This week, in honor of Public Service Recognition Week, we asked some of our community to reflect on their public service stories. To read more of their stories click here. If you know an excellent public servant send them an e-card or invite them to happy hour on GovLoop!
Have you ever heard an old joke that’s so ingrained in the popular culture that people eventually begin to believe its punchline? If this is true, then people with blonde hair are ditzy, people from Texas A&M do funny things and people work for the government because they can’t get a real job.
Let’s set the record straight.
I know a number of people with blonde hair that are smarter than most. I also know plenty of Aggies that aren’t remotely funny. Mostly, I know and have the honor of working in a profession that is abundant with private-sector-caliber talent, embodied by people that want to do good works for government.
Like many of us, I fell into local government communications by accident. Here’s how this serendipity happened.
The late 70s and early 80s not only saw the segue from leisure suits to parachute pants, it saw quite a few of us would-be reporters nab our degrees and empty out onto the marketplace ready, in the words of Linda Ellerbee, to commit journalism. Some of us had a plan. I had one classmate head straight out of LSU to a waiting job at the venerable New Orleans Times-Picayune. Today, he has three Pulitzers and has been elected to the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication Hall of Fame.
Others of us chose to make it up as we went along. It wasn’t the quickest way to advance a career but I always remembered the words of a relative who was an Associate Editor at the now-defunct Shreveport Journal for two or three hundred years. He told me to get on with a small paper, where you do everything. That way, you learn all aspects of the business. Sage advice. However, after six years of 60-hour workweeks for a poverty-level salary, I had learned a lot, but was no longer certain that making it up as I go was the best option.
The last paper I worked for was in the south Dallas county town of Duncanville. In three years of covering that city, I had developed a really good rapport with its officials, cops and firefighters and a certain level of trust.
The Duncanville Police Department had recently “civilianized” one of its community relations positions, responsible for presentations, programs and the PIO function for the department. I will always be grateful to Chief Mike Courville for taking a chance. I was soon moved to the City Hall side of the building as Community Information Administrator. I could have remained there, in my back corner office, having a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader’s Mom answering my phone whilst I tended shop and never have made a major impact.
Serendipity, part two.
Learning of an opening for Director of Communications at the north Dallas county city of Farmers Branch, in a very uncharacteristic move, I decided to leave my comfort zone to seek out new challenges in this new place. And, strangely enough, they decided I was right for the position.
The 18 years since then read like a textbook of PIO procedure, both what ‘to do’ and what ‘not to do.’ If you followed major headlines between 2006 and 2016, you may have found Farmers Branch in them from time to time. Those were some uncommonly busy years, but the result was more practical experience through on-the-job training than most PIOs will ever see. Dubious fame came with it. I remember seeing my name in a news blasts from home and abroad, including a Google news hit where I had been quoted in a newspaper in Sri Lanka as being “unable to comment on pending litigation.”
Now, almost 28 years into this accidental career, I may not have three Pulitzers, but I have been afforded amazing opportunities that most in this field would ever see. I’ve had opportunities for leadership of peer associations at the state and national levels. Our team has a couple of shelves full of awards, which don’t mean much by themselves, but do represent favorable appraisal of our work against some of the best in the business. And, I’ve had the chance to help develop a graduate certification program for public sector communicators at Texas Christian University.
Best of all, I’ve had the chance to work with and learn from some amazing people, both in my organization and, thanks to the shrinking of the world, in other places. These are all people that don’t work for government because they have to, but because the want to.
Considering the spectacularly poor career planning in which I engaged early on, things have worked out remarkably well.
And then, I get to write about it.