By Jessica Huey.
I can still remember the phone call.
It was late March 2008 and I was in my last year at Brown University. Startled by the vibration of my phone, I looked down and saw an unrecognized number. At about this time before graduation, any college senior knows that an unrecognized number is usually one of three things: 1) a job; 2) no job; or 3) irrelevant.
As I ran to the hallway to take the call, I got the news. I had just been selected for the first class of City Hall Fellows. I’d be moving back to California and starting my career in San Francisco city government. I was beyond ecstatic. However, after the excitement settled, the questions started coming. What exactly would I be doing? Was a fellowship the best way for me to start my career? Did city government really have that much to offer?
I’ll spare you the suspense; my time as a City Hall Fellow was the beginning of a five-year relationship with San Francisco city government and a long-lasting passion for the important role cities play in all aspects of our lives. City Hall Fellows gave me the platform and the tools to not only begin a career in city government but to understand the complexity of cities – something useful in any career. So, if you’re interested in City Hall Fellows, here’s what you should know:
- City governments are where the action is.
Think city governments are boring? Retrace the steps of your day so far. From the public works crew that cleaned the streets you used on the way to school/work to the public utilities that maintained the infrastructure to keep the lights on to the biofuel coordinator who made sure your favorite restaurant isn’t clogging water pipes with grease, city governments are directly involved in almost every aspect of our daily lives.
- City government services are more complex than you think.
City services are far from one-dimensional. If you think public libraries and their paper books are a thing of the past in this digital age, think again. Cody Zeger, CHF’15 or Christopher Norman, CHF’14 will tell you that libraries are far from being just about books. Rather, they play a vital role as a community resource for all types of individuals – from students or job seekers who need the space and computers to study or apply for jobs to those without a home who for a few hours each day have a welcome place off the streets. Similarly, it’s an educational community space for families, book clubs, and cultural organizations who utilize the public space for a wide variety of events like Youth Speaks.
- City Hall Fellows is more than just a placement.
So, what about City Hall Fellows? More than helping you get a foot in the city government door, City Hall Fellows provides you with an accelerated civic learning environment on steroids. With the weekly Civic Leadership Development Program with different topics/presenters throughout the year, full-time work on a specific project with a city department, exposure to the role cities play in state and federal government through trips to the state and national capitols, and group consulting projects for city officials or agencies, you’ll be getting a comprehensive look at the roles cities play in just about everything. Additionally, the cohort structure allows you to learn from your other Fellows who bring a richness and diversity of experiences; I was completely humbled by the individuals who I was able to call my peers.
- City Hall Fellows is about stepping up.
Perhaps most importantly, City Hall Fellows is about empowering the next generation of civic leaders to take action now. For my placement, I worked with the Workforce Development Division with the Department of Human Resources. I had absolutely no background nor – to be frank – much prior interest in this area. In fact, before I started I had this flash of panic that my experience would end up being glorified, yet predictively bureaucratic, paper pushing. Instead, I was immediately thrown into meetings with top policy officials, union organizers, and engaged citizens working to advance forward-looking policies for the City – and people were asking me to roll up my sleeves and be a part of the conversation.
For my projects, I worked on a citywide Civil Service Reform project aimed at modernizing outdated rules and procedures while at the same time digging deep into workforce statistics to help produce a Workforce and Succession Planning report and conference. Through these projects, I saw how important it was to maintain strong labor relationships – and how closely connected labor relations was to budget and policy planning. After my fellowship, I had the opportunity to join the City’s Labor Negotiations Team as they worked to help solve a historic $500 million budget deficit. I would never have known about this opportunity nor had the skills to perform the role had it not been for City Hall Fellows throwing me into the ring and helping me to develop my skillset.
- Understanding city governments isn’t just for those interested in careers in the public sector.
Finally, to put it simply – city governments are hot places right now. People are increasingly seeing city governments as platforms for innovation and realizing just how influential they are on the local economy. In December 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies invested $45 million to expand its Innovation Team program aimed at improving the capacity of City Halls to improve citizens’ lives through new approaches using data, open innovation, and strong project and performance management. The value proposition being that if cities can better innovate, then the benefits will extend out to the community and citizens. Similarly, the explosion of the sharing economy and civic startups has refocused the spotlight on cities’ role in regulating or bolstering new economies. Understanding how cities work is becoming of greater importance to more than just individuals in the public sector.
If you decide to apply, best of luck to you! City Hall Fellows is an incredible platform to not only start a career in public service but also to better understand just what it takes to keep our cities running.
“Fortunately, cities and metros—and the networks of leaders who govern them—mayors for sure but also business, civic, community, business, labor and environmental leaders—are responding with pragmatism, energy and ambition to, as we say in America, ‘get stuff done.’” – Bruce Katz, Metropolitan Revolution
Jessica Huey is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Prior to graduate school, she spent five years working in San Francisco city government on labor negotiations and workforce development initiatives. Jessica was a member of the inaugural class of City Hall Fellows (2008-09) and later Co-Chair of the City Hall Fellows National Advisory Board (2012-13).