Trust and the Future


This is not news so much as awakening.  In the deep recesses of my public servant heart I knew…felt…denied that the day of reckoning was here.  Yet, it has arrived in the form of “Cities of the 21st Century,” a report published last month by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and Zogby Analytics.

The study says that Americans are “…reassessing their relationship with government at all levels.”  Yes, they are.  I see it now.  They want to date other people. 

Many don’t like the direction the country is headed.  The 2,425 people who responded  to the USCM survey have more faith in their local decision-makers than those at national and state levels.  According to this report, most say that their city (or one that’s nearby)  “…embraces the 21st century more than it is stuck in the 20th century.” 

Survey questions, by their nature, always bake in a little bias.  I believe the USCM wants to help its member mayors position themselves for the future, where future is characterized as green and high-speed wired.

What really struck me was the trust question: “When it come to ideas, innovation and economic growth…”, who did respondents trust to deliver the goods in the 21st century?  Granted, government and public service experts were not offered as choices.  Folks participating in the USCM survey are looking at small business owners (58%); young persons fresh out of grad school (38%); and city mayors (37%).  Support for other types of leaders ranged from 33% (governors) down to 17% ( Wall Street advisors).

In addition to focusing on green jobs and gigabits, respondents still want mayors to provide priority services like public safety, infrastructure and collaboration with schools to produce qualified workers.  They also want them to reduce the cost of government by renegotiating reduced pensions and benefits for public employees and retirees.

This kind of hits me where I live.  Decades in public service…the MPA…the professional development…apparently not great currency for the problems and opportunities ahead.  And, according to the USCM survey, supporting me is becoming a liability.  Have I hurt, rather than helped, the public?  Is the sun setting on careers in public service?

Because I can recall the 1960s, I also must ask, is this so different from questioning authority…from granting power to the people…from “upping” the organization?  Perhaps this public angst seeps into our own professional concerns, driving us to brand ourselves, to be impatient with setbacks and slumps.

In my workplace, we have some of these folks fresh out of grad school.  They’re attractive, smart, sociable, work hard, do good work and, if we’re lucky, they will stick with public service.  Like the rest of us, they will age out of freshness, and new pressures will drive them.  If they ask, I will advise them to go forward and tackle the new while learning from the old.”  Oh, wait…that’s me.

Toni Messina is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Matthew Garlipp

Toni, I’m going to be finishing up my MPA this May, and I can tell you for sure that a lot of my cohort is very interested in and passionate about public service. And not only do we want to partake in new and innovative ventures, but we also know we have a lot to learn from the veterans. Nice post!

Toni Messina

It is a struggle, with so many messaging outlets. Sometimes, I think the personal experience passed on to friends, families and others is the most powerful. When I worked for a state utility regulatory agency, a legislator always reminded me of one bad service experience he had with this electric company. He owned a restaurant and his power went out, so some food went bad, he lost some business, had to buy more food, etc. He communicated this vivid memory for years after it happened. I’d like to see the good experiences become legend.