Learning how to make a difference in your local community often starts at City Hall, and for Southeast Missouri State University students Ceylon Herath and Caleb Fjone, working alongside city officials is an opportunity to discover how local governments operate and make a positive impact.
Herath and Fjone are spending the summer as student interns with the City of Cape Girardeau and the City of Jackson, respectively. From attending meetings, working with local officials and managing important city projects, the two are making the most of their time in preparation for careers in public administration after graduation.
As a student intern for the City of Cape Girardeau, Herath, a second-year public administration graduate student from St. Louis, Missouri, is attending meetings, working with executive officials and helping analyze data and conduct research projects.
Herath is seeing firsthand how municipal systems operate from emergency services, public parks and recreation, internal administration of finances and human resources to legal issues, the city manager’s office and how elected officials interface with staff and the public for the betterment of the community.
Her assignments and work on programs and events offer new challenges each day.
The opportunity to diversify and understand all aspects of city government made working with the City of Cape Girardeau an easy choice, Herath said.
“I have enjoyed the variation of assignments, projects, meetings, and undertakings that I’ve participated in. Each day brings forth a new task and adventure and never ceases to keep me engaged and on my toes,” she said.
Currently, she is performing a comparative study of trends and issues in leisure service departments nationwide. The purpose is to explore unique programming or services in other cities or regions of similar size that may be adapted in Cape Girardeau.
Herath is also researching Parks and Recreation ordinances from around the country as the City of Cape Girardeau works to revise their statutes. She is comparing and contrasting parks regulations of slightly larger municipalities with those of Cape Girardeau to recommend possible changes for the City Council to consider.de.
“Education is a critical component of learning, but one of the other key aspects is ‘real life’ experiences,” said Julia Jones, director of the City of Cape Girardeau’s Parks and Recreation.
Throughout the summer, Herath has had the opportunity to work alongside city officials, including Mayor Bob Fox and City Manager Scott Meyer.
“They’ve all been willing to answer any questions that I may have and share advice and encouragement in regards to my future career plans as someday, I hope to fulfill an executive position within a government,” Herath said.
“The City of Cape Girardeau has taught me that all branches, departments and city employees contribute to making a place better,” she said. “It’s truly a beautiful phenomenon to witness that might be less apparent from the outside looking in.”
Herath, who plans to graduate from Southeast this December, hopes her experiences at Southeast and with the City of Cape Girardeau will prepare her to attend law school and work for a larger municipality.
“She is a promising young citizen and hopefully future public administrator or attorney. Wherever her heart and mind lead her, she will give it her best,” Jones added.
Fjone, a second-year public administration graduate student from Festus, Missouri, is working in the Office of the Mayor in Jackson, Missouri, focusing on revenue enhancement on non-tax based entities within the city.
Fjone says he’s always enjoyed every facet of government. His internship is an opportunity to explore how local governments operate.
“I am learning about all of the complex inner workings that make municipal government operate,” Fjone said. “Besides navigating the complex nature of the City of Jackson, I am also learning about the legal obligations that the municipality must follow as set forth by the State of Missouri.”
Fjone’s review of City of Jackson non-tax revenue is identifying possible opportunities for other revenues that will allow Jackson to be less reliant on tax revenues. His analysis includes studying the cost of departments against the revenue they produce through fees and licenses. Fjone also is compare Jackson with other cities in the region.
One of his favorite moments this summer has been a meeting with the city administrator and the deputy city administrator, he said.
“The meeting was over revenue enhancement projects that the City of Jackson could undertake, he said. “They both asked my opinion of what my generation thinks the City of Jackson could do. The best part is they embraced the new and fresh ideas to keep up with changing times.”
He says he has taken an interest in improving business license fees, building and planning fees and Jackson Civic Center revenue, and exploring new opportunities to generate revenue.
“The project should increase Caleb’s understanding of municipal finances as well as understanding the various service departments in the city,” said Dwain Hahs, mayor of the City of Jackson. “He will also gain an understanding of the differences in various regional cities and how they are governed and classified by the State of Missouri.”
Fjone will wrap up his work on this project with a presentation to the Board of Alderman.
His internship this summer will continue, though, with working with department managers, visiting other cities in the area, attending meetings and working with the city budget.
Fjone, who plans to graduate from Southeast in May 2020, said he hopes the experiences he’s had at Southeast and with the City of Jackson will allow him to launch a career in government and politics as a city manager or administrator, and, one day, governor of Missouri.