Does Anybody Like Being A Bureaucrat?

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

I’ve really come to hate the term, “bureaucrat.”

There may have been a time when the word had a positive connotation, but these days it carries a stigma synonymous with a mindless pencil-pusher who makes no rational decisions when an irrational one will do, and whose whole being is guided by “the book.”

This irritating word comes from the French word, bureau, which means “desk”; so generally it is associated with a desk job. As we know, a job in parks and recreation usually takes practitioners away from the desk since the “job” and the customer are out in the community.

Even one of my favorite information hubs, Wikipedia, says, “The term ‘bureaucrat’ today has largely accepted negative connotations, so those who are the members of a governmental bureaucracy usually prefer terms such as ‘civil servant’ or ‘public servant’ to describe their jobs. The negative connotation is fueled by the perception that bureaucrats lack creativity and autonomy.”

If that’s the view of the public, it needs to change. I would prefer to be part of what Janet and Robert Denhardt describe as “the new public service,” in their book by that name. They hold that “Public servants do not deliver customer service; they deliver democracy.”

Their approach advances the dignity and worth of public service, and reasserts the values of democracy, citizenship and the public interest as the preeminent values of public administration.

Common-Sense Decisions

For me, there is nothing better than to work for the government of the city or county in which you live. The impact we have on local government directly impacts the quality of life we build for our family and community.

I am constantly aware that decisions I and fellow public administrators make daily can and do have a “cause and effect result” for fellow citizens. For that reason, I tend to be more deliberate in approaching decisions. I often choose to delay a decision–if a crisis does not exist–in order to obtain public, and sometimes political, input. Generally, this not only leads to a more balanced decision, but also has broader appeal and support because people who are affected are involved in the decision.

It bugs me to no end when bureaucratic bodies (boards, commissions, councils) choose to act autonomously, and make decisions that are doomed to create conflict.In a real-life example, a local school board made a last-minute decision before the school year started to change the bus routes in order to save gas. Previous routes put buses close to children’s homes, minimizing the distance the children had to walk in the dark. The new routes established bus stops that had some elementary-age children walking up to a half-mile in the dark on busy city streets with no sidewalks during morning rush hour.

Now, I realize that hindsight is 20-20, but it doesn’t take a genius to calculate the concerns this caused parents. Even a cursory consideration of this policy should lead most rational people to realize that it is going to generate much negative response, which it did. Predictably, parents stormed the school board, newspapers ran editorials from angry parents, and the school administration became the object of derision.

Cause And Effect

· Cause: The decision was made with little forethought and no input from the public it would impact.

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