Swamps are filled with odorous, stagnant water and creatures that breed disease. November’s highly divisive national election filled the public’s mind with disturbing images like this – rhetorical exaggerations to remind people of any negative experience they’ve ever had with a government agency.
But the vast majority of employees at any level of government are there because they want to serve the public—from park rangers to VA hospital staff to researchers working to cure cancer. For many, city and county employees are considered part of the same swamp where public officials practice backroom deals, monitor your phone calls, and perpetuate a cloak of secrecy only exposed by WikiLeaks.
It’s no surprise that we have a crisis of confidence in government at the Federal level since Gallup has been reporting this data for more than two decades. There are a number of ways we can continue to reinforce public trust at the local level putting us a far distance from the swamp.
Here are three ways that I think #localgov employees can distinguish themselves:
1. We’re Accountable
It’s a fact that cities and counties increasingly focus on transparency—from publishing budget and operating data on local government websites to holding public meetings where issues are discussed openly. Many government agencies from all around the county find creative and effective ways to participate in Sunshine Week, a celebration of access to government information. Some larger cities like Los Angeles, where information may be difficult to get by the average citizen, have a Transparency Officer whose sole purpose is to make sure the public has access to the city’s business.
2. We’re Accessible
Internet and social media have changed how citizens communicate and that is particularly true for local government, where citizens can communicate directly with employees about their concerns. For example 311 smart phone applications now allow citizens to photograph a pothole and have the GPS location communicated directly to the appropriate person in a public works department who will update the case status when the repair is made. Many local government officials live in the communities they manage. They see the citizens we serve at the grocery store, dance lessons, and football games. They also have to personally experience the consequences or outcomes of their decisions. Having a true stake in the outcomes of a decision leads to thoughtful consideration of the issues.
3. We Care
To #localgov employees, residents are our neighbors, our children’s teachers, our relatives and friends. City and county employees work hard to strengthen bridges and build the very best communities – partnering with other organizations, strengthening connections, and creating extensive networks to support a shared sense of place. Local officials want the trust of the community’s residents and continuously look for ways to involve the public.
We need to strive to prove that the swamp doesn’t exist in #localgov. We can help change perceptions about what public servants are and what they do. We’re definitely not swamp dwellers and by sharing these, and other positive attributes of #localgov we help to promote local government employees as the ethical, dedicated, and responsive professionals that they are.
Miranda Lutzow, MPA, is management analyst at in Oakdale, Calif., and a member of the city manager’s senior management team where she is responsible for recruitment and selection, professional development programs, employee health and welfare, and handling personnel matters. Miranda previously served as assistant city clerk at in Merced.
Lutzow earned her honors Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree with a double major in Political Science and Criminal Justice & Public Policy from University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and a Master of Public Administration (MPA) from California State University, Stanislaus. She has spent her career active in several professional organizations including the Municipal Management Association of Northern California (MMANC) where she has served as Secretary, Membership Director, and 2016 Program Director; and ICMA where she serves on the Advisory Board on Graduate Education and the Digital Strategies Advisory Board.