Friday, April 8, 2011

In Praise of Public Service, a Civic Soapbox Essay by Reid Wodicka

I am a career public servant.

And as I watch government budgets being slashed, what disturbs me most is the ever-increasing blame being upon public employees. I stand today on WMRA’s civic soapbox to remind you of what public employees do and why it is important that our professions remains respected.

Ideally, government does that which can be accomplished better or more efficiently collectively than individually. A few of the public service professionals who keep life civilized are garbage collectors, teachers, firefighters, police officers, sewage treatment professionals, drinking water operators, highways workers, school cafeteria workers, janitors, maintenance workers, and on and on. Can you imagine life if no one were here to pick up the trash? Sure, you’d save a few dollars, but at what cost to your environment and health?

And heaven forbid your house catches fire, if no one’s around to put out the flames? What if your neighbor’s house also caught fire as well, and the whole block burned down? How about if no one treated sewage? I’ll let you imagine that one on your own.

Now about those government regulations and the people you pay to enforce them – who are perhaps the most unpopular public-sector professionals. It’s true the cost of sewage treatment is driven higher by state and federal regulations, duly enforced by regulators. Naturally, it would be much less expensive for towns, cities, and manufacturing facilities to let sewage flow into a river or a lake. And seriously, if now one were watching businesses, what do you think the possibility is that some of them might try to save money by using this less expensive method of treatment? So what if you live in the next town down river and your drinking water comes from that river? Yes, it’s a gross, but it’s also just the kind of situation regulations prevent. Regulation is not about making it more difficult to do business as some would have you believe.

As a career public servant, however, I also say to my fellow public employees: We must never forget that we serve the people. We can expect to be valued only to the extent that we do our jobs well. Just as with any profession, a career in public service requires continual improvement. Also, we public servants should accept that constant organizational change is our way of life. It takes a dynamic culture to provide quality public service.

As we move further into recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, I call on you to stop for a moment to imagine a world in which there are no public servants; no one to pick up trash, to fight fires, to teach children history and calculus. I would argue that without me and my fellow public servants, our quality of life would tumble drastically.

Public service is my calling and in one capacity or another, I will spend my life working towards a higher quality of life for all people. I also hope that public policymakers will stop blanket vilification of those of us who’ve chosen careers in public service, and instead to value our dedication to building an even stronger social fabric.
--- Reid Wodicka lives in Harrisonburg and is the Town Manager of Elkton. He will receive a Master of Public Administration degree from James Madison University in May.


  1. Right on; thank you, Reid. This needs to be repeated in every community of this nation. If right-wing ideologues succeed in laying waste to the public sector, we are all sunk. And government regulation, in the face of general ignorance regarding externalization of business costs, is the only thing separating us from massive degradation of the environment and quality of human life (oh, except the rich of course will be able to dodge the bullet for a while).
    (said as someone who has never worked in the public sector but honors those who do)

  2. Heya¡­my very first comment on your site. ,I have been reading your blog for a while and thought I would completely pop in and drop a friendly note. . It is great stuff indeed. I also wanted to there a way to subscribe to your site via email?

    Essay Editing Service