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Have you ever thought much about trash? Probably not, but maybe if you work in local government. During my first few weeks as the Lead for North Carolina fellow in Rockingham County, I went on various “field trips” to nearby government institutions, including to the landfill. Here, the Engineering Director explained to me more than I ever wanted to know about trash, compaction rates, and fluff layers.

During this visit–and during my visits to the 911 Call Center, Animal Shelter, and Courthouse–I realized how much local government does “behind the scenes” to promote a healthy, functioning society. Prior to visiting the landfill, all I knew about trash was that it goes into a bag and into a trashcan at the end of my driveway where it becomes someone else’s problem. Now, I know that local governments have to engineer precisely where layers of trash will be placed in the landfill, where gas-collecting pipes will be located, and how to treat the leachate produced from the landfill process.

As a fellow in the County Manager’s office, I have had the unique opportunity to learn how each department functions individually as well as how they work with one another to provide service to county residents. The County not only operates the landfill, but also directs 911 calls, offers animal adoptions, vaccinates community members, and allows people to check out books, to name just a few of the services offered by local governments. Before this fellowship, I never realized how much time and effort goes into making these services possible; now, I remember that there is a complex engineered process and network of staff that take care of my trash once I throw it away