The first week of May is recognized annually in the United States as Public Service Recognition Week. That week has now passed. The work of recognizing public service should only just be starting.
Public Service Recognition Week provides us an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of those among us who devote their careers and significant parts of their lives to the service of others, the strengthening of communities, and the support of fellow men and women. The week also provides us an opportunity to educate our fellow citizens about the role of our government and nonprofit leaders, which is particularly important in these times of fiscal stress and economic uncertainty.
The public servants we recognize include our teachers, police officers, public works personnel, elected officials and their staff, trash collectors, bus drivers, grants writers and managers, budget analysts, food inspectors, planners, social workers, and many others.
In these tough budget times, public administrators and nonprofit managers have been forced to justify their work to an extent not seen for some time. For some public service professionals, the scope and depth of budget cuts is unlike anything ever experienced in their lifetimes. Public leaders are being asked to provide a firm accounting of how every dollar is spent'”and we should welcome the attention to such detail.
Government and nonprofit leaders are also being asked to justify their own value. Public sector unions have been questioned in terms of their legitimacy; the health insurance and pension benefits of public workers have been called into question. A recent call for papers in an academic journal asks about the implications of the “assault” on public governance.
The debate on the compensation of public sector professionals, however, misses an important point. To be an effective public sector leader in today’s policy, social, and economic environment requires skills including but far advanced from the basic managerial skills of budgeting, strategic planning, and performance measurement. In today’s environment, our success as a community and a people requires public leaders who can cross boundaries, forge partnerships, communicate effectively with our citizens, and develop opportunities for meaningful public participation. We cannot easily put a value on this kind of service.
We cannot put a value on people like Michele Saunders, Director of Community Services for Seminole County, Florida. Michele is leading an effort to coordinate resources across government, nonprofit, and faith organizations to help more individuals and families step away from the brink of debilitating homelessness.
We cannot put a value on leaders like Marcia Hope Goodwin, Chief Service Officer of the City of Orlando, Florida. Marcia is tapping her vast network across government, nonprofit, faith, and business communities to expand the use of volunteers to increase youth literacy, decrease high school dropout rates, and keep more young people out of the criminal justice system.
We cannot put a value on public servants like Joan Nelson, Vice President for Community Investment at the Heart of Florida United Way. Joan and her colleagues are ensuring limited resources are being distributed in a manner that meets the needs of a community fighting for an improved quality of life.
We cannot put a value on individuals like Naim Kapucu, associate professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Central Florida and Director of the Center for Public and Nonprofit Management. Naim has brought more than one million dollars in federal grant funding to Central Florida to build the capacity of community nonprofit organizations that are themselves led by compassionate and driven servants to the public.
Each of these individuals is backed up by staff members who are exemplary in their own right, including stewards of the public trust and emerging leaders such as Andrea Hendry, Maria-Elena Augustin, and Bridget Healy. These are names that might not be well known to the public, if known at all. They are names that deserve recognition, as they belong to citizens who understand what it means to be a citizen. They are names that belong to leaders who understand that leadership is more about the people who might follow than it is about their own status or reputation.
Help educate our fellow citizens not only during Public Service Recognition Week but throughout the year. A strong government and a strong community require an informed citizenry and an active citizenry. Together, we can make public service recognition more than something we proclaim but once a year.