VACo Internship Week I

Honors Scholar, Katie Beth is spending this summer working as an intern for VACo in Richmond and here are her stories…

As an intern at the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) in Richmond, Virginia, Katie Beth Bordwine has a front row seat to how local and state governments interact. The internship is research intensive on a host of broad topics affecting Virginia and her counties. As a member of VACo’s lobbying team, Katie Beth has had the opportunity to attend many meetings and take part in many discussions with state and local leaders in the state’s capital. 

Week 1: 

It is no secret that while I live on campus, Emory & Henry College is only a few minutes away from home; it is kind of like I did not actually go off to college. This is the first time that I have ever been away from what is familiar to me, which did not really occur to me until my first night in Richmond. I was sitting outside on the balcony connected to my apartment and as I listened to the sounds of the city, I realized I was no longer a visitor in a strange place. For at least two months, this is home.

Granted, sometimes the people of Richmond know that I am not a native. My ability to drive in the city is something that needs drastic work. A woman followed me up to the 7th floor of my parking deck to get out of her vehicle and cuss me, in fact. Aside from that incident everyone I have met has been exceptionally kind to me, especially the staff at the Virginia Association of Counties (VACo).  They allowed me to be part of their lunches together, go to meetings with them, even go to meetings for them, present my research to them and in front of larger assemblies of people, voice my opinions during committee meetings and let me sit in on conference calls. Aside from everything else, what means the most to me is how interested they are in what issues I am passionate about.

My first assignment for Beau Blevins, VACo’s Director of Intergovernmental Affairs was to research and do a write up on Airbnb, which is kind of like a bed and breakfast arrangement where you contact a person with a home or room for rent directly without going through a bigger company, usually for very cheap. The problem with Airbnb in Richmond and other Virginia cities is that no one really knows how or whether they should be taxed. Apparently, some localities are deciding that it’s best to try to shut the entire operation down by sending citations out to their residents listed on Airbnb. Others have decided that this type of homestay is the way of the future and cannot be stopped; rather, our legislation must catch up to it.

My second project was on how the state and local governments address how to apply and enforce communications sales and use taxes on services offered by the communications industry, such as Netflix. What I found, is that each state has its own idea of how it should deal with communications sales and use tax, and additionally, each county has its own idea of how communications sales and use tax should be distributed. That is what makes it so difficult to make the law uniform. However, another question that I raised from that argument is do the laws have to be uniform? Yes, it would make things smoother on paper, but from what I have learned so far, the point of having local government is to cater to the needs of the people and cater protocol to meet those needs.

My third day and project was to research and report on mental and behavioral health policy in Virginia. I found out that much like communications sales and use tax, each locality has a different understanding of what kind of policies they should implement in regards to the mental and behavioral health of their people. I also discovered that Virginia mental health laws have drastically been altered by the tragedies of the attack on Senator Creigh Deeds and the Virginia Tech Massacre. These events brought to the attention of our legislature that our policy had to be reevaluated, yet after public sentiment was cooled, budget concerns depleted the funds given to the mental and behavioral health policy of the state substantially. However, as Virginians have experienced firsthand, it is imperative that we devote our attention and support to those Virginians experiencing mental and behavioral distress.

On my fourth day, I got to attend the annual meeting of VATOA, Virginia’s chapter of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA). Erik Johnston, a VACo member, was in charge of the meeting and let me take part. I admit, a lot of the things that were discussed were way above my understanding. They talked about broadband and OTT (Over the top) video releases which I found out basically means streaming movies from an entity other than the cable company, and a host of other topics. What I found most insightful about the meeting, is that the members who were there represented different counties of Virginia and told the board during a round table discussion what was going on with the telecommunications in their counties. It was interesting to hear how counties very close to Richmond were having some of the same problems of more distant counties like Smyth and Washington, for example. I was very fortunate to be in the same room with these people who have devoted so much time and attention to improving how the citizens of their counties can communicate with each other and people across the state and nation.

My fifth day on the job, Beau gave me my biggest project yet: to research and report on the economic development programs available for Virginia’s localities from state relation, federal, and private or local programs. I am still researching as there is so much information on the subject. However, I did find a few connections. Essentially, a company called Mayville Engineering is moving into the old Merillat plant in Atkins, Virginia. This company is doing so because they are getting support from the Partnerships for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative from the federal government, The Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund as well as the Tobacco Region Opportunity Fund on the state level and a small amount of funding from the county through private grants and resources. Workforce development is a major committee here at VACo, and I hope to work very closely with the members to do the best I can to help create those opportunities and research the best ways to help encourage state and local government to help the areas of our state (rural and urban) that are struggling the most.

On my fifth day, I also got to listen in with Gage Harter and Amy Vealey of VACo on a conference call with a mobile app vendor in California about an app for VACo’s annual conference coming up in November. This was an awesome experience, and Gage told me that if I remember anything that he doesn’t when he presents it to the board during a meeting on Monday that I should speak up. That’s what is so special about interning at VACo: they really are providing me with an interactive experience and letting me be part of the work that is going on there.

So, my first week has been really busy but extremely rewarding. I am learning so much about how our local and state governments work together, and I am enjoying seeing all the work that the people at VACo do on a daily basis to help people who they don’t even know across the various counties of Virginia.

Oh! I have an office! Can you believe it? Well, it’s kind of like a library office, but it still looks very official. It has a pretty great chair and a beautiful view of the city, along with all the county codes of Virginia right beside me. I have my own phone number and extension, (804) 644-3702, and an email address, kbordwine@vaco.org. My internship is the highlight of my days, for sure. Well, aside from the fact that there’s a Thai place down the street that delivers food all day and night. I’ll keep you updated on what happens next week; I can’t wait to see what it holds! I am so thankful for this wonderful opportunity and all of the support I have received since I began my collegiate career at Emory & Henry. I am doing my best to represent the program and the college well! 

BY: Katie Beth Bordwine ’16

Photo Description: Katie Beth Bordwine in her office at VACo.