Leadership Rowan [Local Government] ~ October 2011

October’s Leadership Rowan day was about Local Government.  Local government day was something I found to be very informative. The last time I remember learning anything about how our government operated I was 14, and that was geared towards operations of our federal government.

I’ll give a brief synopsis of a couple of the big ticket items on the agenda for that day and what I got out of them.

Dr. Michael Bitzer, a political professor over at Catawba College came to speak first thing in the morning.  Dr. Bitzer told us a little bit about different local government structures, some of the tensions between the city and the county and led a panel discussion with local mayors and city managers.  Tensions between city & county officials have been all over the local newspaper in the last several months, discussing a planned consolidation of 911 center operations. Interestingly enough, the panel seemed to indicate that the cut throat opposition between city and county officials (portrayed by the local newspaper) isn’t quite accurate.  Had I been judging by what the news outlets had been saying, I would have expected a full on brawl during this panel discussion. Not the case at all….  Despite always being told to be wary of media outlet bias, this was the first real life example I’d seen.

Another very interesting piece of information I got out of Dr. Bitzer’s talk was brought up during the question and answer time.  A fellow classmate asked why our government is never able to get anything accomplished (and how can you stand it?!).  And Dr. Bitzer’s answer was quite an obvious one, if I had ever given two thoughts to it.  I distinctly remember this chapter in 8th grade economics….our government is not designed to accommodate large shifts in power.  Checks and balances were put in place when our country was being formed to protect from any one branch becoming too powerful.  The result? A political system where it’s seems nearly impossible to get anything accomplished.

In a recent Sales & Marketing meeting, Bryan Overcash had a principle that was very apt. He brought up the Epic Failure of the Super Committee.  He pointed out the ironic nature of the saying “no news is good news” as applied to the Super Committee.  Yes, indeed, sometimes no news is good news.  But other times, no news means nothing is happening…. (as in the case with the Super Committee).  Certainly something to consider in our own efforts to collaborate with others, both in business and life.

One of my favorite parts was visiting the Public Services Field Operations Department.  We learned a little bit about the EMS system and first responders.  Several of us took a ride up (900 feet) in the firetruck bucket, and tested out the fire hose.


Did you know that a firefighter carries over 100 lbs of gear and all suited up can weigh over 300 lbs?

  • We also visited the 911 Operations center and heard some more about the tensions between city and county governments.  I found out a few things that can cause problems. For instance, when two local towns have the same street names it can confuse the first responders.  Also, since the placement of cell phone towers dictates the routing of your 911 call, being close to a county line may land your call in a different response center.
  • They also do not use overhead lights in a 911 center. The darker ambiance provides a calm environment for 911 call handlers.  Another thing the 911 center does is trace your location by your phone’s GPS.  So all the hubbub in the news about companies spying on us with GPS in our phones (certainly partly true) is probably outweighed by the imperative of being able to quickly respond to emergencies (especially when someone’s life is in danger).

I have a few personal principles that I learned on local governement day that apply to our business and life in general:

  1. All sources of information are biased. We help our clients get their side heard.
  2. Stories have more than two sides! This is very important in customer service. Make sure you understand the customers side of the story.
  3. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t reiterate how much more complex my undertanding of government (in general) and local government (in particular) has become. Maintaining integrated communication is no job for amateurs. Work with people who know how to connect and communicate professionally.

If you get a chance, check out what is going on in your local government.


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