Initial Student Impressions

June 10th, 2010

We arrived in River Falls and moved into our housing the evening of Monday, May 31st with our first day of work being an Orientation on Wednesday, June 2nd.   Tuesday was spent checking out the surroundings and getting settled into our digs.    Here are some initial student impressions.

—– Though River Falls is only miles from my home state, I had never had the opportunity to visit the very welcoming and hospitable town before the start of the internship.  Upon arriving I was very pleased to find that the University of Wisconsin, River Falls, where we are staying in upperclassmen apartments, was very close to a beautiful and exciting downtown.  After exploring, one discovers that although it has conveniences of larger town, it still has a very small town, relaxing feel.  On my first day of orientation I expected the city employees to be pretty nice, but merely tolerant of our intrusion into their workplace.  Instead, I found all the employees very excited for us to arrive, happy to answer any of our questions, and eager to pass along a bit of their knowledge to us.  The city administrator was very welcoming and ensured us that we had a place in city hall and lots of work to do.  After introductions to many of the department heads and a tour of the River Falls parks and public safety departments, I was very excited to get going on my projects.  Matt Overturf and I have started working on a New Council Member Handbook and I, along with the help of Julie Bergstrom, the Finance Director, have been working on ways to improve the budget creation process.  Although it takes a little while to get acclimated to the city and understand exactly what the department heads are looking for, the projects we are working on are very exciting and will leave a lasting impression on River Falls….  posted by Lacey Davidson.

—-Wednesday June 2nd- Today marked the beginning of the Local Government Management Internship Program hosted by River Falls, Wisconsin. Upon arrival to the newly constructed City Hall, we were greeted by City Administrator Scot Simpson; after some coffee and doughnuts, we were given small presentations on the city by local figures in the city, including Mayor Don Richards. This was very helpful as we were immersed in the day-to-day activities of the direct reports to Scot. The presentation from police chief Roger Leque was very helpful as the city differs significantly from any other city that I have been a resident of; there are only 22 sworn officers and they are complimented by a volunteer fire department, which is very unique for a city of this size (pop: around 14,000). Other presenters included City Engineer Reid Wronksi, director of Community Development Buddy Lucero, and Finance Director Julie Bergstrom. After the presentations, we ate lunch at one of the local businesses which are very prevalent in the downtown area along the beautiful Kinnickinnic River. Following the fantastic meal, we took a tour of all the city facilities including the parks, public works and police departments. Once we returned, we discussed our projects before calling it a day. The day was very informative and has given us a foundation in the day-to-day functions of City Hall.

                From the projects we were given, there was one in particular that stood out to me. With my environmental studies minor, I felt that the “Bird City” Wisconsin project would best suit my interests. River Falls, also known as the “City on the Kinni”, has a plethora of natural beauty and the city desired be officially recognized as a “Bird City” Wisconsin in order to encourage more bird-watchers to visit the area. After some initial research, it became clear that the city is the perfect candidate as there are over 140 birds that call the “Kinni” Watershed home; this is over 50% of the total number of bird species found in the Badger State. My ultimate responsibility is to complete the application for acceptance into the “Bird City” program and successfully push a resolution through City Council to commemorate International Migratory Bird Day on the second Saturday in May. This project will be tedious as I must ensure that every qualification is met and/or surpassed. I am very excited to embark on the project and will continue to update my contact person (Buddy Lucero) and those following on the blog… posted by Chris Browning.

—-I arrived in River Falls around 4:30 on Monday 31st of May. I was the first person to arrive, about two and a half hours ahead of everybody else. I had a lot of time to kill before I could begin to move in to our housing, so I figured I would try to get acquainted with the University of Wisconsin, River falls and also walk around the city and get an idea of what the town was like. The campus is situated right on the Kinnickinnic river which is a class 1 trout fishing stream. The dorms and campus buildings are all on the north side of the river. I walked over the bridge to the other side of campus and found all of the sports fields, and basket ball and hockey arenas.  I later found out that the UWRF football stadium is where the Kansas City Chiefs traditionally hold their summer training camp, but this year they would not be returning. Also, on the south side of the river, are a lot of fenced fields where they were growing different plants, presumably for an agricultural program of some sort. They keep different animals as well such as horses and steer. One of the city workers later told us that they were one of the few schools left which has a rodeo program. That’s right, you can get a scholarship to ride bulls here. Pretty sweet. After exploring the campus I made my way downtown and wandered around. They have a very vibrant main street. Lots of small stores, including little café’s, small clothing stores selling high school and college apparel, and even a single screen movie theater that only costs $3 a ticket and a dollar for popcorn and a drink! I also thought to myself, “eleven bars and a half dozen pizza places in four or five blocks? I think I’m gonna like this place!” We all got moved in that night and just relaxed from the long drive. The next day was pretty much the same because we had a free day. On Wednesday we had our first official day and our orientation to the city. We met a lot of the interesting people that keep the City of River Falls running efficiently, including the Mayor, Don Richards, the City Administrator, Scot Simpson, the Police Chief, Roger Leque and the City engineer, Reid Wronski. After being introduced to all these people, we went out to lunch at local bar and grill. After lunch, Scot gave us a detailed tour of the city where we continued to meet people and get a sense of the River Falls community… posted by Zack Miller.

