Outtakes with KCMO’s Cookingham-Noll fellows

Remember when you dove into your first real job thinking you were well on your way to making a difference and changing the world? Well, even if you can’t immediately recall that moment of optimism, you still can appreciate meeting a young professional filled with that type of eternal hope.

Javon Davis, Alyssa Dinberg and Dillon Wood are three such professionals who are eager to make their mark as public servants. They’re the latest KCMO employees who have toiled tirelessly at City Hall as part of the Cookingham-Noll Management Fellowship. This two-year rotation offers recent graduates of Public Administration (or related) Master’s programs a complete tour of the City, with designated stops in the City Manager’s Office, the Office of Management and Budget and several other departments of their choice.

Alyssa Dinberg, Javon Davis and Dillon Wood

More than 100 city management fellows have completed the program and moved on to rewarding jobs within municipal, state and federal government, as well as not for profit organizations.

Here’s a quick Q&A with this impressive trio:

Why did you apply for this fellowship?

JD: In 2015, while serving as a Virginia Governor’s Fellow, I had the opportunity to go to Washington to meet with Virginia’s elected officials in the Senate and House offices. While meeting with Sen. Tim Kaine, former City Councilman and Mayor of Richmond, Va., he explained to the group that working in local government was one of the most rewarding experiences that he has had as a public servant. That conversation, paired with advice from other mentors in local government service, really inspired me to look for opportunities to work at the local level. While I knew that I wanted to explore local government service, I had no idea which department best fit my interests. This is where the truly unique structure of the Cookingham-Noll Management Fellowship really drew me in. This opportunity has given me an unparalleled opportunity to see all that city administration has to offer.

AD: While I’ve always worked in community development in some capacity, I felt that I could make the most impact by working in local government. As graduation approached, I quickly realized that, in the three years I’ve lived here, Kansas City had stolen my heart and contributing to the renaissance was my calling. An ad for the Cookingham-Noll Management fellowship popped up on my Facebook newsfeed and I guess you could say the rest is history.

DW: I applied for the fellowship because when I was an intern for the City of Mountain Brook, Ala., their city manager and my mentor told me to read “This City, This Man: The Cookingham Era in Kansas City” by Bill Gilbert. The book starts out discussing Kansas City in the Pendergast Era and all the corruption that occurred. As the book progresses, it delves into how Mr. Cookingham was hired as city manager to come in and clean up the city. I was completely enamored with the book, and I could not put it down. Mr. Cookingham is truly the gold standard as far as professional city management is concerned, and once I saw that a fellowship opportunity that he started was available I knew that I had to apply.

Behind your back, what do you want your boss to say about you?

AD: I’d really like for my boss to say that I am someone he/she can count on, regardless of what the task is. I’ve always enjoyed finding answers to tough questions and thinking outside the box to find solutions.

DW: Behind my back, I want my boss to say that I am someone who takes initiative, is a constant learner, and does not look the other way when faced with a difficult problem. I believe in trying new experiences and not being afraid to fail because this is how I learn.

JD: I would love to be known as someone who is reliable, innovative, highly effective, and fun to work with and be around. It is my hope that as I go through my career, I will leave a legacy of being all those characteristics, and more.

If you could choose to have just one superpower, what would it be? Why?

JD: If I could have one super power it would definitely be teleportation. It would be the perfect way to visit family and friends in Virginia, and see all of the world’s beauty without spending thousands of dollars. I have fully bought into “millennials love to travel” stereotype and this ability would make all of my travel goals become a reality.

DW: If I had one superpower, it would be the ability to read someone’s mind. I think that would make it easier to know what residents want and their thoughts on how to better improve Kansas City.

AD: I’d really love to time travel. While hearing stories and reading articles is beneficial for learning about our past, it would be pretty neat to experience both the good and bad times of our City to see how it has impacted the future. I’d also like to travel to the future and see how some of the decisions we are making right now will help or hurt us later down the road.

So City Manager Troy Schulte directs you to change one thing about the City and how it operates, what do you change?

