There was a time when being elected to public office was referred to as “serving the public.” But we’ve all watched as ‘service’ to the public has taken a back seat to advancing careers, reelection campaigns and setting up a cushy job for after they’re out of office. Or in smaller communities, it might be a path to local recognition, prestige and affirmation that lasts long after their term. Whatever motivates a lot of elected officials, it sure isn’t serving the public.
With our community’s Town Council election on the horizon, this is a good time to reflect on public service and the qualities that make a good public servant. Servant? That word conjures up a sense of groveling subservience, doesn’t it? It shouldn’t. We serve each other daily in our efforts to build a better community. Whenever we do anything for the common good, to improve our community, our environment, our neighborhoods, we are a servant to the cause of our community. It’s an honorable word and one that anyone aspiring to or in public office would do well to reflect upon.
So, what should we expect from elected officials?
Humility – What a quaint old-fashioned concept…an elected official who is humbled by the trust their community has placed in them. With the state of our current politics, we are far more in a place of a “King of the Hill” reaction to election, than any kind of humble response.
Good Judgment – As a representative of the community, it is the job of officials to discern what is in the best interest of that community. That means looking beyond the surface and what is presented to you and asking questions.
Fairness – Once in office, it is critical to recognize that elected officials must view all of their constituents with the same degree of interest and accommodation. They should focus on principles and ideas, not their own interests and agenda.
Tenacity – Elected office is much more than Election Day. After that, the hard stuff begins. Meetings, preparation for meetings, listening to the public, more meetings. It is easy to begin to think that just showing up is ok. It’s not. We can tell who actually reads their meeting agenda packet before a meeting because they’re the ones that speak up if it’s late showing up. They are also the ones with informed questions, who aren’t learning about issues on the fly during the meeting. This all takes a lot of time and persistence. Those looking for a cushy job, should not look to elected office. It’s hard work.
Reverence for the office – The most basic of American rights is the right to vote and choose representatives. Whether it’s in Town Hall, Tallahassee or Washington D.C., each person in office is there because of individual voters making the decision to select that representative. That sacred trust between voter and office holder is a key part of the bedrock of our country. Elected office – any elected office – is a symbol of the American experiment of representative democracy. Treat it with respect.