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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Benjamin Deitchman
December 30, 2014
Happy holidays, my fellow public administrators and readers of PA Times!
2014 was a special year for me and as we hang up our 2015 calendars (or, for the digitally inclined, open our calendar apps to dates in 2015), I want to express my gratitude to the public and not-for-profit sector for making this remarkable series of events possible. I certainly have reservations about writing a celebratory column at this difficult moment for our nation. From Capitol Hill to Ferguson and everywhere in between there are many justifications for Americans’ lack of confidence in our key societal institutions as we grapple with wicked problems in a divided pluralist nation. At the same time, however, I owe any success I have achieved to the community and the support of the organizations that facilitate recreation, education and general welfare of the public.
We end this year with recurring challenges in the national dialogue. Race, justice and public safety have re-emerged in light of controversial grand jury decisions. There is a need for reform in the street-level bureaucracy of law enforcement. My hope for the year is that as citizens we can participate in a productive debate to address our most vexing challenges as we grapple with social and economic inequality in modern America. Civic leaders in my own community, Rochester, New York, have developed a pledge to address this goal in our region. I personally am resolved for the New Year to commit myself to the conversations and ideals of Unite Rochester through both words and actions and look forward to other jurisdictional efforts at advancing justice and equality in communities across the nation in 2015.
As we watch news of contentious protests around the nation, ongoing budgetary brinksmanship inside the Beltway, poverty and public health crises across the globe, extremists committing atrocities against innocent victims, and a lack of consensus on managing climate change among other international issues, there are plenty of sour notes as the bell prepares to toll midnight on New Year’s Eve. These problems deserve our attention. But rather than despair, I would like to address reasons to appreciate the entire work public administrators do to maintain our society. If the public and nonprofit sectors are a manifestation for action in our community, then we can also enter 2015 with reasons for hope.
In February, my amazing fiancé and I were engaged to be married July 4, 2015. While our union is personal, we join the social institution of marriage (one that has justly and rightly seen expansion to same-sex couples in additional states this year) with the help of our community. The location of the proposal was on the frozen Heart Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of Northern New York. As I wrote in a previous column about another Adirondack landmark, “Mount Marcy is a natural feature of the Adirondack terrain, but the public and nonprofit administrators who oversee the wilderness deserve credit for the direct miles of pathway to the open alpine zone at the summit.”
The Adirondack Mountain Club maintains Marcy, Heart Lake and other special spots. The location of our wedding, the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, exists in its present state due to the support of philanthropic citizens and the maintenance of DeKalb County, Georgia. The efforts of the Adirondack Mountain Club and DeKalb County in these spaces are serving the public interest and we are all beneficiaries of the intervention of government and the community to support wilderness and historic architecture.
In May, I finished my doctoral degree in public policy. Earning the degree required ample time studying, researching, analyzing and writing on my own. However, I owe my degree to the community that supported me. Not just my fellow students and the professors at Georgia Tech, but also the state, federal and private institutions that provided resources that allowed me to pursue the degree. There are fair criticisms of higher education financing, particularly related to student debt. The ongoing subsidies for public and nonprofit colleges and universities not only strengthens economic opportunity, but facilitates learning, intellectual stimulation, happiness, and pride in students and the community. This point is often lost in the debates.
There are other great organizations to which I owe gratitude. We would not have found our new dog without the work of Rochester Animal Services and the Verona Street Animal Society. I also thank the Rochester Police Department for allowing me to run a marathon this year without having to dodge oncoming traffic. Finally, I appreciate the work of the Monroe County Parks Department for allowing local young professionals to run around in the snow playing kickball. Although the news is full of stories of corruption and misdeeds that present a negative view of the few civic organizations that engage in nefarious or otherwise unethical activities, and our communities grapple with a perceived decline in social capital, many of our institutions are providing us with invaluable support each day.
President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural quotation is something most can recite by memory: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There is plenty that we need to do for our country, our society and our world. What we may on occasion forget is how much our country or our community does for each of us.
I look forward to celebrating all the good, and getting back to work with you on ameliorating the bad. As we close out the year, thank you to the American Society for Public Administration for supporting our professional community, and thank you for your readership. All the best to you and your communities in 2015!
Author: Benjamin H. Deitchman is visiting assistant professor of public policy in the Saunders College of Business at the Rochester Institute of Technology. You can email him at [email protected] and/or follow him on Twitter: @BHDRIT. Happy Holidays!