This Martian Life: A Column
By SEAN WARDWELL
“Step back in time; look closely at the child in the very arms of his mother; see the external world reflected for the first time in the yet unclear mirror of his understanding; study the first examples which strike his eyes; listen to the first words which arouse within him the slumbering power of thought; watch the first struggles which he has to undergo; only then will you comprehend the source of his prejudices, the habits, and the passions which are to rule his life. The entire man, so to speak, comes fully formed in the wrappings of his cradle.”
-Alexis de Tocqueville
Tocqueville wrote those words in the early 1800s, while writing his landmark book Democracy in America. He came here to study the relatively newborn United States. He had a passion for democracy as it evolved right before his eyes in the early days of our nation. The country he observed then is not so different that ours today.
We still have an inherent mistrust of power and a predisposition towards believing politicians are inevitably liars, corrupt or both. Journalists are by nature professional skeptics, so we can’t wait to pounce if we can prove it. As far as corruption or dishonesty are concerned, in the eyes of many, it is not a question of “if” but “when”. This has been our generational cradle in a post-Watergate, post-Clintongate, post-“mission accomplished” world. This is where we were formed.
Recently a new citizens study was released saying that county officials should be earn something more along the average wage for similar officials in other comparatively sized counties. In that study’s wake, county commissioners have accepted recommended pay increases.
Obviously, some citizens are outraged and I can see their point. These are some of the toughest economic times we have ever had to endure. A raise for public servants has a very “Let them eat cake” quality to it.
However, have we considered that it might be the fair thing to do and that it was done in a reasonably transparent manner? A group of professionals and citizens in Hays County did a very thorough study and reached, in my opinion, reasonable conclusions and suggestions.
Being a public servant in this country is one of the most thankless jobs imaginable. Political campaigns are basically a grueling prolonged job interview. The only certainty at the end (if you win) is someone telling you how bad you are at you job. Most of the time this person actually voted for you. Some devote their entire lives to catching you in the ultimate “gotcha” moment. It is life under a microscope.
It takes two kinds of people to put up with that – people who honestly want to serve their communities, and people who just want to climb the ladder. I’m sure you have your own opinions about who is who around here. Either way, both types could probably make a lot more money somewhere else.
My point is these people are not mere indentured servants. They take time away from more lucrative opportunities to do a thankless and often painful job, telling good friends “No,” or deciding which agency gets to be funded that year. These are not easy choices, and they have lasting repercussions.
If we want the best and the brightest as our elected officials, we have to compensate them according in a manner consistent with the field. I don’t want anyone getting rich from public service, but I also don’t want bright, imaginative and pragmatic people dissuaded from public service because of a pay cut. Therefore, they should be compensated equal to their peers.
I cringe at the though of public servants voting themselves raises. That’s why I believe Hays County acted in an ethical way to avoid that. They took the process and study out of their own hands and gave it to some of the people they represent. They were also smart enough to have both educated and anything-but-ordinary citizens.
The Hays County Commissioners Court is far from perfect. The meetings sometimes are about as exciting as watching bread rise in an oven. They go on for hours. I’ve personally covered meetings that ran from 9 a.m. to around 6 p.m or later. The next time you can’t sleep, download their agenda packet. NyQuil has nothing on that Tolstoy-sized slumber inducer.
However, love them or hate them, they are there every week. While we can’t, nor should we, line up behind every choice they make, I think it’s fair to recognize an act of good government when it happens, and I think the court did the right thing in this matter.
Our cradle taught us skepticism, and that is an essential part of democracy. But it need not be applied to the point of becoming fanatical and irresponsible. These are tough economic times, and maybe even our elected officials might need a little help, just like the rest of us.
As far as accepting the raises, or not, that’s up to the officials and is solely within each person’s conscience. The real question is, “Will those raises be earned in the days to come?” With all the challenges facing our growing county, it bears watching.Email | Print