You are here

2013 Capstone Papers

All students in the MPA Program are required during their second year to complete a capstone project that draws on the cumulative lessons of their graduate experience. The project culminates in a paper and an oral presentation.

Projects are organized by topic, e.g., human resource management, managing public services, budget and taxes, emerging issues, and government and the Internet.

Human Resource Management

The State of Technical Skills Training in North Carolina  Anne Davis

This research seeks to understand the presence of a skills gap in 10 occupations across North Carolina. The author uses community college program offerings and occupational data for 46 NC counties to assess the state of the technical skills gap. The findings suggest that a gap exists for avionics technicians and pharmacy technicians, to name a few occupations. However, some gaps result from a geographic misalignment between course offerings and occupational growth, rather than an explicit gap in skills.

Teacher Performance Evaluations and Value-Added Scores: Evidence from North Carolina Public Schools — Dayne Batten

Using data on 26,260 North Carolina teachers, Batten examines correlations between teachers’ evaluation scores given by their principals and data from SAS Institute’s Education Value-Added Assessment System (EVAAS). The results show that, while the statewide correlation is consistent with existing literature, certain school districts exhibit low levels of correlation. Moreover, there is evidence that principals give high ratings to the vast majority of teachers and fail to distinguish among different facets of teacher performance. This paper proposes several steps for addressing these issues.

Why the Ball Gets Dropped: Hindrances to Performance Conversations in North Carolina Local Governments — Ebony Perkins

Optimum employee performance is an important objective of all mission-driven organizations. Equipping employees with the right tools and training is rarely enough; providing good supervisory feedback is also critical. This research examines what elements impede supervisors from offering employees performance feedback. The research tests perceptions of North Carolina municipal and county officials regarding structural and personal barriers that have been found relevant at the federal level of government in previous studies. Several recommendations are offered for overcoming and reducing these barriers.

Building Foundations: Understanding How the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Can Work With MPA Programs in North Carolina to Prepare Students for Careers in Local Government 
— Sana Khan

The North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) has a vested interest in furthering county government careers in North Carolina. This report examines how NCACC can work with Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs in North Carolina to better prepare students for careers in county government. It includes an analysis of MPA courses at UNC-Chapel Hill and Appalachian State University, as well as a survey of alumni from both programs who work in county government. The report offers recommendations for both NCACC and the MPA programs to prepare students for county government careers.

Strategic Human Resource Management in North Carolina Nonprofit Organizations — Wren Davisson

Strategic human resource management (SHRM) uses employees as strategic assets to bolster an organization’s success. Research of SHRM in the government and for-profit sectors indicates the use of SHRM practices increases organizational performance. This study investigates whether SHRM practices are being used in the nonprofit sector. A survey of nonprofit organizations in the North Carolina counties of Durham, Wake, and Orange finds older and larger organizations are significantly more likely to use SHRM. There is also a strong correlation between SHRM practices and organizations where little of the work is done by volunteers. Further investigation of organizational determinates of SHRM are also addressed. This study adds to the small amount of empirical research done on SHRM and nonprofit organizations and offers suggestions for future research.

Managing Public Services

Work First and Participant Self-Sufficiency: Lessons for Managers and Policymakers
— Davena Mgbeokwere

In 1996, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) was created to lower welfare caseloads by increasing recipients’ self-sufficiency. State welfare programs had to focus on increasing workforce participation in order for participants to receive TANF funds. While research has shown that caseloads have been significantly reduced, it has also shown that welfare has not been as successful at connecting participants to the workforce or increasing their earnings. One study found that program implementation was more important than client factors in increasing self-sufficiency. This capstone examines Work First program implementation in North Carolina.

Waste-To-Energy Facilities: Environmentally Friendly? — Tim Reavis

Environmental considerations factor into a community’s solid waste management plan. A waste-to-energy facility offers an alternative to the commonly used solid waste disposal option of landfilling. This paper compares two environmental measures—recycling rates and landfill disposal rates—of communities in New York that use a waste-to-energy facility and those that do not. By knowing if these two environmental measures differ significantly between waste-to-energy and non-waste-to-energy communities, a community can make a well-informed decision regarding its solid waste management plan.

Committing to Sustainability: A Look at North Carolina Localities — Allison Hutchins

The US Department of Energy (DOE) administered the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) to states and localities under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). North Carolina localities received either formula-funding directly through DOE or competitive-funding through the State Energy Office. This research uses the EECBG program to assess the level of commitment to sustainability at the local level in North Carolina. Surveys were conducted to determine if local governments, given the initial funding to adopt sustainable programs and policies, would maintain their commitment after expending the grant.

Budget and Taxes

During the Recession of 2007–2011, How Did Local Governments Change Their Fund Balance?
— Daniel Baird

Local governments experienced many financial challenges during the recession years of 2007–2011. Fund balance is a critical component of a local government’s financial condition both for maintaining a high bond rating and helping the organization stabilize its financial resources. Studying changes in fund balance is important in understanding how local governments save and spend in times of recession. This study investigates what factors affect fund balance during times of recession. Understanding such factors is critical in helping local governments prepare for future recessions and tough fiscal times.

