VACo Spotlight: VIVIAN SEAY GILES | Cumberland County Administrator and County Attorney

December 21, 2017

Q1. What drew you to working in local government?  What advice would you give to others who are interested in pursuing a career in public administration?
Vivian Giles: To be perfectly honest, I entered local government more for personal reasons than for professional reasons at the time, but it has turned out to be one of the best professional moves I have ever made.  And because the move was so personal to me, from day one I have been extremely grateful for the opportunity that was afforded to me in Cumberland County and have worked hard to be as effective as I can be in this position that I thoroughly enjoy.  I would advise others interested in public administration to familiarize themselves with the various departments in their localities and then learn a little bit about every single department.  If you are not already working in the public sector, then acquire as much experience as possible in a variety of areas.  Running a locality could require on any given day a working knowledge of topics ranging from construction/maintenance to economic development (negotiation and creative deal making), from personnel and finance to real estate and utilities.  And never forget that at all times you must employ the highest levels of diplomacy and sound judgment.

Q2. You have an unusual perspective on county government, serving as both the County Administrator and the County Attorney.  How does your legal background inform your work in county administration and vice versa?
VG: I see each and every day how useful a legal background is in this job.  I am able to identify issues before they become issues, and I often am able to move projects forward more quickly than I otherwise might be if I were not an attorney.  That is because I can immediately conduct a comprehensive analysis of the issues that cross my desk, to include the legal conclusions that may be drawn as well as the legal consequences that may result.  And in every situation, there are almost always potential legal consequences.

Q3. In your view, what are the major challenges and opportunities facing Cumberland County in the next 10 years?
VG: In my view, Cumberland’s challenges over the next ten years will relate primarily around economic development.  Not unlike most other rural Virginia localities, Cumberland faces obstacles like transportation deficits and the need for infrastructure development, primarily broadband.  However, Cumberland is very strong in education, workforce development, and in business incentive offerings.  Cumberland County also has done a very good job of responsibly navigating the economic downturn and keeping the budget in good standing.

Q4. You serve on the Board of Directors of Virginia’s Growth Alliance.  What are some of the strategies that you’ve found to be most effective in promoting economic development in your region?
VG: I think first and foremost it is important that we have Virginia’s Growth Alliance (VGA) in place.  In Cumberland County, we rely heavily on the information that we gain through VGA and most certainly the opportunities that come our way exclusively through that group.  The other strategies that I think have proven effective are the focus on promoting broadband development, a focus on workforce development, and a commitment to marketing/promoting our region of the state.

Q5. What are the “must-do” activities for a first-time visitor to Cumberland County?
VG: Please come to visit, and be sure to explore Bear Creek Lake State Park, High Bridge Trail State Park, and the James River.  Bear Creek Lake offers several cabins for rent as well as camping facilities, meaning you should not only visit, but you can stay with us for a while as well.

Q6. You serve on the Virginia Advisory Committee for Career and Technical Education, which advises the Board of Education on programs that help prepare students for a successful transition to careers.  Policymakers in Virginia have been very interested in ensuring that high school students graduate “life-ready” – prepared for further education or careers.  What programs and approaches do you think are most successful in meeting this goal?  How do you think new graduates can be encouraged to consider working in the public sector?
VG: I am delighted to see the Virginia Department of Education focus on career and technical education (CTE).  There is such a need in our country for the trades, and there is a similar need for a large segment of our student population to have an alternative to the traditional college path.  That path simply is not for everyone.  Most effective, in my observation, are the programs that market CTE as a positive path and then go on to provide opportunities for students at early ages to participate in internships or similar programs, to get their hands dirty in a sense.  As for graduates coming into the public sector, I think government needs to do a much better job of keeping pay scales competitive with the private sector and keeping technology and processes modernized.  Young people will not be inspired to work where they feel they are stepping back in time.  And though I do not have data to validate my suspicions, I believe that the average age of our public sector workforce is pretty high and I fear that we may have problems in the not-so-distant future replacing those who leave or retire.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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