Picture today! Can’t see much but still, adds a bit of life to a dry, text only blog thus far. Shown here from left to right – Deborah, the Open Space Director (part of Parks and Rec in the county), your humble author, Kaitlyn, Anna, and Rose doing Rose things. Kaitlyn and Rose are with Community Services doing stuff with parks and libraries, and Anna divides her time between the Budget office and Planning.
As interns with Wake County we have been fortunate to have a wonderful supervisor, Jason (in Community Services), who plans awesome site visits for us. This pic is from Robertson Millpond Preserve out in Wendell where we canoed through the pond-swamp, and learned about the habitat and how the county interacts with private citizens to acquire and maintain conservation parks. Earlier in the summer we visited the county animal shelter (where I ostracized myself by being the only voice of reason against Rose adopting another cat), GoApe high ropes course, and the EMS headquarters. On Wednesday this week, we’ll don the full set of firefighting gear and go into fake burning buildings at the county’s training center. In August we are set to visit the South County Landfill, and the jail, and meet the county manager himself. In line with the theme of “government is a complex organism,” being a guest at all these facilities, and being able to ask questions about their operations has only reinforced our education on the many layers of how organizations work. The perspective of communication and coordination for EMS directors is starkly different from the view from Parks and Rec. These outings have also brought us into contact with a range of employees who all seem dedicated to their work, their organization, and the public they serve, which again is uplifting in a time when government is most often ridiculed.
One of the aspects of our personality as a cohort, the culture of our organization as a collective of students, is the skepticism about the neutrality of government and individual civil servants. We’ve struggled with the notion that we should strive to embody “neutral competence,” and we’ve been dogged by the ethical questions surrounding equal access, equitability, personal political perspective, and institutionalized power dynamics. Coming from this academic environment, it’s been fascinating to ask county employees across the range of these departments and facilities how they understand their positions. Each employee is answerable to their citizens, their civil superiors, and their governing politicians in different and overlapping ways. Each department or office is striving for best practices in their field, while also responding to citizen needs, political agendas, and the requirements of federal or state law. How government employees juggle all of these relationships and attempt to serve competing desires of their stakeholders is still a bit of a mystery to me. I’m enthusiastically thankful, though, that I have this opportunity to meet employees from all manners of expertise and strategic vision.
These visits not only break up the routine of the office – how good it feels to be outside, even in this heat, on a Friday, I can’t fully express – but they’ve also expanded our perspective of how government works beyond our departments. We’re more adaptable, empathetic, and I hope wiser from a few excursions over the course of the summer. Also, now I know beavers actually eat wood, which somehow I missed in 4th Grade science. Wouldn’t have believed anyone but Deb either. Go out an explore, y’all.