In Praise of Public Service

There are differences in the types of rewards employees
receive based on whether you work in the public or private
sectors. In the private sector, if you do well, you may get a
financial bonus, extra days off, stocks, or some other
financial renumeration.

However, in the public sector, at least here anyway, the
rewards are less tangible but no less appreciated. Most
public employees, by law or tradition, don’t get financial
rewards. In fact, most public sector worker base salaries are
substantially less than their private sector counterparts to
begin with. We also pay substantial parts (40 percent) of our
medical, dental, and optical plans.

So what do we get? Last Friday, I attended our Incentive
and Service Awards ceremony. I was invited to come and
celebrate my 20 years of public service and decided to do so.
Along with the recognition, you get a pen and pencil set, a
certificate, and picture with the Chief Justice and
Administrative Director.

These small items are appreciated. But what makes the
ceremony so moving and significant to those who attend is the
recognition that these celebrants are more than just
employees, they are public servants.

Few people in the private sector will ever understand the
depth of commitment to serving the public that these people
have. Yes, I know, just about everyone has or has heard of
horror stories when dealing with public servants. But truth
be told, those incidents are in the minority. In fact, from
my own experience, I’ve had more problems with people in the
private sector providing shoddy or nonexistent service than
in the public sector (see my problems with the various
private shipping services versus the exemplary service I get
at the US post office). I also know that independent survey
after independent survey of the public who have actually
received services confirms the high level of service.

But back to the ceremony. Part of the ceremony is the
recognition of individuals who have, over many years,
excelled. These employees receive special recognition. In
listening to why they were chosen, I am struck by the level
of commitment and perseverance embodied in their stories.

These individuals struggle everyday working within a
system designed to be inefficient (Why do you think we have
three branches of government? If you want efficiency, check
out any dictatorship). But the recognition is not for their
struggle, laudatory as that is, rather it’s for their
reaching nearly impossible goals within the financial
constraints forced upon them.

Many of the incentive awardees noted the countless hours
of uncompensated overtime they put in. One recipient, heading
up an information technology project, spends 80 hours per
week working to make it succeed. The toll on her health and
family is evident (I hadn’t seen her for about a year and
almost didn’t recognize her due the changes reflected in her
face) but she perseveres.

Another awardee, overcome with emotion from the
recognition she received could barely speak. Tears flowed
down her face as she haltingly, and with quiet dignity, tried
to express her thankfulness for the support she received from
her co-workers, supervisors, friends, and family and what an
honor it was to serve others.

I know much of what I’ve said will probably fall on deaf
ears. There are those out there that will judge all people by
one or two bad experiences. Others, who haven’t even had any
contact with a public servant will adhere to a biased
caricature of what we do and who we are. But you should thank
God that there are people like these women working to serve
the public. Because if they, and all of the other public
servants, decided it wasn’t worthwhile, things would truly go
to hell in a hand basket.

Aloha!

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