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Before filing for office, consider whether you’re really up to the expectations of public service

By ALLIE FRIESE

Observer columnist

Published on May 15, 2018 4:43PM


We’re smack dab in the middle of filing week, the five-day window during which someone may declare their candidacy for office.

There are a number of interesting races this time around, especially within our own little county. I implore all of you to look into the candidates regardless of whether or not you care about “politics,” you should at least care about the elected officials that directly affect your life. The Prosecutor, Sheriff, and one of the County Commissioner’s seats are all contested this year. (Not to mention the Washington State House seat for the 19th.)

I want to be very clear that this article is not to single out any one candidate. If you, as a candidate or incumbent, feel that I’m talking directly to you at any point, then you should probably rethink your decision to run. Because you’re probably not fit to hold office.

Mainly I’m writing because I want people — voters and candidates alike — to really think about the role that an elected official is supposed to fill. We are not voting for someone to make sure they have a job and benefits; we shouldn’t be voting for someone just because we’ve heard their name before; and we definitely shouldn’t be voting for someone simply because they are the incumbent.

A public servant must be more than just another person with a bachelor’s in business administration. Yes, elected officials should be business savvy, budget-conscious, highly competent, long-term statistical thinkers, but they must also be compassionate, altruistic, and self-sacrificing. Those last three are what reveal whether you should become a senator or a CEO.

If you, as a candidate, neglect to fully understand the ethical obligations that you take on when you’re sworn in, then we (the public) have made a mistake.

I’d like to elaborate a little on the “ethics” part of this idea. Ethics may seem a bit abstract and nonspecific but, in reality, they are pretty concrete. In fact, the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) has a real handy code of ethics posted on their website. It’s worth a Google.

Ultimately, our officials must put the interest of the public above their own. If there is a conflict between what will benefit you, the candidate, and us, the public, there shouldn’t be much internal conflict. If there is, or you can’t choose the latter in good conscience, then you need to resign.

This seems so painfully obvious.

Let’s look at a scenario here. Imagine that you’re a county commissioner. You own a rubber ducky factory and the county needs to buy 4,000 rubber duckies, you, Mr. Public Servant, have no say in where they are purchased. That doesn’t mean that you excuse yourself in a public forum and then have a few casual conversations with some conveniently powerful people. No.

And you can’t throw a tizzy when you’re underbid, and you can’t take it out on your colleagues. If you can’t help yourself, resign.

I know that some elected officials may be reading this and thinking, “It’s easy to criticize from the sidelines.” And that is true, but it’s not my intention. I wholeheartedly believe that there are elected officials who truly put the public first and take their responsibility to their constituents seriously. Sometimes decisions are announced and, without proper context, the public sees something that isn’t there… Then you have to deal with the blowback. Holding office isn’t easy.

That’s why public service is a two-way street. We, the constituents, are responsible for holding our elected officials to a high standard. We are responsible for replacing those who do not live up to our expectations — and our expectations should be high.

You, public servants, are responsible for maintaining your own integrity and constantly revisiting the pledge that you take when you enter office. You are responsible for listening not only to the public as a whole, but to the individuals that make up that public.

And if you’re not up for that, save yourself a resignation and just don’t run.

A public servant must be more than just another person with a bachelor’s in business administration. Yes, elected officials should be business savvy, budget-conscious, highly competent, long-term statistical thinkers, but they must also be compassionate, altruistic, and self-sacrificing.



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