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The Ten Truths I Learned While Serving In Local Government

After having spent what many might refer to as lifetime in government service I came to the conclusion that there are ten incontrovertible truths local government officials and senior public employees should subscribe to and remember. These ten truths apply equally to Townships, Villages, Cities, Counties, Boroughs, Parishes and School Boards, etc.

Ten Immutable Truths regarding Local Governments

1) There is no such thing as “off the record” when speaking to a representative of the media. Newspapers have one objective – To sell papers. Radio & Television outlets have one objective – Increase their ratings. Members of the media will, without hesitation, use whatever they hear a public official say if it suits their purpose.

2) Every community, it makes no difference how large or small, has CAVE People {Citizen against Virtually Everything}. These are local residents who detest local government, hate public officials and dislike paying taxes. They are opposed to anything that does not benefit them directly and anything that might possibly raise their taxes. Don’t waste your time or efforts trying to placate or involve Cave People. They won’t change their minds. Apply your time and energy elsewhere.

3) When someone suggests “you should run your unit of local government more like a businesslook them directly in the eye and politely ask which one:

Enron, Chrysler, WorldCom, Eastern Airlines, AIG,

Hostess,Solarios, Country Wide or Pacific Gas, Kodak

4) Never allow anyone to compare the efficiency of your department or unit of local government with the private sector – it is an unfair comparison. Until our Federal and State governments change their respective constitutions or enact legislation to allow units of local government to display signs that proclaim “NO SHOESNO SHIRTS – NO SERVICE and “We Reserved The Right To Refuse Service on the walls of government buildings local governments cannot and should not ever be compared to business.

5) Should someone comment that a decision you made wasn’t fair thank them and invite them to meet with you midsummer. Tell them you will take them to your County’s Fair where they can get all the “fair” they want: Cotton Candy, Tractor pulls, Live Music, Carnival Attractions, 4H Animal Competition and perhaps some Corn Dogs, Fried Pickles and Cold Beer. Fair is not, never has been, and can never be a stipulation for any local government.

6) There are two types of community residents that get elected to local government offices: Cream and Scum. Communities are always better served when they elect the cream of their community to represent them in a local public office.

7) It is a disgrace and unconscionable for any locally elected government body to delay action on a “controversial or sensitive” issue just so an incoming body “will have to deal with it”.

8) Accusations and allegations are routinely hurled at local government officials. Don’t take them personally. Learn to forgive, forget or bite your tongue. Carrying bitterness to every public meeting is totally non productive.

9) Great local public officials are born not made; they possess three bones their mediocre counterparts don’t. Those three critical bones are:

a) A Wish bone – to create a vision for the future to make things better

b) A Back bone – to be able to persevere when the going gets tough, and

c) A Funny bone – to be able to laugh and smile when things don’t go as planned

10) After every local government official leaves public office, community residents apply punctuation marks to rate their effectiveness. Only three punctuation marks are used: a Question Mark, a Period and an Exclamation Point.

64% of all local public officials receive a question mark when they leave office = what the heck

did they do during their time in office?

32% receive a period = Thank God their term is over and they’re finally out.

4% receive an exclamation point = we’re gonna miss ‘em they were great!

Disagree with any of these truths? Please let me know. I have yet to be dissuaded they are not true.


Gabe Gabrielsen, OEO


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John Waid

# 3. I am sorry Gabe didn’t provide alternatives like Microsoft, General Electric, BASF, and other successful businesses. His basic premise is right — government largely cannot be run on the whole like a business as it has to provide services (e.g. providing utilities where there are not enough customers to cover the costs or extending utilities into new developments where there are no customers at all) that are not cost-effective for private industry. One the other hand, government agencies are not allowed (and maybe should be) to make cost-benefit analyses in making decisions. So much of government has been hijacked away from the mission to accomplish social goals deemed desirable by the pressure groups supporting the politicans in control (holding jobs open for favored groups, accepting the lowest bidder instead of the most cost-effective bidder, etc.). While procurement officials no doubt could save a lot of money by buying their widgets at the local hardware store, they are not allowed to but must go through a pile of red tape with its attendant costs in order to buy the simplest device. If agencies were allowed to work more like a business is making operating decisions, much money might be saved.

# 5. Fairness, like reasonableness, is so often in the eye of the beholder. What is it Obi-wan Kenobi said in “Return of the Jedi” — “a great many of the things we hold true depend greatly upon one’s point of view.” When I started in government, “fairness” meant “everybody plays by the same rules.” Now, it seems to mean “a better deal for me.” As long as human beings run our institutions, they will not function perfectly.

# 6. I cannot agree, I do agree that many local elected officials fall into either of those categories, but the great majority are decent people trying to do what is right in their view. Someone said that politics is the art of the possible, and often people have to make deals they dont like to get something through that they do think is beneficial. That is the nature of compromise. Some are too much influenced by campaign contributors and essentially sell their votes and some do take a chance on angering contributors to do what they see as right..The advent of the professional politican for whom staying in office is more important than what he does with the office while there has done more to damage this country than any other trend, in my view. They stay in office forever and never go home to live under the laws they enact (or they exempt themselves). That’s how so many cock-eyed ideas get traction.

# 9(b). How true. Democracy may be a great form of government, but it is not conducive to long-term thinking. “What will get me through the next election” is the mantra, and if inaction will do it, that’s what they do.

Great things to think about.

Randy Burkett

“Indeed it has been said that democ­racy is the worst form of Gov­ern­ment except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time;” Churchill (1947). In the long term, democracy works because of the short term. Constitutions endure; local government is fluid and necessarily so to effectively represent the politics (who gets what, when and how) of the established “good,” at that moment time. Local government being of the moment is both inherent and perplexing simultaneously. The demands of changing attitudes and ultimately the desires of the local culture makes for an unforgiving dynamic that we endure in executing the will of the people we serve. Great blog post of opinions and experiences.