Ponder this:

Friday, March 6, 2009

A public servant speaks

In response to Sunday Scribblings prompt, "Listen up because this is important!"

A few years ago Prince, an acquaintance of mine, and I held an email discussion about economy, government, political correctness, et al. I saved the email because I found it an interesting exchange of ideas with someone who is intelligent and advances his points cogently, not to mention passionately. I knew that his business was in a privately-held heavy industry company, so I knew how that colored his view.

This is part of what he wrote:

"Given that 'heavy' industry is the engine of our economy, I find it disturbing that jobs created in these businesses are so callously discarded. First, who decides what is and isn't acceptable? I would argue that the PC crowd is a very vocal minority. Second, if every community bans these politically incorrect industries, then how are the needs of society to be met? Every resource that we utilize comes from two (and only two) sources: 1) It is grown or 2) it is mined."

The reason it's on my mind today is that Prince is one of the Big Fish in the Small Pond in which I am employed, and he has twice voted to abolish my position.

Prince also has said that "government employees are a net loss to society" since any income we get is a handout from honest hard-working taxpayers, and any money we put back into the economy could just as easily go from his hand to the hardware store. My admiration for his ideas, with which I intellectually agree to an extent, is now colored by the emotions of fear and anger, and I am thinking over the idea of public service.

I live near our state capitol and an oft-repeated wry joke is that there are no state workers, only state employees. Until I was forty-two, I worked in private business. I worked for automobile dealerships, and insurance companies and agencies, and many of my private-industry working years were spent as a waitress in restaurants where there were no busboys, no dishwashers with their arms sunk deep in pots, no cleaning crew that came in after hours to vacuum. I know how hard it is to work in private industry. I remember hearing, in the 1990s, that the economic wave coming in this country would be in the service industries. It wasn't good news, but it turned out to be accurate, partially because of the truth of Prince's arguments.

I probably would have kept waitressing had I not broken my ankle, spent six months in a cast, and been unable to pick up my aging pace to get back into the rhythm of the job. I took a civil service exam and went to work in a state office doing data entry. My private industry work ethic served me well, and three years later I was working for the general counsel in the state agency.

During those three years I had moved to Small Pond, far away from my state job, and was hired by the municipal government, where I made the acquaintance of Prince.

In a 1997 speech,
Reflections on the Role of Public Service, then Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, said,

"I know it is fashionable to decry government, but I don't think I would want to live in or under a government marked by mediocrity.
People often say to me, 'Just get government off my back.' They say that-until a child dies from eating a tainted hamburger, or the earth cracks open and wreaks chaos, or until they want a bridge built, or the education of their children improved, or their
country defended.
Just think what we depend on the government to do: to keep us safe in a dangerous world; to secure justice and domestic order; to maintain infrastructure and social services; to educate our children; to provide health care to a large segment of our population; and to solve a whole host of problems pressing upon us, such as drug abuse or the diminishing ozone layer.
I don't want second-rate people dealing with those problems. "

The principle of caveat emptor would seem to figure prominently in the logic of someone who disdains public service and public servants. If Prince's son were swimming in a neighbor's pool and if he were electrocuted because no inspector checked to see if the installation was in compliance with the state electrical code, I wonder if Prince would blame himself. But then, why would his kid swim in another's pool when the kid has an indoor Olympic size pool of his own?

