Be Connected: Behind-the-scenes with Patrick Fandel, Dorchester and LGBTQ+ Liaison
In this edition, Pat Fandel of the Office of Neighborhood Services takes us to civic engagement school, offering his insight into what makes a successful public process, how to handle difficult interactions with residents, which Peloton instructor has the best energy for newbies, and more.
Full disclosure for readers — Pat, we worked closely together when I was in the Mayor’s Office of Scheduling and Advance, and you’re also my Neighborhood Liaison. But that’s exactly why I wanted to do this interview. You and your teammates have been incredible partners over the years, and I just want everyone to know what a great resource y’all are. So thank you for agreeing to chat with me!
Of course! It has been a pleasure to work with you in many capacities here in City Hall and as the Mayor's Dorchester Liaison. Happy to chat about the work we do on behalf of the Mayor for residents across Boston.
First off, can you tell me in your own words what you do at the City of Boston?
On my first day in ONS, I was told "this position has no job description, it is what you make of it," a broad but meaningful charge that I have carried with me over the past 2.5 years in Neighborhood Services. We wear many hats, but we are here to help every Bostonian access top notch City services.
To boil it down we do essential constituent services; the bread and butter of City government. I am out in the community (for me, Dorchester) on behalf of Mayor Walsh, helping residents and community members with their day-to-day needs and concerns, be it proper trash pickup or the installation of a stop sign. During this ongoing pandemic especially, I’m mainly working to make sure folks have adequate access to food, resources, and testing information.
Wow I love that quote. And from what I understand of your role, makes perfect sense.
I can get into the finer details of coordinating between City agencies but I'll spare you and your readers, haha.
How did you find yourself in this kind of job in the first place?
I came to this position almost right after college. I had studied Political Science in school, and was always interested in getting involved more directly in government. After 2016, I decided to move home to Boston from Washington D.C. I jumped around for a bit, working briefly in the campaign world, and then for a labor organization when this opportunity arose.
To me, it seemed like the perfect way to make the greatest impact in peoples’ day-to-day lives, and that idea got me hooked. Having a job where you can really see the results of your work play out no matter how large or small, and witness the positive impact of the Mayor’s vision for the City, remains one of my favorite "perks".
I was a Political Science major too, and I would sit in class listening to my classmates go on and on about their opinions and think, "Guys, let's just get out there and DO something!" Local government is one of the best places to do that, it turns out.
Exactly, there is a lot more doing things and a lot less sitting around thinking and talking about how to do things!
In addition to being the Dorchester liaison, you recently picked up the responsibility of serving the LGBTQ+ community Citywide. How has that been for you?
It has been very interesting. The Mayor appointed me LGBTQ+ liaison right before the pandemic hit. Like most people at that time, I was anticipating a different situation...instead I was immediately thrust into conversations about postponing the 50th Anniversary of Boston Pride. That was certainly a twist I had not expected.
At the same time, my day-to-day work shifted to sharing COVID-19 information and resources, mostly food access and testing information. As our country’s greatest inequities and injustices become more and more exposed, the LGBTQ+ community is certainly not immune. I’ve been working closely with the Transgender Emergency Fund and Trans Resistance so the Mayor and the City of Boston can better support their efforts to provide vulnerable BIPOC transgender women with housing, healthcare, and economic resources. Those conversations are ongoing, and they are the bulk of my work under the LGBTQ+ Liaison hat. I'm excited for the continuing conversations and action.
Speaking of action-oriented civics — given your role, what's going on in the world, and the theme for this week's Be Connected newsletter, I wanted to pick your brain with some questions about civic engagement.
A big part of your department’s mission is to encourage, facilitate, and maximize resident input and participation in all aspects of City government. That means supporting different departments’ efforts to engage the public in their various plans and projects. In your experience, what makes for a successful public process?
Communication, plain and simple — in most public processes, be it a development proposal or a street redesign, there are always multiple departments and agencies (i.e. a lot of people) involved. Good communication ensures that internally we are all on the same page, and able to manage expectations of how the process will play out. It allows us to understand whose role is whose, and who is responsible for what. This then allows us to go to the public with the most sound expectations for how the process will look, and move forward in good faith.
...That was a bit of a word salad, maybe I need to be more concise in my communication.
Haha, no, not at all! That's a really good point. I think COVID-19 provides a stark and urgent example of why internal communication matters — not all situations are life or death like a global pandemic, but it does make you realize how damaging misinformation and confusing or contradictory messages can be.
Government actors need to work as a team and get on the same page in order to effectively engage with the public.
What barriers have you seen that may prevent people from getting involved or providing input?
In light of COVID-19, we have had to pivot the majority of our public interactions to online platforms. So I would say digital access is now a pressing barrier for many. Digital tools are a great resource in many, many ways, but there are still folks — be they older Bostonians or residents without access to WiFi or a home computer — that are falling behind.
