Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Missouri Municipal League’s Partner in Governance Conference. This event is a one-day gathering of the minds, with partners from the Missouri Municipal League, the Institute of Public Policy at the University of Missouri, the Missouri Association of Counties, the Missouri School Boards' Association and FOCUS-St. Louis, in which local leaders discuss various challenges and best practices in local government. While the entire day was outstanding (and I’d highly recommend you attend next year), there were a few highlights for me that I think are particularly noteworthy.
1. There are very few easy decisions in government.
For those working in public service, this is an obvious one, but while I think we can all acknowledge this on the surface, we don’t always appreciate the depth of conflict that our local leaders often wrangle with.
Our day began with a discussion lead by Dr. Wally Siewert, an ethicist, of FOCUS St. Louis. Dr. Siewert engaged the group with some really challenging questions of morals and ethics. One of his most striking discussions was around how we deal with moral tragedy - a situation in which, regardless of your decision, there are no winners. Every participant in the room felt like at one point or another, they had to make a decision with no perfect outcome, and for me it really highlighted how many different interests local leader must consider when making decisions – and just how insurmountable that can seem. I have sat through more than one city council meeting where the council has graciously taken a tongue lashing from a disgruntled citizen, and yet they continue to serve. I for one, have developed a deep appreciation for those who voluntarily take on the seemingly impossible.
2. A public servant’s calling never ends.
Another highlight of the day were the tremendous speakers each on panel. One in particular was Dr. Ron Lankford. As Dr. Lankford introduced himself, he talked about his work as an educator, principal, superintendent, Former Deputy Commissioner at DESE, then his attempt at retirement, and subsequent calling back into public service in Human Resources. While Dr. Lankford was there to talk about balancing the increasing demands on schools with limited resources, one thing really stuck me: his conviction for serving our kids. “It’s all about the kids,” he said over and over, and even in retirement, he has felt compelled to continue serving. I see this same quality in many of our members, that their work is not for personal gain, but because of a greater calling – and we are all better for it.
3. Public Servants don’t hear enough how appreciated their work is.
During lunch, LAGERS' Director, Bob Wilson popped in to visit with attendees about the value of public service. Now I’ve heard Bob speak on this topic before – there are very few topics he speaks more passionately on- but as I surveyed the room, I realized that many of these local leaders hear very few ‘thank yous’ in their daily grind. That much of the hard work and tough decisions goes unnoticed and underappreciated. I think everyone felt uplifted after that session as we were all reminded how valuable local government, and public servants are to our lives and the fabric of our communities.
I could easily fill several blogs with all the great information that I gleaned from the day, and am grateful for the opportunity to receive some great insight on some of the political, ethical, social, and economic challenges our local governments face. And while our work will never stop, I at least know that Missouri’s local communities are in good hands!