—When I first arrived in River Falls, I was thinking “I am absolutely in the middle of nowhere, and what did I just get myself into?”  But soon after, I realized that the city that couldn’t have been bigger than my backyard was much different than I had initially thought.  It really isn’t that small.  It is located in a beautiful area, with several parks, bike paths, trails, and new housing developments, a really exciting place for people that enjoy the outdoors.  Beyond its physical beauty, are the people that we have met so far who have been nothing but welcoming to Dr. Baker and my fellow Wittenberg–LGMIP interns.  On our first day of work, we were presented with the opportunity to be given an introduction to the city by several of the city hall staff including the City administrator, Scot Simpson, Mayor Don Richards, and the Chief of Police, Roger Leque.  Throughout the day, we were able to achieve a better understanding of how each staff member contributed to the community and what roles they played as a figure in local government. Although we have only started our second week as interns, we have already begun to achieve a sense of what it would be like to be in the shoes of someone who works in local government, as we have been taking a class from Dr. Baker that serves as an introduction to local government administration and have all been assigned to work on special projects from the city’s agenda.  The major projects that I will be working on include revising the city’s purchasing policy in order to make sure it is in accordance with new laws that were recently passed by the State of Wisconsin, and I will also assist in writing articles for the city’s quarterly newsletter.  I am very excited to be taking on these projects in order to gain more experience in local government and to expand my sphere of knowledge in the field of Political Science as well.  I am also grateful for the opportunity that the City of River Falls has given me and my fellow interns and I look forward to the opportunities to come throughout the next seven weeks…. posted by Meredith Kirby.

—The first Monday on the job was actually pretty slow. Currently, I am working on creating a new councilmember handbook full of important information about River Falls, state statues, city ordinances, and other information necessary for a new councilmember to begin his/her term. I finished the first draft of my Councilmember Handbook yesterday morning and gave a copy to Scot, the City Administrator. Until I get some feedback from him, there is nothing more I can do on that project.

Initial view of River Falls: Living in River Falls has been wonderful. I really enjoy the city and everything there is to do. Coming from a rural area back home and immersing into the full city life could be a bit of an awkward transition. However, River Falls is not a big city so it still has some rural feel to it, not to mention anything outside of the city is back to nothingness and farmland, much like home.

River Falls seems to be a very active town, with several parks, golf courses, mountain bike trails, running paths; the list goes on for outdoor activities. Its location to other places makes the city all the more special. The city also knows how to make and serve delicious food. Every place I have eaten at in River Falls has been delicious. I have yet to have something I didn’t like; then again it is kind of difficult to screw up a burger and fries.

Living on UWRF’s campus has been a lot of fun as well. Staying in the South Fork Suites is pretty sweet. With the bike trial starting right outside the door, it doesn’t get much better for running and biking. Yesterday I ran over to the UWRF track complex and ended up running around the football fields used previously by the Kansas City Chiefs. By far some of the softest, greenest grass I have ever seen/run on.

Tonight we will attend our first council meeting. One of the line items is chickens, should be an interesting meeting… posted by Matt Overturf.

—I first arrived in River Falls Wisconsin on Memorial Day at approximately 6:30 in the evening.  Upon driving into town I was initially surprised at the size of the downtown area and the city itself.  I had originally expected to encounter a smaller more rural community rather than the more suburban one that exists.  I was impressed with the University and how well it is planned and integrated with the rest of the community.  It immediately reminded me of a similar school and community of North Central College in Naperville, Illinois.  Hailing from the southwestern suburbs of Chicago I felt right at home and familiar with the layout of River Falls. 

            Our first official day of work was an educational and enjoyable experience.  We arrived at the newly constructed River Falls City Hall and were welcomed warmly.  City administrator Scot Simpson gave us an overview of the city and introduced the group to the mayor.  Mayor Richards thanked us in advance for our services and caught us up on some community history and goings-on.  We then met with representatives from engineering, planning, and finance all of whom were extremely nice and excited to begin working with our group. 

