Does Anybody Like Being A Bureaucrat?

· Effect: Upset parents chose to drive their children to school rather than risk them getting hit by a car in the dark, abducted by a stranger or other unnamed horrors.

Any gas saved by buses was more than made up for with additional cars on the road. The school board had to revert to the old routes. Then, after the damage was already done, the board decided to form a citizen committee to determine how–or even if–bus routes should be changed.

Incidents such as these give public administrators a bad name. Public servants, entrusted with the safety and welfare of children, made a unilateral decision, imperiously thinking they knew better than parents what was good for their kids. The result was that trust in government was lost, and once lost, it is difficult to get back.

Justify The Means

Unfortunately, we see this happen all too often. Parks and recreation public servants can become jaded just as those in other fields. Serving the public is often frustrating and stressful. We have limited public resources that are to be shared with many different groups and individuals. As we all know, we will not please everyone. Regardless of what decision we make, someone will be dissatisfied, someone will feel displaced, and someone will be upset with us.

What to do? I’m not sure I have the definitive answer because every situation has its unique set of circumstances. But I do know this from experience: Many times a crisis is created because public administrators engage in crisis decision-making when there isn’t a crisis. When time and circumstances permit, get everyone involved in a situation around the table to talk before a decision is made.

A lesson from the Denhardts’ The New Public Service also may serve well. Maintain a “public spirit” as you approach decisions, and constantly pay attention to the principles of justice, public participation and deliberation.

Justice is simply an application of the golden rule: How would you want to be treated? You would want your voice heard, your concerns considered. So establish an environment where people on opposite sides of an issue can have their say, and maybe understand the other side better. This leads to more public participation. Then, in this atmosphere, deliberation can clarify and sometimes reorient perceived differences. At the very least, you can minimize the number of people who are totally against the final decision. When a decision is arrived at in this way, I feel more like a public administrator and less like a bureaucrat.

This is pretty heady stuff, but it’s at the heart of what we do as public servants. What are your thoughts on this? Have you experienced such “bureaucratic” behavior? Do you have any ideas how to counter it? Share your experience. Send a message to me or PRB.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail

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