Jackson — For three intense weeks in July, Phil Hardwick rubbed elbows with some of the nation’s most prominent political figures and public policymakers at one of the world’s most prestigious schools.
Hardwick, coordinator of economic and community development for the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, was one of 65 members from three countries who attended the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program, part of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. Of those, about 20 were state and local elected officials, 30 were appointed officials, and 15 were career officials like Hardwick.
“With only two exceptions, none of my classmates had any idea where Jackson was geographically located,” said Hardwick. “Even though I said over and over that I was from Mississippi State, people kept thinking I was at Ole Miss. The guys wanted to know about Eli Manning and the women wanted to know what Oxford was like.”
One of 10 Fannie Mae Foundation fellows who each received $9,800 scholarships to attend the program, Hardwick was also selected among 20 members of the group to participate in a forum with Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Judy Woodruff and Jim Lehrer. He also participated in the “Washington Week in Review” during the Democratic National Convention.
The high point of Hardwick’s Harvard experience: sitting beside Dan Fenn, 81, who served on President John F. Kennedy’s personal staff, during the group’s graduation dinner at the Harvard Faculty Club.
“We talked about that famous four-and-half minute call between Ross Barnett and JFK and Bobby Kennedy right before James Meredith was admitted to Ole Miss,” said Hardwick. “We also talked about Stennis some more. But the highlight came when another person at our table asked him to describe his day when Kennedy was assassinated. Dan was at a luncheon at the State Department when a note was handed to the Secretary of State, who shared the news that the President had been shot. Dan said that he went back to the White House and watched television for a while. He then walked across Lafayette Square to the church that JFK attended and just sat all alone in the seat that Kennedy usually sat in. (At this point in the story, Dan’s voice cracks a bit and tears well up in his eyes.)
He went back to the White House and began his next role, handling the funeral arrangements. Hearing him relive that day was one of the more profound experiences I have ever had.”
Of the roster of impressive speakers, Hardwick was partial to classes led by adjunct lecturer Marty Linsky from the Public Policy Center for Public Leadership, who “really got us out of our comfort zones and made us think about our personal values (and) really challenged the elected officials to examine how and why they lead the way they do.”
Hardwick is already incorporating some of the lessons learned into the Stennis Institute’s “Selected to Serve” course, a goal setting and leadership retreat program for mayors.
“I am now more inclined to look at what communities do instead of what they say, and to work with those communities to discover opportunities for leadership,” he said. “From a statewide perspective, I believe that government, universities and other organizations that work in the economic and community development world must put some priorities and their resources on working with communities that really want to help themselves, not just the ones that say they do.”
In his own words…
Every day during his stay in Boston for the Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program, Phil Hardwick e-mailed “missives” to family and friends, recapping each day’s highlights. A few excerpts:
From “Dispatch No. 1” on Saturday, July 10, Hardwick wrote: “6:55 a.m. — Leave Jackson on a U.S. Air flight that connects in Charlotte. Notice the plane, a regional jet, is almost full. A good sign for economic development.”
July 12: “The first case is … about the Chicago heat wave in 1995 and how it was handled. It is made more interesting because we have several people from Chicago in our class. Our faculty instructor is Bill Apgar, former Assistant Secretary of HUD. He’s good.”
July 14: “The Fannie Mae fellows … hear a presentation on a recent survey about Americans’ attitudes on affordable housing. In general, Americans think of projects and low-income residents when they think affordable housing. We discuss trends among ourselves and discover that many cities are faced with lower property values because of out-migration to the suburbs, while the poor remain in the city. The result is that many cities are saying they do not want ‘affordable housing’ in the city … would rather have upper-income housing. They need the property tax dollars.
“Personally, I am a proponent of mixed-income housing wherein neighborhoods are composed of a variety of people ala the police officer living next door to the business person living next door to the body shop manager living next door to the professor living next door to the poor single mom with two kids. We have figured out so many ways to segregate ourselves in this society that we don’t even understand each other anymore. Living together in the same neighborhood would solve some of that.”
July 20: “After study groups this morning, we watch a video of then-Senator and Vice Presidential nominee Richard Nixon’s ‘Checkers’ speech. The morning’s topic is ‘The Power of Persuasion,’ so we dissect the speech every way one can. We then have a great discussion of that campaign. I scheme how to have a forum in Mississippi using the ‘Checkers’ speech. It would be great fun.”
July 26: “Public Management and Leadership …good case study discussion about a city department head whose budget got cut 20% at the last moment. Decision: Whether to lay off full-time or part-time employees.”
July 27: “During break, President Clinton comes by in car; some people very excited; one female class member (an elected state official no less) tells us that she got to shake his hand and last night and that, “…he has such magnetism it is easy to see why …” Several class members have gone to his hotel next door to get him to sign his book. I am shaking my head at this groupie behavior, and then realize that ever how one might feel about Clinton, he is a powerful celebrity.”
July 28: “For the past three weeks, we have spent a lot of time talking about technical change versus adaptive change. In Jackson, we used to have a lot of different agencies and organizations working on housing. When Kane Ditto was mayor, he formed the Jackson Metro Housing Partnership to be the lead housing organization and coordinate all those efforts as well as to itself provide housing units. That was adaptive change. As time marched on, we went back to where we were with many distinct and separate housing organizations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But merely producing housing units is a technical change.”
July 29: “Our second case this morning is on the subject of Rural Democracy. It’s about a Georgia county administrator who tries to get a school bond issue passed, but it fails 2-1. The kids are in horrible conditions and need a new school. What to do when the voters have spoken, but a public official feels compelled to do something.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.