MANY PEOPLE don’t realize it, but government is the largest employer in our area. The U. S. Department of Labor says the CSRA has 46,500 government jobs. These range from scientists at Savannah River Nuclear Site to sheriff’s deputies, firefighters, civilian employees on Fort Gordon and even the employees giving us our drivers’ licenses.
For many of us, government is our employer. And we count on government employees to keep us safe, our roads clean and in good repair, and our government competent and honest.
Those employees were put to the test earlier this year when Winter Storm Pax hit us Feb. 11 with a brutal ice storm. Our city may have looked like a winter wonderland, but it felt like anything but that. With 80 percent of our area lacking power, and fallen trees and debris everywhere, we all needed help getting our lives back in order. Many of those who stepped forward in that effort were government employees – and many of them were volunteering!
ONE EXAMPLE of such volunteering was provided by the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office. On- and off-duty deputies came in and, armed with chainsaws, fanned out to clear roads and bridges. They were the first of many others to demonstrate what public service means in the wake of Winter Storm Pax.
Another example of such selfless service is Augusta-Richmond County’s Employee of the Month for March, Avis Brown. Avis is a code enforcement officer for the Environmental Services Department. During storm clean-up, she worked many long hours managing a site where storm debris could be taken. In addition to answering citizen questions, handling the placement of debris and completing paperwork, she learned how to use a front-end loader so she could keep her area tidy and make it easy for trucks to get in and out without having to wait for an equipment operator. And she is just one of the countless government employees who stepped up to get our community back in order.
Why do they do this? Cynics would argue that people work for government for the benefits or job security. In reality, the research of scholars such as James L. Perry and H. G. Perry has demonstrated that most people are attracted to government jobs out of a sincere desire to serve others and make our community a better place. And that desire to serve continues to motivate them in their day-to-day chores, many of which may seem tedious or boring to us.
AND THAT’S WHY Public Service Recognition Week is important. During this week, we have a chance to say “thank you” to those who dedicate their lives to serving us in government jobs. A simple “thank you” often is all it takes to brighten someone’s day. And for those who are motivated by a desire to serve others, a “thank you” from someone you are serving is deeply appreciated.
Louis Gawthrop, in his book Public Service and Democracy, says “public service in the spirit of democracy demands an unqualified commitment to the common good. Nothing less will do; nothing more is needed.” Public employees in our area exemplify this. Let’s all remember to say “thank you” to them this week.
(The writer is a professor of public administration and director of the Master of Public Administration program and the Center for Public Service at Georgia Regents University.)