So. I am going to first tell you where I am completing my practicum this summer, because this place, is killer cool. Welcome to Zebulon, North Carolina. It is a small town just outside of the state capital. It was officially deemed a town in 1907, after two guys (Edgar B. Barbee and Falconer B. Arendell), came together to create the Zebulon Company. More on the history of Zebulon can be read here. The Town is redolent of history, and I love that. Plus, it is the home to the Carolina Mudcats, whose mascot is my new favorite. After all, what southern girl doesn’t like catfish?
The proximity of Zebulon to Raleigh is perfect, a small time feel with nearby city amenities. The Town has a growing population, and it is taking on the changes needed to stay up-to-date with the urbanization that’s happening just 20 miles outside of its borders.
This is where I work, the Zebulon Municipal Complex. If you clicked on the history hyperlink above, you’ve seen what it looked like back in the day. It was previously used as a schoolhouse, but now functions as Town Hall. If you ignored my hyperlink, you can check it out now.
Never having been involved in local government, my first week here at Zebulon has opened my mind to realize the importance of the work done at the local level. I knew this was true, evident by my involvement in the UNC MPA program which focuses almost exclusively on local government, but my personal observations were very limited. This came to me when I sat in on a Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting midweek. It was a budgetary BOC meeting, and the topic of discussion focused on local community improvements such as sidewalks, greenways, etc. Projects were identified and monetarily quantified into the year 2021. This is when it hit me. These people are the ones that actually create and transform communities into the places that I love. The only reason why parks, benches, or even water fountains exist in the areas they do is because some local government department head thought it was a good idea. They proposed the project, and their board approved. I know this epiphany seems like common sense, but for someone whose experience revolves around the federal government it wasn’t.
My first week has been pretty great. I even got to hear an angry property owner at a rezoning BOC meeting. It’s like a NBC’s Parks and Recreation episode came to life before my eyes. How cool is that? Pretty cool. I have mostly been focusing my time this week around everyday local government issues, need-to-do tasks, and getting to know the people I work with. My big takeaway is that there is a lot of practical local government knowledge that I do not have. I can’t tell you about abatements or interlocal agreements because in the program we talk more about things like succession planning or organizational effectiveness.
That latter knowledge is great, and I think very important if one aims to be a visionary public administrator rather than a run-of-the-mill pencil pusher. But I have decided to use this opportunity with Zebulon to gain some of the know how that I don’t know how right now. Like, drug testing. I went to an hour long drug testing luncheon held by the Triangle J Council of Governments. I now know the types of drugs that can be tested for, the process of the test, what forms of testing are legal and illegal, how many drugs can be tested for at one time, and a ton more. Shout out to SAFE-T-WORKS.
And I will have to say that this is just the beginning of what I can almost guarantee will be a flood of knowledge that I will gain this summer. My supervisor is great, and she is open to any questions I have at any time. And she doesn’t just say yes or no when I ask questions, she explains things – which makes learning a lot easier. The Town Manager is just as open to answering questions, and he seeks feedback – which makes a newcomer like me feel welcomed. I have yet to meet an unfriendly Town employee in the “Town of Friendly People.”