Wilder School Spotlight: Alumnus Joseph P. Casey, Ph.D.
October 10, 2018
Joseph P. Casey, Ph.D., earned his Master of Public Administration from the Wilder School in 1995 and his doctorate in 2013. He is county administrator of Chesterfield County, Virginia’s fourth most populous, and has enjoyed an impressive career in public service. He shares his story.
Tell us about your career path.
For some reason, I always wanted to be an accountant. This was even more apparent at my 10th year high school reunion. I told a classmate I hadn’t seen since high school about my job and he laughed as he recalled my third grade career day speech about wanting to be an accountant. He remembers it fondly as all the usual careers of fireman, astronaut, and baseball player all were stated, and he had to ask his mom, “What is an accountant?”
My first job in 1986 as a Certified Public Accountant was with KPMG, a large international accounting firm. I was fortunate to be exposed to many types of private and public-sector audits, including initial public offerings of stock and acquisitions. However, it was the Hanover County, Virginia, audit that gave me an appreciation for public service. It was apparent how much the county staff cared about their locality and its citizens.
When Hanover’s assistant director of finance position became vacant in 1990, I initially tried to find someone to fill that role to make my KPMG role most productive, but with my wife’s encouragement and sense that my passion was in this position, I decided to apply. Fortunately, the finance director at that time was Rhu Harris, who eventually rose to county administrator in 2004, and I enjoyed the opportunities to advance into his prior roles, culminating as deputy county administrator in 2004.
After 23 years in Hanover, a close friend of mine for many years, John Vithoulkas, became Henrico’s county manager in 2013 and it was a great opportunity to help him as a deputy and the unique role to compare two well-regarded localities.
These two localities positioned me well with experience and regional knowledge, as well as friendships with many of their leaders. This made the timing right in becoming Chesterfield’s county administrator in 2016. The timing was also a personal goal for me, as my three children were raised in the same house and school district in Hanover, and by 2016, my wife and I were about to become empty nesters with greater mobility to easily become vested in living in Chesterfield.
While my accounting degree from the University of Richmond, status as a CPA, and KPMG job provided a great foundation of knowledge, I knew to truly become a public servant, I needed more than passion. I needed a Master in Public Administration (MPA). Soon after joining Hanover, I was fortunate to have a great MPA program nearby at VCU. Ironically, Douglas Wilder was just starting his term as governor when I started my program.
During my MPA program, I was exposed to a combination of policy and practice from the wide array of professors. The students also provided a wide range experiences and opinions, some in the beginning of their career pursuits and others well-tenured in their roles. I also was able to take electives in the MBA program, which enabled me to compare further private-public sector roles.
As my interests were finance, I naturally had one of VCU’s long-serving professors, Dr. Blue Wooldridge, for many classes and built a professional relationship thereafter. After my MPA completion, this relationship prompted Dr. Wooldridge to call upon me to help serve as an adjunct professor while he was on sabbatical, and it kept me in similar VCU adjunct roles for 10 years.
I found value as an adjunct in continued learning in preparing for the class and from student assignments and discussion. However, I also knew that a deeper learning of the public sector and deeper commitment to my profession could be best obtained via a doctorate in public policy.
Again, I was fortunate to have VCU and its newly named Wilder School so close and still so respected with its faculty. With Dr. Wooldridge still going strong, I had him for a few of my Ph.D. classes and as my dissertation chair. I think I may have had Dr. Wooldridge as a professor more than any other student at VCU.
In addition, I formed another great relationship and dissertation committee role with Dr. Bill Bosher, now deceased, who was founder and executive director of the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute as well as a distinguished professor of public policy and education in the Wilder School and the former dean of the School of Education at VCU. They both epitomized the passion needed for public service and the storytelling needed to best convey their experiences into lessons learned.
What is your proudest moment?
Seeing how a citizen or business is thankful for the attention they receive from a local government employee or group of employees. What many don’t realize is that these employees value their public servant role and aspire to perform such service each day. I started an “Every Day Excellence” moment at the beginning of every Board of Supervisors meeting in Chesterfield with an example of one event over the past month of such exceptional service.
My only challenge is sorting through all the great stories each month to find the representative story for that month. These services have not only have saved lives, saved properties, enabled businesses to expand faster, and positioned citizens to help their community, but simply, put faith in people that their local government works for them.
Have you received recognitions and awards for your work and service?
Many recognitions and awards sometimes are afforded to someone who just happens to be in the right position at the right time, from which I also benefited. However, there are two recognitions that I especially value.
First, in 2002, Inside Business Magazine’s “Top 40 under 40” Award had me amongst many young professionals and community contributors who I admired. Second, in 2007, I was asked to write a book that I felt was needed in my profession and that was published by Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA). It was titled, “Capital Project Planning and Evaluation: Expanding the Role of the Fiscal Officer,” which was used by many localities and seminars across the country.
Do you serve on any association or related boards? What experience has been most meaningful?
Again, by default, in my career and its position titles, I serve or have served on many associations and boards. I am proud to have gained the trust of my peers in many professional association appointments that have culminated in being the 2018-19 president of the Virginia Local Government Managers Association and 2002-03 president of the Virginia GFOA, as well as having a role with the national GFOA Executive Board in 2005-08.
The most meaningful was my GFOA pursuit as I was Virginia’s first national representative on the GFOA board since 1966, and even more meaningful was that a person who I helped mentor was just elected GFOA president for 2019-20, a first for Virginia in the association’s over 100-year history. Virginia is such a great state and to get this long overdue national recognition is especially rewarding.
An example of regional service is my current role on the Greater Richmond Convention Center Authority Board of Directors. Prior to my county administrator role, I had always tried to volunteer my time for nonprofit organizations, with one example being my 2008-16 role with Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Board of Directors. Volunteering one’s time and talent back into the community is not only very meaningful for me but seeing many come together for a cause helps define a great community.
What are your thoughts about the future of the Wilder School?
Virginia is one of the most highly regarded states and with its state Capitol so close to VCU, it goes without saying that the Wilder School should be one of the nation’s premier places to learn about the public sector.
This is reinforced that the region around VCU contains one of the nation’s highest number of adjoining “Triple AAA” bond-rated localities with many other high quality of life attributes. This same region has some of the highest functioning nonprofit organizations. Therefore, the Wilder School is logistically at ground zero for a path of greatness.
Do you have any final thoughts?
Lifelong learning is simply that – always look for opportunities to learn. The Wilder School is a purposeful opportunity. In any case, as Michelangelo once said at age 87 — “Ancora Imparo” —which translates to “I am still learning.”