Halfway Point: Project Updates and Student Assessments

River Falls, WI City Hall

As we reach the halfway point in the Local Government Management Internship Program, the interns are making good progress on their projects, and they took their midterm exam in class last night.  In this post, they provide some updates on their work, as well as some midpoint assessments of the program and experiences they’ve had.

—June 23: We recovered from the SD trip and got through the busiest day of the week yesterday with work, class, and the council meeting. The council meeting last night was incredible. There was a ton of public turnout for the chicken ordinance and the special zoning permit for a T-mobile cell tower. Like one of the councilmembers said it was truly democracy in action. Both the T-mobile tower and the chicken ordinance were defeated (6-1 Chickens, Unanimous Cell Tower). The council meeting made for some great discussion between all of the interns, and we also had the Planning Director, Buddy Lucero, ask us for our thoughts and views from our observations this morning.

I have made great progress on both of my projects. The Councilmember Handbook is almost done for a second review by Scot. I am waiting on a response from the city attorney for the legal issues chapter. I made all the additions and changes Scot requested and I hope to wrap up the project as soon as I hear back from Mr. Thiel.

My other project, the parks & recreation review has gone just as well. I have some extensive research on other cities similar to River Falls, to do a comparative analysis of the River Falls Parks & Recreation guide. I have started to write my suggestions based on the research I have completed and will go over those with Buddy to see where he wants to go with the project.

Hard to believe we are already half way through the program. I have definitely learned quite a bit so far and am really enjoying the experience… posted by Matt Overturf.

—We are now at the end of our fourth week in River Falls which means we are halfway through the internship.  So far, I have completed the first draft of the purchasing policy revisions, and am waiting to hear back from my supervisor to see if I need to make any necessary changes before I begin to prepare a presentation of the revisions for the council in July.  When revising the purchasing policy, I needed to change some of the guidelines that specified, for example, the minimum purchase price that requires a purchase order and a maximum purchase price that if one exceeds, he/she needs the approval of the council in order to make the purchase.  There were also many changes in the State of Wisconsin’s statutes, so I needed to make sure that the info in the purchasing policy was in accordance with the new laws that were passed, and make any necessary changes so that any preexisting laws incorporated in the purchasing policy that did not comply with the changes were revised.  Lastly, the language and organization of the purchasing policy was confusing and unclear throughout the document so I decided to edit the text and restructure the table of contents so that it was more detailed, and clear.  

The other project that I am working on includes producing a television show about the interns of local government and the program itself.  I have started to outline the structure of the interviews but have not gone very far into the project yet because I would like to complete the purchasing policy beforehand.  I will also be writing an article on snow removal in River Falls that will be submitted for the city newsletter in October and will be working on that simultaneously…. posted by Meredith Kirby.

—So it’s been nearly a month already since we landed in River Falls. My first project was figuring out if it would be feasible to start a fundraising system for the parks and recreation department by using a text message donation system. Next, I would have to figure out how the city would go about implementing the system and getting it to work. One idea is to put signs around the most used park areas such as frisbee golf, skate park, tennis courts, trails, ice rinks in the winter, and kayak entry points which say something like “Help us keep our parks beautiful. If you would like to donate $5 to the Parks and Recreation Department of River Falls please text DONATE to 11223” or something to that effect. So anyway, organizing all that was pretty fun, and now I have to wait for Scot’s approval to see if he wants me to continue researching that or start implementing it. I still haven’t gotten back with Scot yet about my original research. He has probably been very busy with catching up after having the baby.

