From researching drone usage to issues discussed during the General Assembly Session of 2015 to redefining success, it has been a busy week for Katie Beth…
My third week at the Virginia Association of Counties was yet another eye–opening week. Not just for the work that I was doing, but for the experiences that I have had while living in the city. Coming back to Richmond from a week at the beach and being able to see my parents was definitely more difficult than I had anticipated, and the work I was doing for this week reflected what a difficult transition period I was having.
On Monday, Beau assigned me a new task to research that involved drone usage policies. I was asked to check the county codes and see which of Virginia’s 95 counties and 38 independent cities allowed or prohibited the use of drones and how those policies differed. I worked on this research from Monday until Wednesday because there was so much information on the subject. However, there were large gaps in the county codes regarding drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) usage. County codes are surprisingly difficult to understand, and the language in each code for each county is difficult. It took a while to figure out, but now that I have, I can find anything anyone would ever need to know about county ordinances and zoning policies along with all the other items included in county codes.
In a nut shell, the drone issue in Virginia and its counties is a major one because there is ample division between our government officials, police departments, and civilians. This is a drastic oversimplification, but policemen desperately want to be able to use drones in their departments in urban and rural areas. Wise County and Russell County in Southwest Virginia both want to use drones to help their smaller departments be able to cover more ground, and to be able to have eyes in the sky to help locate people who are lost or doing illegal activities in the rugged terrain that the counties possess. Henrico and Chesterfield County law enforcement want to work with drones in order to better survey traffic patterns and accidents that occur in their more populated areas. However, the civilians are sure that this type of drone usage would lead to massive breaches in the privacy and civil rights that they hold dear. Therefore, elected officials are in a very tight place trying to balance which voices to listen to between their police forces and constituents.
On Monday, I also sat in on a conference call with Erik and Phyllis with the General Government Steering Committee with updates from what has gone on in the General Assembly Session of 2015. Major issues have been broadband and the governor’s $500,000 grant initiative. Election equipment funding is also an issue with the state board becoming more aggressive to get funds owed to localities for the purchase of new election equipment via loan programs and legislation to shift the burden. Police body cameras are another area of debate amongst Virginians, and VACo’s stance remains to oppose mandates due to the expense these body cameras would add to public safety costs. The governor has also implemented a mandate committee to deal with K–12 funding issues, Line of Duty Act (LODA), and jail expenses throughout the state. Ethics reform taking place in the state was also a major issue. As far as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the argument is that government should be as transparent as possible by not allowing legal assistance or administrative discussions to take place in closed sessions. However, because government is also a business, it must be taken into account that such sensitive advice should be handled by the right people and under the right circumstances.
After submitting my research to Beau on Wednesday, I was able to have a meeting with Erik on Thursday about the Webinar that I had attended for him the previous week. We talked about the middle skills gap, which I mentioned in my last update. This middle skills gap is attributed to the fact that for most of us, our most capable individuals are groomed to think that in order to be successful they must obtain a professional career level status. Erik informed me that a lot of the problem is that our K–12 education system, especially in our more rural areas, is geared toward SOL testing and turning out professionals—lawyers, doctors, etc. However, the plan is essentially to somehow put more technical and practical career options in place for students as early as middle school so that students can become skilled at those trades and businesses instead of being funneled into a uniform system toward careers that are not attainable for a large majority of students. This can be accomplished through presidents of universities adding in more available practical majors and programs.
After my conversation with Erik, I became very painfully aware of the fact that I am, as many of us are, a product of that system of training leading students to be professionals. I have never really explored anything that I would rather be other than a lawyer; a career in law has been the goal ever since I was young. For law school, I will most definitely be leaving the region. If I am to be involved in the type of work I am doing here at VACo (which I love), I will be in a place like Richmond rather than a place like back home. There is a lot of tension in my mind on what my future will hold. Admittedly, I am extremely homesick from time to time despite that I am only here for two months and am too busy to think about much else besides work. My parents are the most supportive people in the world, but I can tell that this is as hard on them as it is on me to be separated and to come to the reality that I will be away after I graduate. Success in my mind for a very long time has meant leaving home, being somewhere exciting, and doing something grand. However, success is beginning to mean leaving a positive impact on my society as well as any other area that I may end up in, and solving problems even if it may seem to be on a small scale.
Friday was a VACo holiday for the Fourth of July, so there was no work. I am excited to explore the city and see what all will be going on in Virginia’s capital. However, once again, I cannot help but miss celebrating with my family back home. I never thought that I would be this torn between my home and another place. Home is undoubtedly where my heart is, but Richmond is becoming a large part of my heart too.