Recent cases involving government corruption have reminded us that we cannot take for granted North Carolina’s reputation as a “good government state.”
One of the main reasons we have a good chance to keep that good government reputation is the Institute of Government, now called the School of Government, of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. Here is some information about the School from an article I wrote recently for Our State Magazine.
Albert Coates, a native of Smithfield in Johnston County, founded the School in 1931. Today, it serves local and state government officials all over the state. For example, it sponsors over 230 classes, schools, and conferences that serve about 14,000 public officials each year. The School’s faculty and staff of more than 100 professionals handle more than 100,000 requests for assistance annually. The School publishes more than 100 books, articles, journals, and bulletins each year.
The magnitude and scope of the School’s activities might surprise Coates, even though his ambition for service was monumental. He would certainly be pleased that all these activities are a part of the mission that he inspired: To improve the lives of North Carolinians by working with public officials and citizens to understand and improve state and local government.
As a new teacher of criminal law at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Law, Coates soon concluded that his courses did not prepare his students for the realities they would confront dealing with the local law enforcement practices they confront encounter as practicing lawyers. Thus, he traveled around the state to accompany police on their rounds and watch law enforcement officials present their cases in courts.
As Coates gained practical experience, he “soon found out that law-enforcing officers needed to know what I had learned from studying the books as badly as I needed to know what they had learned from working on the job. I started swapping my research for their experience, my knowledge of criminal law in the books for their knowledge of criminal law in action.”
Coates was soon receiving visitors who came to ask his advice and hosting conferences where officials studied the laws that affected their jobs and learned practical ways to comply with them.
The School’s official beginning took place in 1931 when Gov. O. Max Gardner presided at the opening of a two-day “school” for about 300 local officials. He said “he knew of no single program initiated by the University of North Carolina that carried greater promise for the people of this state.... ”
Over the years the work of the School has changed and expanded with the needs of local and state government. Much of its early work with law enforcement is now handled by community colleges and law enforcement academies. On the other hand, there is a growing need for expert guidance in many other areas that now challenge our governments, such as education, social services, mental health, public health, land use, elections, employment, purchasing and contracting, criminal justice and courts, taxation, public management, public finance, public administration, conflict resolution, governance, team building, organizational development, leadership, planning, group facilitation, governmental accounting, tax administration, productivity, privatization and performance measurement.
Former Wake County manager and current state senator, Richard Stevens, once called it “the premier institute of its kind in the country.” He said, “Many have tried to mimic it…. I don’t know of any that have come close.” Stevens is a graduate of the Institute’s Master of Public Administration program as are the managers of many other counties and municipalities.
In response to this praise Albert Coates might simply say that serving the North Carolina public is just what the School of Government ought to be doing as a part of the University of North Carolina, which he believed is “a magic gulf stream flowing in an ever-widening current through the lives of people in the cities, the counties and the state of North Carolina and beyond — tempering the customs, traditions and habits of the people it serves and lifting them to higher levels of living wherever it has gone.”
— D.G. Martin is the host of UNC-TV’s “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at 5 p.m. Check his blog and view prior programs at www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch/