Summer 2014
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The Public Manager

Time Hasn't Changed Public Service

Friday, June 13, 2014

The American Society for Public Administration and the National Academy of Public Administration honor leaders at every level of government who have made outstanding and lasting contributions to public service. Two city managers received the organizations' National Public Service Award this past March.


Each has some 35 years in public service. What has changed in public service? What significant factors have remained constant? Also, how can you encourage young people to enter public service?

John Shirey
City Manager, Sacramento, California

Technology has changed the way we work. When I started we didn't have desktop computers or sophisticated communication systems. Many of the tools we take for granted were not around. The advancements have been breathtaking. Also, elected officials are more diverse, more pluralistic. More women and minorities are in public office, and elected officials come from a broader economic base.

It is always difficult to manage a city when finances are tight. People think it was better "years ago," but we've always had to balance a budget and manage resources, and there is never enough money to meet all the needs. Another constant, and one that makes public service challenging, is an ever-changing array of issues.

What inspired people to pursue a career in government, rather than business, is the same today as it was years ago: the satisfaction that comes with helping others. Our society depends on people who want to serve others. If young people want to make a difference, the public sector is the place to be. The rhetoric and partisan divide may have ramped up over the years, but the needs of the public continue.

Ronald Bates
City Manager, Pico Rivera, California

Especially as a CEO, the notion of ethics and acting in the best interests of the community has not changed. It is much better to lose a job than to lose a career. When making an important decision, local government managers must ask themselves, "How is it going to look on the front page of the newspaper?" Ethics always needs to govern the decision-making process.

Young people should consider the "three Rs." Rewarding—you can see the direct results of what you do. You have the ability to make a difference. Real world—your job is very practical. Every day you face problems that affect people's lives. It is varied, from barking dogs to major transportation issues, which makes assignments varied and fun. Reinforcing—when you see the success of a program you've worked on, you want to do more to affect the community in a positive way.

About the Author

Lisa Marsh is associate editor of The Public Manager, ASTD’s quarterly journal for government leaders at all levels. She is pretty happy at work. As a publications consultant and editor for more than 25 years, she has seen a variety of workplaces and likes to focus on best practices.

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