Prince complied with the law by getting a permit to build the addition to his house. The cost of this project, he said, would be $10,000, and he paid the required application fee for a $10,000 project. It was a great deal for him, considering that his addition is a couple of thousand square feet, is enclosed by glass, has a roof that rolls back during good weather, two fireplaces and a wet bar. The assessor sees a $10,000 building project and looks no further in his assessment of Prince's property.
Prince has arranged for several acres adjacent to his village home to be forever wild. He will never be bothered by his neighbor's outdoor lights or hear their radios or hear children's skateboards bang-slapping on parking lot pavement because he has insulated himself from the zoning-law-free market development that he propounds.
Lee Hamilton, whom I'm beginning to see as my new hero, is quoted elsewhere (Why political virtue matters in the voting booth) as follows:

"Voters today might think of virtue in any number of ways: as moral probity, honesty, self-discipline, a sense of responsibility, and, of course, integrity. These are all qualities that citizens look for in their candidates, and understandably so. Yet the Founders had something even larger and more encompassing in mind when they talked about virtue. They were looking for a sense of civic self-sacrifice - the ability to overcome self-interest and act for the benefit of the broader community.
"There is nothing old-fashioned about 'virtue' when seen in that light. Our Republic functions best when it generates political leaders who are capable of setting aside their own desires for power or partisan domination or pecuniary self-interest. It suffers when our politicians are incapable of doing so."

We have a man who lies to avoid paying his fair share toward the support of his community, and we have a woman whose paycheck and job performance are public record, both of which have lately been hung on the community clothesline for wide and lengthy viewing.

Part of the earlier-quoted email exchange included this from Prince:

"I believe strongly that those who can must help those who can't. That does not mean that someone physically and mentally capable of working has the right to sit on their lazy ass, drinking beer, procreating with another lazy SOB breeding other lazy SOB's on mine or any other taxpayers' nickel."

A public servant’s job might or might not consist of moving piles of rocks from one place to another all day. A public servant’s job is to be available when the public needs him. Sometimes many people need him for several days in a row. Sometimes nobody needs him but they know where to find him. I am "physically and mentally capable of working," but Prince wants my income to go away. He disdains unemployed people, yet he advocates my unemployment. Do I not have the same right as he to honor my obligations to my family, my creditors, and my community by remaining employed?

Prince's income derives from state contracts. I pay the state taxes that pay the man who wants me unemployed. I feel unfortunate that I, his employer, cannot affect his income in as direct a way as he can affect mine.


quin browne said...

interesting read....

Tumblewords: said...

I'd like to fire some of them, too, but it's a long and arduous task. By the time you learn what damage they can do, they are firmly ensconced in the hierarchy and immune to displacement. Thoughtful post.

BeeContent Ranch said...

Oh, yes, I hear you. We are going through this very same thing right now. The man who holds this power continually lies to people and then say, "I never said that". He said he wasn't handing in his budget for a few weeks and then the next day we find out he had handed it in days before. He is suppose to work FOR the ag community, but has his own agenda.
I agree with you...Id like to affect his income, not to mention his health, the way he has affected ours.
And yet in this WHOLE thing...I have given it to the Lord and will tust in Him to see us through. He knows how much we want Trapper Dudue's job, but we have faith that He knows best. Which can be kinda scary...He knows, but WE don't!!
That is the sticky thing about faith....is it only there when you know what's going on or is it there when you haven't the clue?
Let us know how things work out...we'll be praying for you ;)

Carolynn said...

Very well written post. Sadly, there is often corruption and a set of double standards for those in positions of power. It has always been that way and likely always will.

Good luck with your job and, should you that door close for you, perhaps the window that opens will lead to something much, much better.

Beth said...

This is important! Your comments clarify a long argument between opposing world views. I wish those in your community could read your thoughtful summary and analysis for the difference in "Prince's" actions and words are very clear. How quickly they hide behind inflammatory rhetoric when calm reason is needed. How important it is to hear YOUR voice. I hope (like Carolynn) that you will keep your job. Please post again.

June said...

Thank you all for your empathy and encouragement. There appears to be a groundswell of support for me arising from the members of the community who stand at neither extreme end of the spectrum. I'm feeling gratified these days.
But God helps them that help themselves, and I'm still taking every civil service exam there is in an effort to make sure I can stay in the retirement system. Since I entered it so late, when I retire, I'll get, I think, about $4,000 a year from it. But hey...$4,000 can buy a lot of crackers and milk!