The main project I’m working on is a library staffing analysis to determine how the River Falls Library stacks up with other similar-sized city libraries. As of the last two weeks I have been meeting all of the library staff and trying to get a feel for how everything operates. All of the people at the library are very nice and helpful including Nancy Miller and Kim Kiiskinen two of the main librarians that I’ve been working with. Also, Chris Browning is helping me a lot on this project, especially with the survey that we are currently working on to get a sense of how the citizens of River Falls view the library. Chris is more familiar with coding the data and compiling the results from the survey and other data we have gathered from River Falls and other similar size community libraries. On that note, we have gathered data for just about anything you could think of from the past six years and comparative data from about ten other libraries for the year 2008. We created the survey with the help of the library so we could help get the feedback which would be most useful to us and them. The survey is reasonably brief; only the front and back of one page, so it is not a burden to complete. With the help of Kim, we have also made the survey available online for convenience to some patrons who would rather complete it that way. The link is on the front of the River Falls library website and the paper surveys are available at the circulation and reference desks. So far nearly all of the response from patrons has been positive, particularly about how they feel about library employees.

 So far I have also conducted an extensive interview with Nancy Miller, the head of the library and I have spoken with Kim Kiiskinen a number of times concerning many different things. Currently, as of this week Chris and I are set up at the library to observe the flow of patrons and daily tasks of the workers. We even plan on working alongside them so that we can get a better feeling of how the work gets done. We are under some pressure to finish up this task soon so we can get it on Scot’s desk before the end of next week so we can present it to City Council at the next meeting. Hopefully everything goes well and we can complete the project by the deadline…posted by Zack Miller

—The project I am working on right now is reformatting and rearranging the budget so it is easier to change from year to year.  I am also working on creating a more graphically appealing budget presentation and creating this document so River Falls can apply for the Government Finance Officers Association Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.  Right now I have reorganized the largest section of the General Fund called General Government, become very familiar with the criteria for the award, and started the budget presentation document.  I still need to put the rest of the budget into the new Excel document which I think will take about a week.  Then I will spend the rest of the time working on the budget presentation document…posted by Lacey Davidson.

–Wednesday June 23rd- As I had expected, the city council meeting was very intense. Compared to the attendance at the last meeting, the room was jam packed; it was filled with citizens fighting for their side on the issue of chickens within city limits and the cell phone tower in Mound Park. The Chicken Ordinance had both opponents and proponents which made the public hearing very interesting. The proponents of chickens cited multiple benefits for having chickens; these included the issue of sustainability, organic eggs, educational benefits for children and the fact that they make great pets. Interestingly, a citizen wanted to add chickens to the leash law as “her children want to walk their chickens”; this garnered some laughter, but was ultimately a serious proposal. The opponents on the issue raised the concern of a “slippery slope”. They felt that if chickens were going to be allowed, people would want goats, cows and pigs within city limits and that there would be a precedent to allow it. After a repetitive debate on behalf of the supporters, the councilmen were able to state their opinions. Though Councilman Hughes was the only supporter, the others gave valid reasons for their opposition. Councilman Caflisch gave the most entertaining and valid complaint as he quoted a statement given by the mayor on the awful smell of a chicken coop. As a result, the ordinance failed and chickens are not allowed within the city limits of River Falls.
        The other issue of high salience was the resolution to approve the placement of a T-Mobile cell phone tower in Mound Park. Unlike the previous issue, the only proponent of the tower was the representative from T-Mobile (he was never even able to publicly speak at the meeting, however). Many citizens in the vicinity of the park spoke in pure outrage; they cited the damage to the aesthetic beauty of the park, potential for radiation emitted from the tower (debatable), the placement in a “conservation” area, and the use of public lands for private enterprise. In an interesting move, Buddy Lucero, the planning director for the city, expressed his disapproval of the tower despite the planning commission voting unanimously for approval of the tower in Mound Park. In a unique maneuver, the opponents of the tower applauded each speaker following their speeches. After the public hearing ended, Councilman Morrisette was pleased that the issue was decided by the council rather than the planning commission as they are the elected body and should represent the best interests of the citizens. As a result, the T-Mobile cell phone tower in Mound Park was unanimously shot down and the citizens in the audience were ecstatic; I even heard one say they were going to Junior’s to celebrate (their liquor license had been renewed at the meeting). The council then went into closed session and the meeting adjourned for us. We have a big day today as we have our midterm exam later tonight, so I must study in order to do well on the exam.
Thursday June 24th- This week has been a very long one so far with the work, the council meeting, class and the mid-term exam. However, it is Dr. Baker’s last couple days with us up here before Dr. Ankrom arrives. Therefore, it is time to update my progress on the projects in order to be evaluated by Dr. Baker and let Dr. Ankrom know what I have been working on. My main project over the past month has been the “Bird City” Wisconsin application. I am pleased to let everyone know that I met with Buddy Lucero to address the concerns Scot had about the proposal; after the meeting, I have been able to make the necessary changes as recommended by Scot. Therefore, “Bird City” Wisconsin will be ready to present to City Council at the July 13th meeting. My other project that I have been working on is the library staffing analysis along with Zach. This is a really difficult project as there are competing views on the amount of money being spent at the library. Our analysis is focusing on hands-on observation coupled with statistical data generated through a survey as well as data through the state’s library website. The data from the state is then going to be compared to libraries in other Wisconsin communities which have a similar service population. Currently, we have began to get survey results back, observed the library for a few days, and analyzed the data on the library and others of similar size. We have made significant progress, but we still have a long way to go before we can have an accurate response to the staffing issue. We have emailed Scot about any other analysis which he would like us to perform, but he has not emailed us back yet. Therefore, I have nearly completed the “Bird City” (presentation and send the application in) and around half-way through the library staffing analysis…posted by Chris Browning.

