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Public Service Does Not Operate On A Business Model


by Jack Minore

Government employees tend almost always to put service first:  business people tend to put profits first.  The two models simply do not work together.   That concept is clear in some of our public servants such as police and fire - - when government employees risk their lives in times of crisis to perform their jobs/service.  But it extends to other less visible situations, too.  

The business model often operates from the top down - with 'underlings' reluctant to question the boss - and with the boss often expecting his/her orders to be carried out without question.  By contrast, a good public servant will seek advice, counsel, and cooperation from others in the organization.  

Of course there are exceptions, but I have seen too many examples of these concepts to dismiss them lightly.

In Flint, several years ago, we elected an arrogant business person as Mayor.  (I jokingly refer to Donald Trump as our former Mayor times ten and on steroids.)  He often acted in defiance of the City Council and sometimes ignored the charter. In one instance, for example, he ordered some money transfers from a dedicated fund to the general fund to keep up some publicly popular services -- and left the dedicated fund virtually broke.  The dedicated fund was the water and sewer fund; so he delayed repairs for about two years - until the illegal transfer was discovered.  That may well have contributed to the water crisis that the City is experiencing now.

In another instance, largely because of a difference with the police union, the Mayor organized a "special unit" - violating the police contract and appointing "his" minions for a unit that was more a unit to serve his needs rather than the cities OR the police departments.   A law suit followed, and that action cost the city about $3 million dollars - paid after he left office.  (He resigned just before a recall election that probably would have ousted him from office.)

Another example of the business model is a penchant for privatization - thus favoring the business model over the public service / government model.  About three years ago, the food service in Michigan's prisons was privatized.  The goal, of course, was to cut the government payroll and "save money".   Over the next two years, little money was saved and the private contractor made a lot of profit - underpaying his employees and cutting costs on food purchases.  After multiple instances of spoiled food / horrendous infestations / food shortages / etc in the prisons. the Governor finally ended the contract with the private vendor.  Our state costs for health problems and guard overtime because of un-rest, the costs probably were higher than if we had kept the in-house services.   And that does not even consider that the profits went out of state rather than paying our citizens a bit more - money that would have stayed and been spent in Michigan.  

Yes:  there are poor public servants;  but in my experience the government workers have the general concept that they are employed to provide a public service.  Many appreciate the retirement and health care that government often provides - along with job security - - but work for less money than they might make in the private sector.   In my experience in both municipal and state elective office, I have rarely seen employees who are not dedicated to doing their job and serving the public responsible for paying their wages.   

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Jack Minore is a retired teacher / a 15 year veteran of the Flint City Council / a six year State Representative / and a former Executive Director of two non-profit organizations.