Public Service Spotlight
Director of Budget and Performance Management at the Town of North Hempstead
Tell us about your current public service work. Can you briefly describe your employment organization and position responsibilities, as well as any relevant volunteer or entrepreneurial activities?
I serve as the Director of Budget and Performance Management for the Town of North Hempstead, New York (population 230,000; located in northwest Nassau County). My responsibilities include managing TownStat, our Performance Measurement and Management initiative, structuring and monitoring a combined $135 million budget, and performing other administrative duties such as serving on hiring committees, etc. TownStat takes up the bulk of my time: developing, reporting, analyzing and discussing performance measures across a dozen different departments within the Town. The overall goals are to increase accessibility to useful information, accountability of our personnel, and transparency of our operations, which include a full range of services from road maintenance to code and parking enforcement to services for senior citizens. We have a 311 Call Center similar to New York City, and I create reports from the software it runs on as well as from about fifteen other software tools that our departments utilize to run their operations, as well as budget performance reports to monitor spending.
My work at North Hempstead has led to a member position on the Committee on Governmental Budgeting and Fiscal Policy with the Government Finance Officers Association of the U.S. and Canada (GFOA), and a position of the Executive User Group Committee for Motorola's 311 software. But I am most proud of the fact that last year TownStat was awarded with a Certificate of Distinction by the International City/County Management Association's Center (ICMA) for Performance Measurement. It was our first time applying and we were the only local government in the entire Northeast USA to be awarded any type of recognition. I’m happy to report that we recently received the award once again for 2012.
Additionally, I have presented on the topic of Performance Management at GFOA's national conferences (2011 in San Antonio and 2012 in Chicago). I also serve on the Advisory Board of the Nassau County Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center, mainly assisting with internal reporting and management issues.
Please summarize your professional and academic background. What has been a highlight?
I hold a BA in Journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park, and prior to attending Wagner I spent a dozen years in the private sector, mostly with Musiker Discovery Programs, a company that runs educational, travel, and community service programs for middle and high school students from across the globe.
What led you to pursue a master's degree in Public Administration? Why did you decide to study at Wagner?
I had a desire for a career change. Initially, it was driven by my experience creating a community service program for the company mentioned above, which was done in partnership with numerous nonprofits across New England. I saw the power and potential of merging skills and talents of the private and nonprofit sectors, which led me pursue a course of study focusing on the field of corporate social responsibility.
I visited seven or eight different schools, mostly in New York and Washington DC (where i grew up), and I found the Wagner faculty and students the most impressive. Once the decision was made to stay in New York, I met with a recent Wagner alumnus who had gone through the program with a young child at home, as I was about to do, and his positive feedback encouraged me. Other factors in Wagner's favor were its location and stellar reputation, but what confirmed my decision was the level of dedication and broad array of experiences of the student body.
During my search I learned that Wagner has a reputation for less theory and more practice, less ivory tower and more action where the rubber meets the road. That is where I wanted to be and I believe that the reputation is accurate.
In your current position, how do you use the knowledge and skills that you gained at Wagner? Which skills do you use most frequently?
When I was hired by the Town of North Hempstead, I was charged with reviving and expanding TownStat, which had been unstaffed for about a year. My goal was to integrate it with every department in the Town's organizational structure. I literally brought my notebook from Professor Dennis Smith's Performance Management course to work the first day and just started implementing the principles. Even now, four years later, I consult my Wagner notes and textbooks - especially from that course and the Financial Management course. I also find myself reflecting on lessons from Managing Human Resources and some of the modules such as Project Management and Building Effective Teams.
Reflecting on your academic experience, what Wagner courses, professors, and / or projects had the greatest influence on your professional development? How?
I am grateful to Professor Smith, who connected me with the opportunity back in 2008, so by default he has had the most influence, and continues to be a resource. I have presented to a class of his, and hosted a team of his students who were seeking a project.
I would also single out Dall Forsythe as having a lasting impact, especially as I moved into the budget-related role here. He has graciously kept in touch with me in the years since graduation, and I deeply appreciate that.
Reflecting back, what I find interesting are two things. First, I never considered myself a quantitative-oriented person, but it was the “numbers” classes that I found the most interesting (Financial Management, Microeconomics, etc.). Second, I went through my two years almost single-mindedly focused on the field of corporate social responsibility, approaching courses, academic projects, and internships through that lens. However, the MPA program at Wagner and the degree it confers is so versatile that graduating into the looming Great Recession didn't prevent me from finding a job immediately. Even though the CSR opportunities in the private sector I had been seeking were drying up quickly, I proved to be a good candidate to be successful in the public sector - and I think I would be able to handle a switch back to CSR easily if the right opportunity came along in the future.
Reflecting on your time outside of the classroom (social events, orientations, trainings, etc.), can you describe one or two key moments at Wagner that impacted your passion for public service?
Because I was attending Wagner with a child at home and a very supportive spouse working full time, I was not able to do many extracurricular activities. I was the Business Manager for the Wagner Review 2006-2007 edition, though.
While at Wagner, I was able to cross-register for two relevant courses at the NYU Stern Business School (a CSR course, and a Change Management course), and what I came away with was the students at Wagner were far more interesting and had done far more interesting things with their lives before attending graduate school. I mean no disrespect, the two professors I had are absolutely brilliant and the Stern students were very bright, but the Wagner students had a passion for their issues and a level of real world experience that confirmed for me that I ended up in the right place.
Are there any programs, opportunities or other aspects of the Wagner experience that you wish you had leveraged during your time as a student?
I do believe that I made the most of my time there from a professional development standpoint. I did three internships (not including Capstone) and around twenty or thirty informational interviews, which were an education all by themselves. I perhaps missed out on some of the social scene like happy hours and organized trips and things like that, but still made a number of lasting friendships.
How are you involved with the Wagner community as an alumnus (i.e. attending events, mentoring students, maintaining connections with other alumni, recruiting at Wagner, etc.)?
I have presented to a class, sat on a career panel, and have tried to attend as many events as possible. I finally had an opportunity to attend a Wave the Flag for Wagner event, which somehow I have not made it to in the past. I keep in touch with many of my classmates on Facebook and have seen several over the past few years. Also, I have arranged for two teams of students to come to the Town for academic projects and have had two Wagner students as TownStat interns.
Prospective students have expressed interest in learning how alumni funded their living expenses and education during their time as a Wagner student. If you feel comfortable, would you please tell us how you made it work?
While I would not necessarily recommend it, I did rely heavily on student loans. Two of my three internships were paid, and in my second year I was able to get a small amount of money from the school based on academic performance.