The main project that I have been working on is assembling a personnel handbook for seasonal employees for the city of River Falls.  Currently the city does not have a seasonal hand book on file and due to the growing number of seasonal employees they wish to create one.  As a current seasonal employee with the Village of Woodridge in Illinois, I am aware of the usefulness and growing necessity for seasonal workers to be made aware of personnel policies that apply to them.    The first step I took with this project was acquiring a copy of the city’s personnel policies handbook for full-time employees.  After looking it over I talked with human resources and was informed that sections 1, 7, 8, 10 would need to be included as they apply to all city employees.  City administrator Scot Simpson would also like to include an overview of the City of River Falls itself. 

            From there I began contacting other cities in the area that are of comparable size and economic standing to River Falls.  I asked the administration if they currently had seasonal personnel handbooks on file and if I could use their handbooks as references and guides.  The cities I contacted were Woodridge, IL, Hudson, WI, Chanhassen, MN, Eau Claire ,WI, Northfield, MN, and Downers Grove, IL.  Thus far I have heard back from all but Northfield and Downers Grove and have received handbooks from Woodridge, Hudson and Eau Clare. 

            I have read over all hand books that I have received so far and have noted their commonalities and differences.  It is clear that seasonal handbooks are much shorter than full-time handbooks and contain personnel policies that pertain only to part-time workers.  I have begun drafting a copy for River Falls that includes policies applicable to seasonal from the above mentioned sections.  I plan to include all of section 1 as it serves as an effective general introduction to personnel policies throughout the city.  The remaining sections contain subsections that do not pertain to part-time employees and I have omitted these.  Beyond the required sections there several others that deal with applicable policies such as worker safety, harassment, and respectful work environment that I plan to include some of all of. 

     One section that other seasonal handbooks address is cell phone use rules.  River Falls has a lengthy section in its full-time handbook.  However, I am sure these policies change for seasonal maintenance employees.  I plan to contact the Public Works department to see if they allow/require seasonal workers to carry personal cell phones in order to contact them in the field. This also raises another issue that requires investigation.  Driving while talking/texting laws have been changing around the country recently and I am currently unfamiliar with Wisconsin’s laws on this issue.  I feel this will be a valuable inclusion in full-time and seasonal handbooks in order to ensure all employees are aware of current laws as local employees are subject to state authority while on the job. 

     The overview of the city will be addressed last as I still need further clarification from Scot on what exactly he wishes it to include.  Also I feel this will require some additional investigation and observation through interaction with city employees, community members, city council, and my fellow interns’ impressions of the City…posted by Ryan Albright.