Patrick Mulcahy turns to MPPA program to help prepare him for career in public service

Patrick Mulcahy talking on the phone in his office

Patrick Mulcahy spends a lot of his time on the phone, listening to the concerns of constituents as the executive assistant to St. Louis County Councilman Pat Dolan. Mulcahy is contemplating whether he too might one day run for office while working to complete his Master of Public Policy Administration degree at UMSL. (Photos by August Jennewein)

One might be tempted to call Patrick Mulcahy the chief of staff … if he had a staff.

Mulcahy is the lone aide working in the office of St. Louis County Councilman Pat Dolan by day while pursuing his Master of Public Policy Administration degree at the University of Missouri–St. Louis at night.

“I’m really the chief of nothing, the chief of myself,” Mulcahy joked.

But that makes him that much more valuable to Dolan, who is in his second term representing District 5 in what is traditionally a part-time position with one full-time executive assistant.

Mulcahy acts as a filter for the retired sprinkler-fitter and still active president of Sprinkler Fitters Local 268, answering phone calls and responding to emails from concerned constituents from his office in the St. Louis County Administration Building in downtown Clayton.

It’s given Mulcahy a good education in how government works at the local level while he contemplates his own future in public service, maybe running for elected office or, perhaps, working in city administration.

Mulcahy works in conjunction with Dolan and with the heads of the various county departments and offices – health, public works, transportation and police, to name a few – to try to find solutions as problems arise.

“The department heads are willing to work with him, and he’s developed a rapport with the staff,” Dolan said. “He’s willing to learn, and if he doesn’t know something, he’s willing to admit that he doesn’t and he tries to contact somebody who does.”

There have been plenty of lessons working in one of the more economically diverse sections of the county.

All or parts of 19 municipalities are contained within the district’s borders. Among them are bedroom communities such as Ladue, Shrewsbury and Webster Groves as well as the city’s largest financial center in Clayton and even some unincorporated area in Affton.

Mulcahy’s coursework at UMSL has provided the perfect supplement to his on-the-job training. He’s made local government management the emphasis of his MPPA.

Patrick Mulcahy sits at his desk in Clayton

Patrick Mulcahy believes it’s easier to see the impact he can have on people’s lives working in local, rather than statewide, government.

“The MPPA program has given me a great foundation,” Mulcahy said. “Through the required coursework and the core curriculum, they really make you focus on subjects that you might not be good at, but I think you realize later on why it was necessary to take some of these classes.

“I’m sure if we all had it our own way, we might only take classes on city administration. But they have us take classes on economics and program evaluation, as well. Eventually, it all ties in.”

Mulcahy, who majored in history and political science as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri–Columbia, got his start in government working at the state level as a legislative assistant for Rep. Bob Burns.

But he thought he might be able to have more of an impact working on local issues.

“I just feel you can get more done,” he said. “It is easier to have a more positive effect on a neighborhood, I think, than a whole state. It can be difficult to see the positive differences you’re making in people’s lives up there on a statewide level.”

Mulcahy was also feeling the tug of home when he made the decision to leave Jefferson City to return to the place he grew up – Florissant.

He enrolled in the MPPA program and soon landed the job on Dolan’s staff.

The work has been a welcome change from his previous role in the legislature.

“There’s definitely a lot less partisanship, which is a good thing, I think,” Mulcahy said. “Ninety-five percent of what we do at the county council is nonpartisan. We have to repave this road in this district. Let’s get it done. We need more police in this precinct. It’s not, ‘They’re Democrat or they’re Republican, so we’re going to send resources there. I think you tend to see that more at the state level.”

Mulcahy is particularly proud of work the council did last year as it passed legislation for a prescription drug monitoring program.

Missouri is the only state without such a program statewide.

It helps physicians prevent a practice some describe as “doctor-shopping,” where people visit multiple doctors in an effort to obtain prescription opioids, which are then either sold or abused.

“Other counties can join in with our program, so the goal is to have it continue to grow since the state’s not doing anything,” Mulcahy said. “That was rewarding to be a part of.”

Mulcahy, whom North County Inc. named one of 30 Leaders in their Thirties last fall, has regular interactions with executives throughout the St. Louis metropolitan area in his job. It’s boosted his confidence in the path he’s chosen, no matter which way it veers.

“One thing I’ve noticed is a large amount of the city managers or city administrators in the St. Louis area are actually alumni of the UMSL MPPA program, so that definitely stood out to me when I was looking into what program I wanted to get into,” said Mulcahy, who’s on track to complete his degree in December. “The MPPA definitely has a good track record of students finding employment after going through this program.”

The UMSL Experience

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