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Double Vision

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By Mark Mallon, on May 31, 2012

Rocky Mount has an interesting geographic location because it straddles Nash County on the west side, and Edgecombe County on the east. About 70% of the city lies in Nash, and 30% in Edgecombe. Naturally, this presents some challenges: the city staff is very cognizant that they must always strive for parity between the counties. Capital projects and road construction need to be split somewhat equally between both counties.

Of course, Rocky Mount also works very closely with both counties. Lately, the three jurisdictions have been cooperating in a visioning process for their community. Visioning and strategic plans are becoming quite common for local governments. At the most basic level, these processes mean articulating what is most important for the community, where it wants to be in the future, and making plan on how to get there.

Often, local governments will endeavor to get a lot of input from residents when making these long-range plans. The Town of Chapel Hill is currently working on a 10 year plan and is actively involving its residents in every step of the process. Rocky Mount and the two counties are also striving to get public input via study circles. I was recently asked by the Assistant City Manager to come up with a demographic breakdown of the participants so far.

So I sat down with my old friend, Excel. Now, for all you future MPA students out there, let me give you a tip: learn Excel. Soon. You don’t need to be a whiz at it, but if you know some of the basics, like being able to make graphs, pivot tables, and calculations, it can be your best friend and make life a lot easier. I guarantee that you will use it in any job you do.

In addition to doing a basic breakdown by age, gender, income level, and ethnicity, I wanted to combine some of these factors to get a better picture of who the participants were. So here’s what I came up with:

This graph shows age group and ethnicity. As you can see, the largest age group by far is 45-64. Most of these folks are Caucasian. There is very little participation from young people.

The next graph shows income level and ethnicity. There is a decent distribution of income levels among African American participants. However, the predominant ethnic group is Caucasian, and the vast majority of these participants earn $60,000 or more.

So, the graphs show us that participants are overwhelmingly Caucasian, middle-aged, and somewhat wealthy. The city staff is working on ways to get a more diverse range of residents in the visioning, but unfortunately, this is easier said than done. It can often be difficult to get folks involved in the governing process if they are not directly and materially affected by the decisions being made (i.e., a hefty tax increase).

This sampling is only about 100 people, and the visioning study circles are ongoing, so there is still time to hear from a more diverse range of people.

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