Taking a Tip from Teddy

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Theodore Roosevelt

One of the things I love about living in Newport Beach is how civic-minded our community is. It seems like everyone I know or meet is involved with some organization devoted to leaving this world a better place than they found it.  Our citizens express their humanity through public service, volunteerism, philanthropy, because having a cause greater than ourselves is really an honor when considering the many blessings our community enjoys.

I point this out because at times I grow weary of the cynicism and entitlement that seems to pervade our society these days. It is within our communities that we find solace, a sense of belonging. Why then, not be more appreciative of those who devote much of their lives to making the community better for those who live, work and play here? Whether you agree with them or not, at least they take the risks of being in the arena.

I was reminded of this on Tuesday evening as I sat in the beautiful new Civic Center council chambers for the very first city council meeting held there. The newly elected Mayor, Keith Curry, and elected council members were sworn in. Mayor Gardner was lauded for her fine service, and a fond farewell given to Councilman and former Mayor, Steve Rosansky, who has served on the council for the past nine years.

In his parting address, Steve candidly spoke about his service to our city, often taking a moment to compose his emotions.  He told the audience while he understood that not all of his decisions were popular and at times there was contention between his fellow council members, that serving his community has been one of the most significant experiences of his life.

“My years on the council have been the most challenging, inspiring and invigorating of my life,” said Rosansky. “When I decided to run for city council, I was driven by a need to lead a life of significance. Time will tell, but I believe that we’ve have achieved a lot since I began my tenure, many of my dreams for the city have come true, including sitting in this room tonight, something that I was skeptical would ever happen, but here we are.”

In today’s highly politicized world, where public servants are often vilified, it is those who serve quietly, with grace and humility and a sense of something greater than themselves, who do the most for their communities. And while I typically avoid writing about local politics for obvious reasons, sometimes I find myself biting my tongue when I hear people criticize those who devote so much of their personal and professional lives to public service.

It takes guts to be a public servant, to listen, day in and day out, for years on end, to complaints, concerns, criticism, rational and otherwise, and then, sometimes after sleepless nights and council meetings that go on for eight hours or more, make decisions for the community as a whole to the best of your ability. To juggle the obligations to city staff, constituents, conscience and dedicate your life to leadership when you’d much rather be spending time with friends and family or a favorite hobby, is not for the faint of heart.

All across this great country there are many talented men and women who humbly devote themselves to serving their community, taking risks and sometimes ending up on the wrong side of the popularity polls. I just wish more of those who benefit from much of the good that is accomplished would simply say “thank you” now and then instead of looking for fault in every crook and cranny.

I believe Theodore Roosevelt best said what I am trying to in his “Citizen in a Republic” speech given at the Sorbonne, Paris in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”

Lynn Selich can be reached at [email protected].

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1 COMMENT

  1. I agree with your view in general … I do

    I always say “thank you” to public servant’s every chance I get. It does tend to be a “thankless occupation” overall I also agree.

    But…

    What public officials need to be reminded of on regular constant occasion is that they are “public officials” not only paid by, but spending other people’s money. (i.e.-the public’s) and that it is their job to listen and take whatever comes their way from the public. If they don’t understand that they shouldn’t be a “public servant” in the first place.

    Just like any walk of life, most are good apples, but to find the bad ones you have to go looking, they don’t “self-report” as we say in my longtime profession as a journalist.

    Just ask the people of Bell, CA, or other places were politicians,government officials and employees have been turned into no less than convicted felons. Even actions less than law-breaking can warrant much needed public attention.

    Also, to believe that all “public servants” have only the purist intentions or even that they don’t benefit from their “service” in many ways is far from the case.

    The other night prior to the opening of the new NB council chambers, at which I was in attendance, an example of extreme public official arrogance was on full display at the old council chambers.

    I sat with amazement as I watched council member Rush Hill speak to the audience and say that he had enough of “taking shit” from people who were assembled before the NB council to argue and express their opinion and views about the dock tax/fee issue.

    I don’t own a dock so the issue doesn’t directly effect me, but it does indirectly, as I’m resident of NB and do pay my taxes. I was there to see the event in my capacity as a journalist.

    I couldn’t believe my ears.

    I think Rush Hill forgot that night who his employer is and who’s money he was playing with. The least he could do was not dis and insult the public he is supposed to be “serving”.

    I like your quote from Teddy, but I like these one’s just as much …

    “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

    And an even more important one for public officials in my mind.

    From another of our famed Presidents Harry S. Truman, who made what I’d consider the most important decision ever made by a “public servant” (the decision to drop two-atomic bombs on Japan) and kill 100′s of thousands of people)

    “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

    Eric Longabardi
    Producer/Journalist/Media Consultant
    TeleMedia News Productions
    Newport Beach, CA
    (Special Correspondent/Newport Beach Independent)
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