As told by Cheryl A. Hilvert, Management and Leadership Consultant, Ohio

As I look back on 31 years of local government service I am both pleased, and humbled, by the importance of the work that we people do, the people I have met, and all the many things I learned along the way.  While the environment in which we work has never been easy, we can all take pride in the “difference” we are able to make in our communities and people’s lives.  I can truly say that work in public service is a privilege and that I have “enjoyed the ride.”

We probably all come to our careers in public service in different ways.  Many are driven by the opportunity to “make a difference.” Other may be motivated by work that is varied and challenging.  To some others, it may simply be a job—until they learn the true value and contribution that we make as public servants.  For me, my interest and love of public service originated from a different source…my Dad!

 As a child, when the other kids were out playing I was the one that was take to council meetings when important issues were facing our community or neighborhood.  He made sure that I knew the name of our mayor and our school superintendent.  He also made sure that I knew how important it was to be an active and involved citizen of my community and to understand that being educated about what was going on around me and that “giving” and not just “taking” was what I needed to do throughout my life.…

Like many of my colleagues, my career was extremely rewarding and I have the great feeling that I made a difference for the communities, businesses, and residents I served.  Whether it is the assistance we provide in a natural disaster, implementing quality services and programs that make people want to live in the communities in which we serve, or simply helping the elderly woman in town who lives alone, there truly is a “higher moral purpose” to the work that we do.  The opportunities for us to contribute in these ways are truly endless.

In addition to the services we help to provide, we are the builders of community and democracy.  We stand by the charters that create our local governments.  We support the elected officials—many of whom are part-time, and not career politicians—in their very difficult and demanding jobs.  When confronted by naysayers, we stand behind the decisions, laws, and work of our organizations and stand up for what is right about government.  At times, we confront citizens with their freedoms and challenge them to be contributing members of our communities.  While this work is challenging, it is awesome to think of its power for our communities and organizations.

We also bring the best out in people.  Whether it is inspiring people in a time of tragedy or simply encouraging people to do more than they think [they] can, we have an opportunity as public servants to make a difference, not only to the quality of work in our cities, but to the people we encounter.  It is refreshing to see the many talents and capabilities of the people who work in local government at all levels and to know that a big part of our jobs is to support an environment that permits everyone to contribute to the success of our organizations.  

Similarly, it is encouraging to see when residents step up to be our partners in the work of local government and assist in building the types of community in which they want to live and work.  This is the work of the public servant, regardless of position or location in the organization regardless of position or location in the organization, regardless of pay grade or title.  When we work together with a shared vision, with a purpose and commitment to the importance and value of public service, and a true commitment to work together to build community, we can accomplish anything!

This was the message my Dad taught me at an early age and that I continued to learn throughout my career in public service.  I have tried throughout my life to help others see the value of public service, whether they serve in a paid position or are giving back to their community as an active and involved resident or business person.


This is an excerpt from Mike Conduff and Melissa Byrne Vossmer’s book Democracy at the Doorstep, Too.  Learn more about this book here


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