I’ve also seen many instances where a language barrier prevents people from engaging with the City, but we’ve made great strides under Mayor Walsh to close those gaps. ONS works closely with the Language & Communication Access team to provide translated materials and resources for folks in communities where English is not the primary language. These are some of our most vulnerable and underserved residents, and it’s on us to make sure they receive the same resources and access every Bostonian deserves.
So, there’s always more work to do, but I know it’s possible for us to help folks get around those barriers.
As a liaison between the residents of Dorchester and the City of Boston, you are highly accountable to both. I imagine that can be difficult to balance when they don’t see eye-to-eye on something. What’s that dynamic like for you, and how do you manage it?
I try my best to advocate on behalf of my residents while still advancing the Mayor's goals, be it a conversation around transportation infrastructure or park improvements or larger goals like Climate Ready Boston or ending the opioid crisis. Constituent work is all about navigating issues and reaching the most agreeable resolution between a wide variety of personalities — my job is inherently about facilitating and problem solving.
When it comes to working with the residents of Dorchester, I always keep in mind the Mayor's vision for the entire City of Boston; how it impacts Dorchester is one component of an overall plan. We all have personal opinions, but I try to let those stay out of the way of my work. It is easier to accomplish goals objectively.
So diplomatic. Spoken like a true professional. Because sometimes when I think of your job, I think of that episode of Parks and Recreation when Leslie Knope says “What I hear when I’m being yelled at is people caring loudly at me.” Accurate?
Oh yes, it's all about passion and where you place it! Most folks care deeply about their neighborhood, and I respect that.
What tips or suggestions do you have for handling difficult encounters with residents?
I would say to listen. Try and listen to their concerns and then think critically about what the actual problem is — some people just want to be heard. It is easy to brush off an issue as irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, but to this one resident, their world at the moment may be the issue at hand, and sometimes it takes going to where they are to understand that. You won’t always convince someone to your side, but that is okay. Keeping your composure and keeping it honest can win out in the end.
Patrick I LOVE that advice. I've had the same experience with people, especially in my past roles. I think people ultimately remember that you listened and treated them with respect, even if you couldn't deliver the exact answer or result they were looking for.
Speaking of past roles, when I was in the Mayor’s Office of Scheduling & Advance, I relied on you a lot — to provide background information and input on scheduling requests, to staff the Mayor’s meetings and events, and often just to handle things on his behalf. In what circumstances would you suggest colleagues in other departments reach out to you or your teammates in ONS for assistance?
That is a good question, and one that I think goes back to my point earlier about internal communication — it is easy to fall into silos, especially during the pandemic when we’re all scattered between home and the office, but that work style doesn’t yield great results. But I couldn’t provide the best answers to residents if I wasn’t reaching out to and working with BTD, PWD, or Parks staff (among many more), and those same folks wouldn’t know the important neighborhood dynamics if they weren’t communicating with ONS.
I recently had an experience where a Department decided not to reach out or try to understand the neighborhood context, and that only yielded more mess for their process. It’s just not as effective to go it alone, so I would say never hesitate to reach out to the ONS Liaisons when your work touches their neighborhood. A quick phone call, an email, whatever — it never hurts.
Very well said. And I appreciate that you don’t just talk the talk, you walk the walk. It’s about mutual respect for one another's roles.
Can I fire off a few quick Lighting Round Q's before we wrap up?
It’s 8 PM, you’re just getting home from a community meeting, and you’re too tired to cook. Where do you go for take out?
Harp and Bard. I just moved, and it's my go to.
Heck yeah. Those tater tots....
Tater tots and chicken tenders all the way!
Favorite Peloton instructor?
Ally Love! She keeps it upbeat and positive.
Ooh I'll have to try her. I'm all about Cody and the #BooCrew. He plays like, Backstreet Boys and Whitney Houston so obviously I appreciate that.
I'm still new at this, so I like her energy. I'll have to try Cody!
Bravo, HGTV, or Food Network?
Bravo or HGTV...that's a tough one. Real Housewives is always a good choice, especially to tune out. But I love a good house renovation. In a different life I would love to flip houses.
I agree with this answer wholeheartedly. If you were casting a movie about your life, who would play you...and more importantly, who would play me?
Oh that's a tough question, I think I would cast Jonathan Groff for me and either Anne Hathaway or Zooey Deschanel for you.
Oh my god Johnathan Groff is a genius call. I was gonna say a young Patrick Wilson but that's basically the same thing. This was so fun, I am so grateful for your time, thoughtful answers, and friendship. Thank you!
Erin Santhouse joined the City of Boston in 2014 as a scheduler for Mayor Walsh. She is currently a Project Manager for the HR Transformation and the lead content strategist for Be Connected. In lieu of providing further biographical information, she suggests googling “Kelly Kapoor quotes”.