Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 6:39 pm | Fair 61º

 
 
 
 

Bill Cirone: Public Servants Deserve Our Gratitude

Recent violent incidents are horrifying to all — a rare unifying sentiment in these days of deep division.

It was painfully difficult to watch the videos of young black men being shot at point blank range by policemen. It was equally horrifying to see the assassination of police officers that occurred in Dallas by a truly disturbed loner.

We all need to do our part to heal the hatred and mistrust that fuels these horrific deeds. Public rhetoric has fanned the flames of division.

Careless words, unfounded theories, a disdain for facts that don’t fit our worldview, and a mentality of “us vs. them,” have only made matters worse.

One place to begin to help turn the tide, I believe, is by reminding ourselves that the true heroes in our midst have always been the public servants who work every day for the common good.

Those who go into public service generally sacrifice much higher pay and far better working conditions to make their communities better places.

I’m talking about people with high degrees of education and specialized training who had a variety of career options. I’m referring to police officers, members of the military, teachers, firefighters, nurses and all the lawyers and doctors and managers who chose to work in government roles rather than private practice, to help make their neighborhoods and communities safer places.

I also include the janitors, road repair crews, bus drivers, park rangers and lower-paid government workers who toil every day to help in their neighborhoods.

When did we start lumping these workers together as “the government” and start heaping scorn on them? When did these public servants become the enemy because of their jobs? It’s outrageous.

In defending the bonuses that continued to flow to Wall Street executives after the economy crashed, some have said that they were contractual obligations and that had to be paid.

These same commentators turned around and wanted to deny contract obligations to public employees, who each make the tiniest fraction of the Wall Street salaries.

Plus, public employees work toward the common good and add benefit to our society with the work they do every day. Where is the shared sacrifice among others?

When did the world go topsy-turvy to make the working person, and particularly public servants, the target of scorn? Those crafting that fiction must be chortling over those of us gullible enough to buy the line of argument.

Take teachers. In many countries teachers are revered and compensated highly. It is not a coincidence that those countries tend to have the highest achieving students.

Some say teachers have it made in our country because they only work from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nonsense. Teachers work till late hours, over weekends, holidays and summers crafting more relevant lesson plans, evaluating student work, refining their professional abilities and gathering materials.

Or take firefighters. After 9/11, and after the multiple fires here in Santa Barbara, our first responders were lionized, and appropriately so, for the heroic and brave work they do to keep us all safe, especially in disasters.

Yet letters to the editor in local publications point to firefighters and other public safety workers as a huge problem because of the pensions owed them after a career of paying into those accounts while putting their lives on the line. What happened in such a short time to spin common sense on its head?

Critics point to short hours or short careers for public servants, but the premise itself rings hollow because we all know that our star athletes often have the shortest of seasons and workdays and are among the highest paid. The same goes for our movie and TV stars.

People want to include the preparation time for athletes and entertainers, but not for teachers or first responders. I do not begrudge these celebrities their money; I just say shame on those who turn around and disparage teachers and nurses and firefighters and police officers and all those whose work is so vital to our community and our nation, who struggle to get by on their full-time salaries.

Without teachers there would be no other professions. Period.

Are there areas that need reform in the public sector? Absolutely. Just as there are in the private sector.

Are there public servants who are incompetent or dangerous or even potentially criminal? Yes, there are a very, very small number. Police officers who harm rather than protect, firefighters who turn out to be arsonists, teachers who do harm to children — pariahs need to be dealt with harshly and quickly.

For the most part they are a very small subset who are poorly trained, poorly suited or truly cruel. Let’s deal with that immediately and make needed reforms.

But let’s not paint an entire profession with the same broad brush because of a few aberrants. Let’s still remember who the true heroes are among us.

Who gains from pointing the finger of blame at teachers and nurses and first responders? It seems clear to me that the agenda has nothing to do with the details being argued and everything to do with dismantling public institutions.

If that’s what we want to do, let’s have the courage to say so — and then figure out who will protect our communities, teach our children, tend to the sick, keep our streets safe and fight our fires.

Shame on all of us who scapegoat the true heroes in our midst or remain silent while others do so. They say this country is angry. Let’s get angry about that.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Email
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership
×

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >