Interestingly enough, upon reflection of Lucas becoming a City Councilman, I realized that my eldest son, Justin Johnson, has long been on the church council and served as a volunteer fireman; my eldest daughter, Missy, (Lucas’ twin) is on the Texhoma, Texas, city council and her husband is on the school board; my youngest daughter, Lisa Schulz, is on the Gruver Economic Development committee for the City and I think is the Chamber of Commerce (yes, I might be exaggerating) and her husband has recently been named to the church council.
It is my opinion that we all owe some time to our community. Whether it is as a Sunday School teacher or as a Kid’s Inc. coach or a Main Street Guymon volunteer, we all need to give to our community to make sure that it is a good community. Public and civic service is not to make you more money or gain personal accolades. It’s because it’s the right thing to do.
Having my children all serving their communities gave me a feeling of completeness. Anyway, back to the email of advice. Here’s what I said to Lucas:
“The most important thing about public service is that you remember it is not about you, but about a job that needs done. Being part of a city council / church council / school board means that you are representing the public / parishioners. You’re not there to make sure your opinions are served, or that your pet projects get done before others, you are there to make decisions that are the best for the people and the entity in the long run.
“The difficult part about public service is listening to people and remembering there is a silent population that you cannot forget. Just because someone is loudest, does not mean they are the majority or they are right. You also have to take into consideration that the public does not understand all the issues needing to be considered in a decision. Which brings up part of your responsibility, which is very difficult …
“You need to be keeping the public informed. You make the effort, even if they do not especially want to learn. Invite them to give you their opinion. Invite them to listen to your opinion. Invite them to your meetings … and make them feel comfortable when they are there. Just because you have a vote does not mean that you’re more important than they are … you simply have more responsibility.
“This does not mean that you have a week long community meeting during your regular meetings, but that you have meetings open to the public that are for brainstorming and teaching and discussion … the official meetings are for making decisions that you should have been hearing about for a long time.
“Your job is serious, but you do not need to be eaten up with seriousness. Smile. Be courteous. Do not be condescending. Include the audience as much as you can without losing the ability to get a meeting finished in good time.
“Read what you’re supposed to read before the meetings. Talk to the public before the meeting, go to them as much as you can. Stand up to rumors and confront those who spread them, in a polite and sharing manner. Your goal is to get accurate information out and to gather accurate information. Public service is a responsibility.
“And always be thankful that you have members of the public who are concerned. They will take their attitude from you, most of the time, so be kind and be courteous.
“And remember, whatever you built will have to be maintained. Have a maintenance plan and have those who are the maintenance plan in on the discussion. Think more than a year down the road … how will this be used in ten years? Who will use it? What is the cost per actual person that needs it? Where will the money come from to take care of it? Be realistic. Be sensible.
“Never do something simply because you want people to like you. Be a good enough person that when you do something they don’t agree with, they still like you … that is the true goal. Gain their trust so they will believe in your decisions … and this is difficult to do and takes time. Listening and telling the truth are the fastest ways to gain people’s trust.”
And always thank those who are serving your community. If you haven’t, you need to. When you are in public service everyone with a complaint makes it a point to see you. But those who are happy with what is happening, seldom do. It’s a hard place to be. Thank one of your public servants today.
And I’ll see you on the bricks!