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Public Administration: Closer to Home

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Marvin N. Pichla
July 1, 2019

When you think about and possibly suggest to one of your children that they should run for a public service position…what elected office(s) do you discuss? Do you begin with a lively discussion about becoming a State House of Representatives member and debating the strengths and weaknesses of the current Representative? Or does the conversation circle around to the option of becoming a state senator and serving a larger district? But maybe attaining a state level elected position does not seem challenging enough…and the opportunity of becoming a United States House Representative or Senator is really the dream?  STOP, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to encourage interested young people to participate in a local, smaller contest FIRST? 

Well unfortunately I believe that today’s young adult leaders are not provided the most appropriate learning about entry-level local elected official positions. Quality instruction and information on great public service starter opportunities does not seem to be highlighted to qualified candidates. The result is a very limited number of younger individuals running for local elected office and entering public administration closer to home.

It is very understandable why a local County Commissioner, Township Supervisor/Trustee, City Councilperson or Community School Board member are NOT positions sought by most people. First, they are all very part-time, very time demanding, and very limited in their pay structures. Second, the issues addressed by each of these groups are what some would term “non-sexy” within the political/public administration arena. And finally, these positions are not part of the political network that receives strong media coverage (both positive or negative). Therefore those involved are not hyped as movers and shakers in the world of public sector leaders. As a result, the critical public service offered by local elected officials is often taken for granted and considered less than vital. Hence, it may be beneficial if we reevaluate the impact value of each opportunity.

First, with regard to positive public impact of school board membership, this explanation from the Pennsylvania School Boards Association says it best:

“It is difficult to imagine a position in the public sector that has a more profound impact on the future, or that is a better example of true citizen service, than that of school board members.  However, it is not easy work.  Public education is complex, highly regulated, and the demands upon public schools continue to grow.  School board members have an important responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are heard and that the policies enacted, budgets adopted and other decisions school boards make properly balance the needs of many constituencies while fulfilling the constitutional mandate to provide an education to all children.”

Second if you assess the County Commissioner, Township official and City Councilperson impacts together, the following blended summary statement from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, Michigan Township Association and Clinton M. Sandvick offers a simple outline of their limitless public service contributions.

“Of the different levels of government, local government has the most immediate effect on people’s lives because it is so close to where they live.  Also, citizens are apt to participate more directly in local government because elected officials are so readily accessible.  Being a County Commissioner, (Township official or City Councilperson) provides an opportunity to deal with people’s more immediate problems, which are often the ones that affect everyone.  Sometimes just providing individual constituent service, such as getting a storm drain cleaned, can be rewarding.  A Commissioner, (Township official or City Councilperson) who does a good job provides a true public service and is a leader in the community”.

So, given the positives of recruiting more young adults to participate in public administration election opportunities, how can we increase their interest/service capacities?

Initially I believe it is critical to develop a high school and early college training segment which exclusively targets local-level public official positions and relative election specifics. Individuals currently in these roles would offer a standard instructional component of the course. At a minimum, students would learn:

            – Citizen qualifications to be a candidate.

            – Types of assignments/duties that go with each position.

            – Terms of each office.

            – Filing requirements and deadlines to be a candidate.

            – Training opportunities for the office if elected.

Additionally, it would seem appropriate that each current County Board of Commissioners, School Board, City Council and Township Board conduct an Election Principles session every year. During the Election Principles session each elected group would share the responsibility of orientating citizens on the election process and serving as a local elected official.

Lastly, it would be helpful to consider passing a special law which would allow appropriate leave time from an individual’s day-job to support elected official public service. Similar to the policy of allowing employment leave time to those serving in the military branches during time of deployment, this law would endorse leave time options for elected public service.

Improving public administration closer to home by enlisting greater participation of young adults via expanding their knowledge about local elected positions, as well as building greater system support for their public service is a logical responsibility for growing local leaders.


Author: Marvin N. Pichla, Ph.D., is the owner and creative adviser of Inspiring Innovations, Inc. Sharing his unique entrepreneurship and innovation in public service experience, Marv consults with public and private business, education and community organizations to develop new and different problem-solving methods through real-life, example-based learning. Email: [email protected], @TRIPLEIIITIME

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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