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Government Intern Justin Etheridge has been helping out in different Town Hall offices, including the Town Clerk's office. Mark Dionne/Town Times

Government intern spending the summer at Town Hall

Before returning to Washington, D.C. for his sophomore year at American University, Justin Etheridge of Durham is spending the summer as the Government Intern for the town of Durham.

Etheridge said he does “anything and everything that is needed of me.”

“I work in almost all the departments in the building,” Etheridge said. “I’m an intern for everyone.”

Etheridge has assisted in the Town Clerk’s office, the Tax Collector’s office, and gone into the field with the Town Assessor.

Etheridge, salutatorian of Coginchaug’s class of 2013, is majoring in Political Science and hopes to enter public policy, either within government or as a policy advocate.

While Etheridge said he will add the position to his resume, working as Durham’s Government Intern has also brought him up close to the workings of small town government. “You forget how personable government can be. It can seem so isolated and official, but people come in here all the time ... and the people here are very friendly and open,” Etheridge said.

As a freshman, Etheridge got to meet both Connecticut senators and went to the Capital Building during the argument over the government shutdown. “That was interesting in a contrasting way,” Etheridge said. “Here in Durham we run pretty well.”

Etheridge said as Government Intern he has witnessed some interesting things about the workings of government, such as a regional meeting of registrars of voters, and also experienced the day to day activities. “There’s something very relaxing about opening the mail,” Etheridge said.

Based on a tip from Henry Coe of Durham, Etheridge tracked down records indicating that a time capsule was buried on the town green. According to Board of Selectmen minutes, students from the now-defunct gifted and talented program at Strong School buried a time capsule in May of 1986.

According to Board of Selectmen minutes taken before the burial, the students intended to put “architectural pictures, tapes, drawings, prophecies, [and] invested monies” in the capsule.

The records indicate that the capsule was scheduled to be unearthed in May of 2016, but there is no more specific reference to the location than “near the flagpole.”

Etheridge is also working on digital records of meetings and approval of town roads. Some of the early documents, according to Etheridge, contain still familiar names, like Coe, Parmelee, and Pisgah, but direct roads around landmarks like a tree or a pile of rocks.

The intern program for Durham dates back to 1999 with one intern per summer helping town officials. In two previous years, two interns were selected, but in 2014, Etheridge is the only intern.

The Government Intern is selected based on an application and interviews with two or three town officials.

Assistant Town Clerk Alicia Fonash-Willett, who participated in this year’s interviews, said that all the candidates were great, but Etheridge was selected based on his energy and leadership capabilities. “He was a good find,” Fonash-Willett said.

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