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ASPA President Joins Panel to Discuss Advancing Excellence in Public Administration

This article appeared in the Aug/Sep print issue of PA TIMES.

Martha Corrozi Narvaez

The Delaware Association of Public Administration (DAPA), with support from the University of Delaware’s School of Urban Affairs & Public Policy, hosted a conversation with Meredith Newman, ASPA president and professor and chair of the department of public administration at Florida International University.

Newman was joined by a panel of four Delaware administrators, who contributed to the evening’s discussion of advancing excellence in public administration.

Julia O’Hanlon, DAPA president, introduced and welcomed Newman and provided the opening remarks. Prior to her career in academia, Newman served with the Australian Foreign Service, the U.S. Department of State, and the World Bank. Her areas of expertise include public management, human resources and gender, and the emotive aspects of work. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Public Administration Review’s Editors’ Choice Award. Her book, titled Emotional Labor: Putting the Service in Public Service (Mary Guy and Sharon Mastracci, co-authors), is the recipient of two Best Book awards.

Newman opened the discussion with her vision for and role in ASPA for the coming year. Newman strives to advance ASPA’s professional role and retain a positive outlook for the association and the field of public administration. Previously, public service has been bashed and has carried a negative connotation; Newman hopes to play a role in changing that perception.

Newman insisted, “ASPA is on the move!” ASPA is strong despite the economy, and it is critical to retain a positive outlook; there were over 1,000 participants at the ASPA conference held in San José, CA, in April. Newman believes that ASPA has a role in informing the policy debate in Washington, DC, and she plans to extend Paul Posner’s achievements in the national and international spheres. Newman believes we all have a role in advancing excellence in public administration. “Each ASPA member is one of 8,000 ambassadors for ASPA,” Newman said.

Newman asked the audience to join her in creating an “ASPA without borders,” which is the theme for the 2011 annual conference in Baltimore, Md. Planning and development of this conference will be led by UD’s Maria Aristigueta.

Following her remarks, Newman was joined by four guest panelists representing various sectors within the field of public administration here in Delaware–Captain Robert Becker, Special Operations, New Castle County Police Department; Meaghan Brennan, Deputy Director of Budget Development, Delaware Office of Management and Budget; Kim Kostes, Community Relations Officer, Food Bank of Delaware; and Kyle Sonnenberg, City Manager, City of Newark. O’Hanlon asked the panelists to address today’s realities in public administration, and each one responded to one of two questions–“How do you foster a positive work environment?” and “How has the economy impacted your organization?”

The take-away message from the panelists’ responses was that it is critical to treat people respectfully and as individuals and celebrate their successes, in whatever way you can. Each panelist provided key actions and lessons they’ve learned that have kept their employees engaged and committed to the mission of the organization.

Captain Becker noted that because morale is critical, he continually reminds his employees of the dedication it took to complete basic training and that he or she has been chosen from the many initial applicants to serve his or her community. Sometimes it is important to remind individuals that this job is a calling and an honor and that each one of them owes everyone they serve respect, stated Captain Becker.

Sonnenberg builds employee morale by trying to relate to staff as individuals and recognizes each employee once a year by sending a hand-written letter thanking the employee for his/her service to the City of Newark. Kostes, Community Relations Officer for the Food Bank of Delaware, has had to find creative and innovative ways to provide additional food to meet the increasing demands in the community and relies heavily on collaboration through new resources and commitment from volunteers and a limited number of dedicated staff.

Brennan recently experienced lean times as a state of Delaware employee; employees have endured a 2.5 percent pay cut, a state hiring freeze, increased workloads, travel freezes, and additional cost-cutting measures that have been put in place statewide. She noted that during these times it is critical to recognize employees any way you can, even if it means a brown-bag lunch and a simple recognition picnic. Newman succinctly summarized the panelists’ key points in two words–“people first.”

Newman wrapped up the evening by noting that collaboration and partnership are not taught in the typical classroom curriculum but they are essential tools in the field of public administration. Showing care and concern for your co-workers and employees and putting “people first” are important tools in creating a successful and positive working environment.

Overall, the evening was a great success. DAPA members and guests were able to learn from and engage in dialogue with the evening’s speakers about their strategies for leading staff, fostering positive work environments, and motivating employees, volunteers, and stakeholder groups during times of financial uncertainties and stress. The evening ended with mingling and conversation.

Martha Corrozi Narvaez is an assistant policy scientist with the University of Delaware Water Resources Agency, a unit of the Institute for Public Administration. Email: [email protected]

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