SPIA welcomes local government professionals and former MPA students
By: Rachael Andrews
SPIA welcomed former UGA students and current local government professionals in a panel for both undergraduate and graduate students interested in local government as a career path.
The panel consisted of Kristen Gorham (City of Chamblee, Georgia), Marty Allen (City of Suwanee, Georgia), Jasmine Mays (Gainesville-Hall County), Caroline Davis (City of Sandy Springs, Georgia), and Holger Loewendorf (Georgia Municipal Association). All of the panelists were former Masters of Public Administration (MPA) students at UGA.
The participants discussed many challenges facing city and county governments in Georgia today. They emphasized how flexible local government professionals must be to contend with both ever-evolving political and administrative issues, but also with the sheer variation that exists across the state in terms of its cities.
“The cities that are here today are some of the leaders in innovation, but that’s not the case for all cities in Georgia,” resource analyst Holger Loewendorf stated. “[There are] cities that are crawling along, just trying to keep the lights on.” Public administrators, especially those in local government have to be prepared to do more with less. Other participants echoed the sentiment that local government faces more and more responsibility in the wake of negative attitudes toward federal and state governments.
Partnerships among the public and private sectors were also a topic of interest during the panel. Many of the participants detailed current projects that involved public-private partnerships in some way. From creating community greenspaces to developing downtown areas, local governments are increasingly relying on creative partnerships to meet community needs. Kristen Gorham stressed the importance of investment into these partnerships, “Private investment follows public investment.” The implication here is that once private businesses see that the public and the government care about an issue, they will be more likely to invest resources into that issue.
The panelists took questions from current UGA students, and gave some advice to those who may want to consider going into local government. Most, if not all, of the panelists stressed the importance of flexibility and a willingness to learn. “You have to learn how to adapt to different situations,” said Jasmine Mays. “It’s part of that ‘motley crew’ aspect of local government,” Holger Loewendorf finished.
Caroline Davis said that one of the most important aspects of her job is “the ability to listen and have empathy.” In fact, she said, “People don’t really talk about those soft skills and how important they are in the day-to-day work in local government.”
The panelists credited their experiences in the MPA program here at UGA with providing them a “foot in the door” in their respective jobs. The program provided them with a framework to combat the increasing threats to local government, like misinformation, apathy, and negative attitudes from the public. Marty Allen concluded the panel with, “Local government depends on good communication, reputation, and idealistic professionals.”