It takes a special breed to be a public servant.  And of course, there are various types of public servants.  Priests, doctors, nurses, teachers, and other professionals generally had some altruistic motive when they chose their vocation.  They chose a profession to serve their fellow humans; hence, they are public servants.  This column focuses on local government employees, from civil service employees to elected officials.

 

Ask people what profession they most associate with public servants and I believe you will most often hear “government employees.”  Government employees who consider themselves public servants are becoming less common.  I observed this while employed in the Environmental Quality Division of Lafayette Consolidated Government for 27 years.   While there are still dedicated, hard-working people working in government some government employees have a sense of entitlement rather than an attitude of being a public servant.

 

The pay as a civil service employee – which is synonymous with a public servant – can be somewhat lower than comparable jobs in the private sector.  Retirement and medical benefits are good, and job stability is a cornerstone of government jobs, so the total employment package is a good one.  Being a public servant quite often means dealing with a demanding public, which is why some people become complacent and jaded rather than serving the public with a smile and a “can-do” attitude.  Being a public servant takes a special breed.  It’s not for everybody.

 

The process for elected officials to secure their positions is quite different from civil service positions.  Elected officials must secure financial backers; produce and pay for promotional material such as flyers, and radio and TV commercials; qualify for their political race, fees included; knock on doors and ask for votes; attend events and make phone calls;  fundraise some more, and on and on.  What’s their motivation?  Obviously, they want to win their race and make Lafayette, Abbeville, or wherever, “a better place.” What does a better place “look like,” how to achieve it, and what is the cost?  Aspiring politicians must also make their views and visions for their community known to the constituency who will ultimately elect them.

 

Once elected, can a politician fulfill what he or she espoused or promised on the campaign trail? That depends on how closely aligned a given politician’s views are with the other politicos with whom he or she must serve.   First and foremost, politicians should faithfully strive to represent the wishes and desires of their constituents, even though they will never satisfy everybody.  They must always look ahead to the next election – i.e., always fundraising.  They must compile and nurture their list of donors.  What about when a donor calls in a favor to a politician – may be the favor is to vote a certain way on a controversial issue, and maybe that vote is to support or bolster the donor’s cause.  Will the politician, the public servant who serves multiple masters, retain his or her independence and integrity and vote to represent the views and wishes of his or her constituents?

 

Next is the liberal versus conservative politician argument. Take the example of Lafayette, which is predominately a conservative community.  Conservative politicians and citizens want limited, efficient government. Liberal politicians and citizens want grand new programs intended to solve a multitude of problems. Beyond providing basic services such as roads, drainage, fire and police, and enforcing reasonable regulations, at what point does government expansion become intrusive and inefficient to us, the taxpayers?

 

In a future column, we will examine a guiding government document, “Plan Lafayette,” which screams government overreach and inefficiency.  Stay tuned.

 

-Mark Pope