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Want to Work in the City Council Office? Here’s One Way to Get Your Foot in the Door

When it comes to getting things done, we’ve all heard the line, “it is not what you know, it’s who you know.” It turns out that to have an impact, develop a career in public policy -or perhaps more specifically, to work in City Council – it’s both, which makes pursuing a master’s degree in public administration exceedingly practical. We spoke with two University of Pennsylvania Fels Institute of Government grads and Philadelphia City Council employees, Chris Goy and Matt Stitt, who shared why they pursued higher education, their goals for Philadelphia and how one of them received a crash course in all things Philly courtesy of then-Councilman and current Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney.

Photo credit: Philadelphia City Council

Photo credit: Philadelphia City Council

Chris and Matt, as Director of Policy and Deputy Chief Financial Officer, respectively, what do your day-to-day responsibilities entail?

Matt Stitt: The mayor proposes a budget for the whole city, and we analyze the budget for the 17 council offices. We set up the hearings and all the technical background: questions for members, oversight analysis, counter proposals, accountability, where the administration spends their money, how they spend their money. It’s also prepping council so they can make informed decisions about the budgets. And it includes all of the tax revenue proposals as well. So not only how they spend their money, but also how they plan to get their money and, what, if any, tax proposals.

Chris Goy: I’m fortunate to work with a field of experts from budget to legal research to housing. The Director of Policy’s role is to vet new ideas and figure [out] a way to make them feasible and possible to implement. It’s a broad cross-section of everything that might come across the council president’s desk.

Photo credit: Philadelphia City Council

Photo credit: Philadelphia City Council

So, how closely do you two work together?

Stitt: Right next to each other.

Goy: [laughs]

Stitt: Very closely. Chris assists us heavily with the budgeting process. I also work with Chris and all the other experts on technical staff. [The 17 offices in council] come to us with ideas and part of my job is making sure that it’s financially feasible. Our job collectively is to make sure it’s legally feasible, financially feasible, and, frankly, politically feasible.

I saw that the two of you took over the fellows program this summer. Do you think the mentorship from Fels Institute of Government prompted you to take this on?

Stitt: I think Fels does a really good job with its alumni. If you call up someone who is a Fels graduate, he or she will treat you like family­. I had a great experience with mentoring there. I absolutely think it shapes how I view mentorship.

Goy: I wouldn’t be where I am right now if it wasn’t for the Program Director at Fels. I emailed her the summer before I started and asked her if there were any internships in local government, and she connected me with then-Councilman, Jim Kenney. I spent two-and-a-half years working as a fellow and then [full time] upon graduation. If it hadn’t been for that initial connection, who knows if I would even be in Philadelphia?

What made you both want to stay in Philadelphia after graduation? Matt, you’re from here, but Chris, you’re from New Mexico.

Stitt: I am wholly invested in Philadelphia. I think the way that I grew up here, my family and friends, I always had a sense of wanting to make Philadelphia better and help it reach its full potential. [Having seen] friends who went to public school, friends who went to private school and friends who sort of made better lives for themselves, I think Philadelphia can do better in bridging that gap. So, I made a conscious decision to stay around after college because I feel like I can offer a lot here.

Goy: I had no idea I was going to fall in love Philadelphia until I got here. I haven’t looked back since I arrived. Certainly getting a crash course in Philly via Jim Kenney always helps because he’s one of the city’s biggest cheerleaders, so I think it happened a lot quicker for me than it would have otherwise.

I guess the question for me as to why I chose to stay is that it’s easy to be in charge of city government in Palo Alto. There’s nothing challenging about that. Why would you invest your educational dollars and your career in a place that isn’t challenging and isn’t in need of as much attention and brainpower and passion as you can get? Philadelphia is absolutely not a charity case; it’s been consistently undervalued and consistently overlooked. It’s clearly the place on the East Coast that is primed to move forward and it’s an exciting time to be a part of that.

What are your big goals right now? What are you excited about?

Goy: I think there’s a tremendous amount of excitement in city government right now about the new area of cooperation and partnership between City Council and the Mayor’s Office and I think that is quickly leading to people dreaming big and talking about major initiatives in a way that I don’t think people were before. Among the things I know that we’ll be spending the next eight years tackling is obviously poverty. We have a chronically high poverty [rate] that, frankly, there is no reason for us to have, and it’s something that we can fix. I think we need to figure how out how to build economies that are sustainable in the 21st century. Matt and I are [also] extremely dedicated to a Philadelphia public school system that works for everyone.

Stitt: Trying to figure out how to better serve our neighborhoods is one of those things we’re looking to tackle, especially for some of those neighborhoods that might not see as much attention.

For information about graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government, attend an information session on October 8th from 6 to 7 pm. Gain insight about the student experience, from the coursework to the culture. And learn how the Fels focus on context, analysis, and practice will enhance your career and prepare you for public leadership. Register here.

Or, hear from faculty, staff, and students about the full-time Master of Public Administration program during an online information session on Tuesday, October 13th at 6 pm. Register here.

This interview has been condensed for length.