Q1. What led you to pursue a career in public administration? What advice would you give to others considering such a career path?
Dr. Charlette Woolridge: I grew up in a household where I saw my mother and grandparents give back to others and to the community. Our home was a safe haven for many. Therefore, serving others became natural for me. Although my career began in the business sector, I later transitioned to pursue a career in public administration. This role enables me to fulfill my calling and passion to improve the quality of life in communities, including enhancing their social and economic well-being, and shaping public policies that will positively impact their lives.
The advice I would give to others considering a career in public administration is if you are looking for a rewarding career that enables you to improve the quality of life, public administration at the local level would be an excellent career path. I would also say to stay focused on the vision, identify mentor(s), be flexible, maintain your integrity, and have fun.
Q2. Higher education has been a major focus for you. In addition to completing a doctorate yourself, you were appointed by the Governor to serve on the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center Board of Trustees. You also serve on the Southside Virginia Community College Board. How does your work with higher education influence your perspective on county administration?
CW: As someone who appreciates the value of continuous learning, education is undoubtedly one of the most significant contributors to an individual’s and community’s success. Education, and especially higher educational attainment, is significantly and positively correlated with a wealth of benefits such as reduced unemployment and poverty, better health, access to better jobs and higher earnings. It provides economic growth, reduces criminal activities, and generates higher tax payments. Overall, higher education has significant benefits to individuals, citizens and localities and contributes to improving the quality of life of a community, which is what I care most about, improving lives and communities.
Q3. What were your favorite subjects in school?
CW: My favorite subjects in school were government and leadership courses.
Q4. Your dissertation examined ways to reduce drug-related crimes and concluded that directing public dollars toward prevention efforts was the most cost-effective use of funding. Secretary Hazel has also spoken about the need for the state to invest in prevention efforts in areas such as mental health, but noted that sometimes it is hard to quantify the benefits of prevention, which may show up as savings in the future, whereas the costs show up now. How do you think that investments in prevention can be encouraged, whether in the public or private/nonprofit sector?
CW: Government spending is overwhelmingly targeted at intervention rather than investing in cost-effective prevention approaches. For example, significant resources are expended on substance use/addiction in the areas of public safety, health and human services, education, economic productivity and more. Despite a considerable body of knowledge that has proven that drug use is a preventable disease and prevention is effective in reducing the economic and social burden associated with drug use/addiction, efforts to invest in prevention efforts have been minimal.
Investments in prevention can be encouraged by incorporating a comprehensive approach that engages diverse stakeholders (government, school officials, community leaders, families, business community, faith-based community, etc.) working collaboratively to address issues such as substance use/addiction. Comprehensive intervention approaches have been proven to be more effective than singular approaches in addressing an issue and reducing cost. Although, an initial investment to implement a comprehensive prevention program may create further hardship for counties that are already facing fiscal challenges, investments in prevention are necessary to alleviate the continuous economic and social burden of an issue long-term.
I would also suggest a focus on regional prevention strategies. Since drug use/addiction, for example, has no boundaries and drug users and dealers tend to travel from county to county and region to region to sell, purchase and use illicit drugs, regional drug abuse prevention programs can also have widespread effects in reducing the economic and social burden of substance use/addiction and enable localities to pool limited resources to tackle the problem more broadly.
Q5. What are the key challenges and opportunities you see facing Brunswick County in the next ten years?
CW: There are several key challenges facing Brunswick County in the next ten years. First, Brunswick County, like other Virginia localities, is facing continued reductions in state and federal aid, unfunded mandates, and rules and regulations that have fiscal consequences. All of these have implications on balancing our local budgets, strain our limited resources and hinder our ability to provide quality essential services.
Second, we are expected to meet the growing citizen demands for more public services. Meeting citizen needs will be challenging because while the expectancy of local governments to provide these services have grown, revenue streams continue to lag behind expectations, thereby making it challenging to meet citizen needs.
Finally, economic development and associated workforce and aging infrastructure are ongoing challenges. We must continue efforts to develop creative strategies to attract, retain and expand businesses in an effort to create employment opportunities and generate new revenue streams. Simultaneously, we must ensure that we have a well-trained and qualified workforce to fill available positions along with upgrading our infrastructure, which is costly, to serve businesses.
The aforementioned challenges present opportunities for us to employ innovative approaches to address these complex challenges by engaging in more collaborative efforts with regional localities, utilizing technology to better communicate with and engage our citizens and business community, participating in more public-private partnerships to provide services and programs, and using creative financing to help defray costs, just to name a few.
Q6. What do you do for fun?
CW: I enjoy spending time with family and friends serving God, travelling, attending sports and beach activities, watching movies, eating and laughing. We simply enjoy life!
VACo Contact: Katie Boyle