The Fiscal Impact of Annexation on North Carolina Municipalities — Mark Mallon

Recent changes to North Carolina statutes have changed how municipalities may annex property. This paper examines whether annexation rates affected North Carolina municipal finances over a 10-year period in order to better predict how the changes in annexation law may affect cities and towns in the state.

Citizens United and North Carolina Legislative Election Outcomes: A Quantitative Assessment of Independent Expenditure PACs and Non-Registered Entity Spending — Meghan Boyd

In January 2010, the US Supreme Court issued its ruling on Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission. This case removed prohibitions on corporations and unions from making independent expenditures and determined these laws were unconstitutional under the First Amendment. After this ruling, North Carolina amended state campaign finance law to match the new federal requirements. These changes allow individuals, corporations, insurance companies, labor unions, and professional organizations to raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political campaigns. This paper attempts to assess the impact Citizens United had on vote percentages for North Carolina General Assembly candidates in the 2012 general election.

Emerging Issues

Saying Yes: Who Actually Registers as Organ and Eye Donors at North Carolina’s Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Offices? — Katie Paulson

Most organ and tissue donation literature focuses on the motivations, beliefs, and influences for why people do or do not register as donors. From predominantly qualitative methods, researchers have identified several socio-demographic characteristics that contribute — both positively and negatively — to donor designation rates. However, no research had previously asked whether these findings accurately reflected designation rates in a geographical area. This paper evaluates whether such attributes, compared with US Census data, affect North Carolina’s DMV donor designation rates.

What Factors Influence Participation at Community Gardens? — Renisha Howard

Community gardens originally began as a means to aid food insecurity; however, they are evolving into tools that connect people and foster social capital. This qualitative study examines what influences participation in four community gardens. Findings reveal that individuals are motivated to volunteer for a wide variety of reasons, ranging from fellowship to interest in participating in an outdoor activity. This research contributes to existing research on volunteering as well as to garden coordinators’ understanding through a description of motivation and interests of garden participants.

Elements of an Effective Food Truck Process for North Carolina Local Governments — Brian Farkas

As North Carolina communities decide whether to implement food truck policies, local governments are challenged to address the competing values and concerns associated with this regulatory decision. Based on interviews with a number of local government managers and planners, this paper identifies elements that are important in developing effective food truck processes for municipalities and provides examples of how those elements are incorporated into existing mobile food truck policies.

Mattering: Applying a Social-Psychological Concept to Citizen Engagement — Benjamin Chambers

Local governments use citizen engagement initiatives to build trust with residents. However, a precise understanding of how these efforts build trust remains elusive. The concept of “mattering” from research in social psychology may shed light on that process. Surveys of participants in Chapel Hill 2020, a community visioning process underway in the Town of Chapel Hill, reveal relationships between high levels of mattering and specific citizen engagement activities. Governments can use this analysis as a starting point for improving the effectiveness of their engagement initiatives.

Small Towns, Big Process: Successful Practices in the NC STEP Process — Kyle Haney

The Small Town Economic Prosperity (STEP) program works with rural municipalities to stimulate economic growth in areas with low to moderate income and communities with limited resources. In order to effect the greatest change, the towns are led through a visioning process to identify economic strategies for their future. This research examines five towns that have been through the NC STEP program and, through interviews, builds case studies identifying strategies that may have led to success.

Government and the Internet

Looking Beyond Likes: Increasing Citizen Engagement with Government Facebook Pages
— Allison Moore

Government use of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter, has become common practice over the last five years. However, as governments adopt social media tools as a way to connect with citizens, these efforts often fall short of creating meaningful engagement. Government Fan Pages emphasize government-driven, one-way information dissemination instead of two-way collaboration and exchange with citizens. This paper examines a sample of North Carolina city government Facebook Pages to identify features that support two-way interactions between government and citizens that may contribute to increased engagement and participation.

Moving to a Transformational Government Framework: The Utility of Electronic Service Delivery in North Carolina Local Governments — Christopher Kenrick

With the advent of the Internet came the inevitable move toward electronic service delivery in the public sector. Today, many people can avoid standing in line to pay their utility bill by accessing their local government’s online bill-pay portal. However, many local governments still question the benefits of moving toward an electronic service delivery system. This study shows how the various payment options provided by public utility systems affect the revenues they collect.

The Facebook Question: Social Media and Your HR Department — Mattie Stevens

The use of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter has exploded in recent years. Unfortunately, local governments may struggle to address personal social media use by their employees. Are Facebook posts protected as free speech? How can local governments protect themselves from liability but maintain employee accountability? Is Googling a job candidate a good idea? This study examines how local government human resources departments across three states are using social media in recruiting, hiring, monitoring, and disciplining their employees and offers recommendations for instituting effective social media policies.