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SPAA Distinguished Practitioner in Residence James M. Davy Wins Public Administration Award in Father’s Namesake

James Davy (left) accepts Dr. Thomas J. Davy Academic Achievement Award from Bloomfield Township Administrator Matthew Watkins. (photo provided by James Davy)

The New Jersey Municipal Management Association (NJMMA) has awarded its annual Dr. Thomas J. Davy Academic Achievement Award to James M. Davy, Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA). The award, given to outstanding educators in public administration, was presented to Davy on Nov. 16, 2016, during the 101st Annual League of Municipalities Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey. 

 “Over the course of 35 years, Mr. Davy has dedicated himself to public service by his work as both a state and local government official,” said Thomas Kenny, executive associate of NJMMA, in a statement from the organization. 

The award is the namesake of Davy’s late father, an educator and public administrator whose ideas for effective government became the model for the Public Service Institute of New Jersey during New Jersey Governor William Thomas Cahill’s administration (1970-74). The senior Davy also co-established the Department of Public Administration at Rutgers University–Newark (RU-N) in 1975 with Dr. Drexel Godfrey, former assistant director of the CIA. The department flourished for more than three decades before its 2006 transformation into an independent public affairs and administration body – the School of Public Affairs and Administration (SPAA) – established by Founding Dean Marc Holzer.

“I’m pretty excited, I was honored when they called me and informed me about [the award], especially as it is in the name of my father, so that makes it even more special,” said Davy.

Davy credits his father with converting his budding curiosity regarding public administration into a full-fledged passion for the field.

“He always took an interest in helping me and guiding me, and making sure it was really what I wanted to do,” said a misty-eyed Davy. “Between high school and the starting of college, with my dad’s help, I was able to get a summer internship working for the city manager of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Just having been involved with that internship got me more excited about working in the field of public administration, particularly city management.”

Davy earned his master of public administration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University and began working for a former New Jersey state department – the Department of Public Advocate – where he mediated disputes between citizens and state government.

Davy then reacquainted himself with local government with a string of managerial positions in New Jersey townships, including South Brunswick, Hopewell, West Milford, and Woodbridge.

In the early 2000s, he served as the commissioner of the Department of Human Services and directed hundred million-dollar projects involving child welfare reform, mental health reform, Medicaid expansion, and the expansion of community-based services for people with developmental disabilities.

"As I began to teach more classes at SPAA, I was happy to take a position as a distinguished practitioner at Rutgers and to concentrate my work at the state's university.” Davy recalled.

It was at SPAA where Davy parlayed his consulting expertise into an opportunity for the university to provide guidance to community groups and organizations through the creation of the Center for Applied Appreciative Inquiry (CAAI), which also offers a certificate in appreciative inquiry. As the center’s director, Davy has assisted with the strategic planning process for institutions including Essex County College and Middlesex County College, as well as programs such as Newark Promise Neighborhood.

“Professor Davy’s unique approach to strategic planning and team building through the use of Applied Appreciative Inquiry has been a lesson to all public officials,” said Matthew Watkins, township administrator for Bloomfield, New Jersey, who nominated Davy. “Having had the honor of knowing Jim's father, I'm sure he would be extremely proud to see the success of Jim's work in the education of young professional public servants.”

“I’m hoping that the CAAI can continue serving the Greater Newark community with strength-based approaches to solving some of the problems that people face in this area,” Davy said.

Davy is currently earning his PhD in urban systems at RU-N and says that he intends to continue teaching for as long as possible.

“My dad’s influence has extended to me, because above all else, my father was advocating that government has to be ethical,” he said. “And whenever I was making decisions or taking particular actions, I always had my father’s voice in my head saying ‘what’s the ethical thing to do here?’ and to this day his voice is still ringing true.”