            We were also given a tour of the city by Scot and Cindi Danke of the Parks and Rec department.  Having not had the opportunity to explore the community I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the community in its entirety.  I was again reminded of the suburban town I am from and can see River Falls continuing to grow and prosper into an even larger community. 

            Over the next few days our group became integrated into the working environment of City Hall and has found it to be a great experience thus far.  I am excited to be working on a personnel policy handbook for seasonal workers for the city as well as assisting Meredith on updating the purchasing policy. 

            The community is full of genuine and friendly people as well.  I have had the opportunity to socialize with a number of people through an Ultimate Frisbee league that I am now taking part in.  Overall I am excited to be living in River Falls and thankful for the opportunity the City has provided to gain hands on experience in local government…. posted by Ryan Albright 

The River Falls Community

June 9th, 2010

 

River Falls is located approximately 30 miles east of the Minneapolis / St. Paul area.   The city has an estimated population of 14,343 people and approximately 6,400 college students.  River Falls offers the best Wisconsin has to offer in scenic beauty, seasonal entertainment and hometown charm.  There are unlimited opportunities to explore nature at the numerous parks, campgrounds, walking and biking trails.  River Falls is home to the Kinnickinnic River, a superb Class I trout stream. 

The Falls on the Kinnickinnic:

 

In 2009, the city opened its beautiful new City Hall, the first  LEED Silver-certified city hall in Wisconsin.  Some of the many amazing “green” features include:  1) 91% of the existing building and vacated street demolition material was diverted from landfills and recycled, 2) significant use of native plants reducing irrigation needs by 50%, 3) 15% of materials from pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content, 4) committed to purchasing 35% of building’s annual power needs from renewable sources, and 5) use of highly reflective “white” thermoplastic roof membrane significantly reducing solar heat gain in the building.   To learn more about LEED and green building, log onto http://www.usgbc.org.    It’s hillside profile fits nicely into the local topography and landscape, as can be seen in the picture below.

 

The Kinni River Runs in front of City Hall:

 

2010 Local Government Management Internship Program Is Launched in River Falls, Wisconsin

June 9th, 2010

2010 LGMIP Interns: Back Row l-r–Zack Miller ’10 Wittenberg, Ryan Albright ’10 University of Northern Iowa, Chris Browning, ’11 Wittenberg, Matt Overturf, ’11 Wittenberg.  Front Row l-r–Lacey Davidson ’12 Wittenberg, Meredith Kirby ’12 Wittenberg. 

The 2010 ICMA–Wittenberg University Local Government Management Internship Program officially got underway on June 2nd  with an orientation session at City Hall in River Falls, Wisconsin (http://www.rfcity.org).  Six interns, five from Wittenberg University and  one from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, IA, are participating in this year’s 8-week program which combines a full-time internship coupled with a class in local government administration. The interns were greeted by Mayor Don Richards who welcomed them with an overview of River Falls.  He was followed by the City Admnistraor Scot Simpson and each of the Department Heads who discussed their duties and responsibilities. Then it was off to a local restaurant–Bo’s and Mine–for lunch before a 2.5-hour van tour of the River Falls community and city facilities. The day concluded with the first class session and a discussion of the projects the interns have been assigned to work on during the summer. These include:

1.  Library Staffing Analysis–Zack Miller (lead) Chris Browning (backup)
2.  Council Member Orientation Handbook–Matt Overturf (lead) Lacey Davidson (backup)
3.  Purchasing Policy Revisions–Meredith Kirby (lead) Ryan Albright (backup)
4.  Bird City USA Designation and Application–Chris Browning (lead) Matt Overturf (backup)
5.  Review of Parks/Rec Program Guide–Zack and Matt
6.  Assist in Quarterly Newsletter Production–Meredith
7.  Creation of Personnel Handbook for Seasonal Employees–Ryan
8.  Creation/Revision of  Public Works Dept. Work Order Tracking System–Chris
9.  Budget Worksheets and Financial Software Integration–Lacey
10. Event Coordination at Library–Lacey
11. “How to” Software Short Coures for City Staff–Matt, Lacey, and Chris 

Mayor Don Richards (left) and City Administrator Scot Simpson (foreground) welcome the 2010 LGMIP Interns to River Falls, WI.

2010 LGMIP Interns in the River Falls, WI City Council Chambers:  Lacey Davidson (Wirt, MN), Meredith Kirby (Buffalo, NY), Matt Overturf (Bellefontaine, OH), Chris Browning (Cleveland, OH), Zack Miller (Columbus, OH), Ryan Albright (Chicago, IL).

For more information about the program, including local government hosting opportunities and student application processes, go to the program website at:  http://www.localintern.org.