A Lab for Public Administration

From: Public Affairs

A partnership between the Town of Elkton and two James Madison University academic programs is a win-win situation for both entities and there's an award to prove it.

Since fall 2009, students in JMU's master of public administration and undergraduate public policy and administration programs have provided consulting services for the eastern Rockingham County town. Graduate students and undergraduate seniors in Dr. Nicholas J. Swartz's Urban Policy and Regionalism class developed an economic development plan for Elkton during the fall 2009 semester.

In the spring 2010 semester, students in Swartz's graduate-level Program Evaluation course conducted studies of the Elkton Area Community Center and the Elkton Police Department.

The successful town-university partnership garnered the 2010 Virginia Municipal League's Achievement Award for municipalities with populations under 5,000. Elkton Town Manager Reid A. Wodicka accepted the award on behalf of the town at this fall's VML conference with Elkton Mayor Larry Bompiani, Town Council members Randall Snow and D. Gene Kite, Swartz and Ben Craig, who served as a research liaison between the town and JMU, in attendance.

"Elkton is excited and humbled to receive the 2010 Achievement Award," Wodicka said. "We appreciate the validation of our efforts to continually improve services for the people of Elkton and look forward to continuing our relationship with the university."

The economic development plan the students created focuses on revitalization of Elkton's downtown. Jim Berg, former president and CEO of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Chamber of Commerce, was impressed with the potential of the Elkton-JMU partnership to the point that he came out of retirement to volunteer as director of community development for the town.

The evaluation of the Elkton Area Community Center has spurred an increase in activities and changes in hours of operation at the facility that is a venture between Rockingham County and the town. Findings of the police department evaluation, which focused on staffing, scheduling and the perception of citizens of police operations, are being considered as funding is available. The students' research found that Elkton's residents had a more positive opinion of the department than was thought.

"This has been an invaluable experience for the students, the town and for me personally and professionally," Swartz said. "Students are able to apply what we learn in class to real-world situations. Many local governments pay private consultants tens of thousands of dollars to conduct such analyses. Our partnership has provided the town real technical assistance and guidance at no cost while giving our students an opportunity that is priceless."

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Nov. 29, 2010

Related Links:

JMU Master of Public Administration website, Technical Services & Consulting for Community Organizations: http://www.jmu.edu/mpa/consult.shtml

Be the Change: http://www.jmu.edu/bethechange/stories.shtml; click on "Govt & Politics" tab