AD: If the City Manager were to give me power to implement one change, it would absolutely be a coffee shop in City Hall. While I am not dependent on caffeine to function, there are definitely mornings I need the boost and the watered down mass produced coffee just won’t cut it. As Assistant City Manager for Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Rick Usher, pointed out in his interview with Startland News last January, coffee shops are not just places that fuel caffeine additions, they are hubs for collaboration and provide “serendipitous collision density, which is critical to innovation and creativity”. Having a coffee shop inside City Hall would give us an informal location for meetings and provide me an opportunity to develop a caffeine addition. And Kansas City has some of the best coffee roasters in the country so I’m sure finding a supplier wouldn’t be hard…

JD: I would love to see the City become more collaborative. There are a lot of great minds at City Hall and I think we could accomplish a lot more by having interdepartmental groups working on certain, complex issues. We have already seen progress in this area by initiatives led by the Kansas City Health Department but we certainly can do more. Ideally, there would be a co-working type space on a floor at City Hall where any City employee can come and work in an innovative space that was conducive to collaborating in the 21st century.

DW: Considering that I just moved to Kansas City a little over two months ago, I am still learning all about the city and its operations. However, I will say that one project that I would be happy to take on would be to look into the cost of installing a separate call button for the express elevator. It never fails that that is the elevator to show up when I need one, yet it never goes to the floors that I need!

What do you think the City does well?

DW: One thing I think the City does well is use data for decision making. My first rotation is in the Office of Performance Management (OPM), and I have just been blown away at how data helps guide city operations. The OPM team consists of some of the smartest people — “data wonks,” as I am sure they would prefer to be called — that I have ever met. Kansas City is definitely a leader in data driven decision making, and the City should be proud of these efforts.

JD: I have been impressed with the amount of engagement opportunities that the City provides for its residents. Between budget sessions, Community Engagement University, virtual streaming of most public meetings, and public votes on big issues, it is obvious that KCMO values and encourages citizen participation and engagement.

AD: I think the City is doing a really great job putting KC on the map nationally. By investing in Visit KC, we are attracting larger conventions, meetings and sporting events to the city and our reputation is continuing to grow as a cost-effective, fun and cultured place to live. Corporations are moving their headquarters here and the startup community is continuing to grow. Things will only continue to improve with a brand new, single-terminal airport (fingers crossed!!).

What is one thing about you that would surprise people?

AD: Parking spot luck. Seriously. Regardless of where I am, I always manage to find the absolute best parking spots. My friends consistently give me a hard time about it and have even begun to have me drive places because they know I will find us a spot right up front.

DW: One thing that might surprise people about me is that I am currently trying to teach myself how to play the banjo. I think it is one of the coolest instruments around. I am pretty bad right now, so if anyone in city hall knows how to play and would not mind helping me then let me know!

JD: I am always picking up new hobbies and trying my hand at new skills. I am currently bartending in the Crossroads and plan to continue to pick up different skill sets as long as I have the time and energy to do so. A few things that are in my mental queue are: juicing, playing guitar, writing my own cookbook, basic Adobe Suite knowledge, and learning how to use popular music production softwares like FL Studio and Albeton Live.


About Javon Davis

Javon Davis is a native of South Hill, Va., and a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University. He is currently in his second year of the Cookingham-Noll fellowship and is working on projects to help make Kansas City a more equitable place. If Javon is not at City Hall, you can probably find him watching Netflix, admiring murals in the Crossroads, or jamming out to live music somewhere in the City.

About Alyssa Dinberg

Alyssa is a native of Atlanta, Ga., and received an undergraduate Interdisciplinary degree in Community Development from The University of Alabama. Her passion for creating citywide change led her to seek an Executive Masters of Public Administration from the University of Missouri – Kansas City’s Bloch School of Management. When she’s not working, you can find her exploring the newest hole-in-the-wall restaurant, attending any and all sporting events or hanging with her little sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters.

About Dillon Wood

Dillon is a native of Talladega, Ala., and he attended Jacksonville State University for his undergraduate degree in political science. It was there he found a passion for local government and decided to attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham for his Master’s in Public Administration. Dillon is a huge sports fan, and he is going all in on KC’s major sports teams. So, the next time you are at a Chiefs, Royals, or Sporting KC game, take a look around and you might see him there.