Whether to serve, or be served | Rich Elfers

There are two attitudes of elected officials to their jobs: to serve, or to be served. While there are some political office holders who do both, it has been my observation that politicians predominantly do one or the other. Why does it matter, and how can you know which is which? Let me give you my observation on this important issue.

Why does it matter? All of us make decisions constantly. From those decisions a pattern can be seen. Having rubbed shoulders with several politicians during my years on the Enumclaw City Council, by reading current events and now writing this column, this pattern comes into clear focus. Politicians who truly care about their constituents act in ways that promote the long-term good of the government body they represent. Caring about their constituents shows in good laws and ordinances, and well-run government institutions.

Elected officials whose main goal is to serve themselves act in ways that benefit them and their interests. Their decisions bring them into the spotlight and give them attention from the public. Long-term, however, those self-centered decisions result in a waste of taxpayer money and in a cumulative effect of layered bad decisions that destroy the proper functioning of government.

In my experience on the council I saw politicians who were very much concerned with being seen on TV. They tailored their answers to make themselves look good, rather than struggling honestly to find the best answers for the city. Often their questions and statements embarrassed paid staff or other elected officials.

I have seen this choice especially during political campaigns where ads in the paper or letters to the editor distorted what was going on. Truth seemed to be lost in the welter of words and the desire to win.

Some politicians are clever at hiding their real intentions, so they word their statements to come across as high sounding about the passage of new laws and ordinances, whereas the real intent is to personally benefit them or their friends. The importance of ordinances and laws depends on careful, precise wording. It is easy to change the meaning of a law to benefit one group or another by changing even one word.

There are ways to discern between service and selfishness, all of which require time and thought: research their history and look for patterns; watch the candidate on TV or speak to them in person; leave messages to officials and then observe whether they reply. Follow up tells a great deal about an official’s level of integrity – doing what they promised they would do.

In other words, public officials who want to serve can only be understood through diligence and effort. That is the cost and the benefit of good government. The buck – the responsibility for good government – really rests with an intelligent, observant and discerning public. If the public thinks in terms of who is there to serve and who is in office to be served, that will speed up the process.

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