elizabeth graduated from Michigan State University with a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science and an additional major in Political Science. While an undergraduate student, she worked as an assistant in an accounting office and wrote freelance articles and other content for business and other websites, including human resource consultants.

For her InnovateGov internship, Elizabeth worked for the Wayne County Treasury Office. The Treasury Office is responsible for collecting delinquent taxes for all the township, villages, and cities in Wayne County. In 2016, an estimated 60,000-70,000 properties are at risk of foreclosure; roughly one-third of those properties are owner or tenant occupied. They are also responsible for foreclosing on tax delinquent properties and administering payment plans that allow people to pay delinquent taxes in installments to avoid foreclosure. Working closely with five other interns, the Wayne County Treasury team developed new outreach methods for the office to inform people about delinquent taxes, payment plans, foreclosures, and other important information. The interns met with residents and many people from community groups, businesses, and offices to better understand community needs and how to make outreach more effective.

Throughout her experience with InnovateGov, Elizabeth learned a lot about how communication and lack of communication between different government offices and interested public groups can affect policy decisions. She also learned the importance of getting outside perspectives on problems and strategies so governments get a more complete and accurate picture. When she graduates, Elizabeth would like to work on problems that affect local governments. She is especially interested in policies that affect equitable economic development, particularly the planning and implementation process. She hopes to use the quantitative skills she has gained in the MPP program, along with her experiences working with people, to contribute to helping communities improve their ability to provide for their residents.

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Internships, Student Profiles

MPP In the Summer, The Places They Go: Cassie Richard

Cassie Richard is a second-year student in the Master of Public Policy program at Michigan State University. Her undergraduate work is in Applied Sociology, and she also earned a certification in Nonprofit Management from the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance. Because of her experiences in both her undergraduate and graduate careers, Cassie earned an Oregon Summer Fellowship from the Hatfield School of Government in Oregon. This is a nationally competitive summer internship program seeking to enlist “the brightest graduate students from across the country” into careers in public service. Cassie’s internship involved working with the City of Wood Village in Wood Village, Oregon (Portland Metro Area).

Cassie Richard

The City of Wood Village hired Cassie to bring their municipal and signage code up to date by researching best practices and enforcement techniques. Through this project, Cassie has investigated how other cities design their municipal and signage codes and how well their enforcement techniques work. She has also surveyed Wood Village to see what signs are currently being used, including their density and style. Upon gathering this information, she revised the city code and will present it to the City Council for discussion and possible adoption.

Through her internship, Cassie has learned many lessons, including the importance of hierarchy in local government and phrasing and word choice when reflecting community standards. She has also come to understand that local governments are often willing to help one another and share their experiences on various issues. Cassie’s projects have given her the opportunity to reach out to code enforcement officers from other municipalities, all of which have been very open to her about their experiences and offered sound advice.

Upon graduation, Cassie would like to contribute to research on policy issues surrounding gender, labor, and international affairs. She hopes to lend her skill set and energy to researching and addressing gender-based policy globally through work at a university, think tank, and/or advocacy based non-profit.

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MPP Speaker Series

MPP Students Learn that MSU Extension Is Much More than “Cows and Plows”

ivanLast week students in Michigan State University’s Master of Public Policy program had their eyes opened to a career path many had not been aware of, thanks to a presentation from Dave Ivan, director of the Greening Michigan Institute at MSU Extension.

MSU Extension is a branch of the university that seeks to put MSU’s vast research experience and expertise to service by helping communities across Michigan to improve their quality of life. The agency is nearly 110 years old and has a presence in every one of Michigan’s 83 counties. Many Michiganders are familiar with MSU Extension’s agricultural work, but as Dr. Ivan explained to a gathering of MPP students and faculty members, MSU Extension also does a tremendous amount of work with local governments.

The Greening Michigan Institute, which Ivan oversees, takes the lead on governance projects for MSU Extension. Ivan supervises approximately 70 field-based staff and works with 20 tenure-stream faculty in five academic units that merge academic expertise with practical action.

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From explaining ballot measures to “crunching numbers” on municipal bankruptcies

Ivan described an impressive array of areas the Greening Michigan Institute (GMI) works in, many if not all of which intersect with the interests of MPP students:

  • Ivan’s staff train government officials in Michigan—and in many other states!—in leadership, civic engagement, and other skill areas. They also train local planning commissions, provide training for every newly elected county commissioner in Michigan, and help newly elected members of the twelve federally-recognized tribal governments in Michigan to learn key governing skills.
  • GMI creates educational materials to help Michigan voters to understand the complex issues addressed through ballot measures.
  • GMI works closely with the Pure Michigan campaign and with local governments to build the tourism industry, and to incorporate the principle of sustainability into these plans.
  • GMI has 15 staff members who help municipal administrators to “understand and unpack meaning of their budgets.” According to Ivan, MSU Extension staff, especially Dr. Eric Scorsone, the Founding Director of MSU Extension’s new Center for State and Local Government Policy, played a key behind-the-scenes role in the Detroit bankruptcy by “crunching numbers” that helped city administrators to make informed decisions.

Capstone Ideas

Ivan shared several ideas for capstone research project topics that could be of interest to current MPP students—and that GMI could help provide data for:

  • Fiscal distress in Michigan cities
  • How do policies create or impede access to food (“food deserts”)?
  • Tribal governance challenges
  • Natural resources
  • Regulatory staff’s role in civic dialog (Do State officials talk with the populations they interact with in ways the population can actually understand?)

Now Hiring

Ivan also mentioned that many positions with GMI will be opening up in the coming months and years due to current staff members retiring. A Master’s degree is a prerequisite for working with MSU Extension—so MPP students will be well-positioned to apply once they graduate. Ivan said the institute will be hiring for at least two positions in every region in Michigan over the next four years, and will be hiring for several on-campus positions this coming spring.

“If you want to return to your home but still work in public policy, this is a good opportunity!” he said.

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