Redefining Public Service in America

if we don't stop now and redefine what "public service" truly is and what it is to be a "public servant", we may wake up some day and have no public servants left to protect us.

I recently had the honor and privilege to volunteer my time, along with other members of our station's volunteer unit, to assist the traffic control detail for a local police officer's funeral being held in our city, The officer was brutally gunned down by a convicted drug dealer during a drug raid on the suspect's house. Using the words "honor" and "privilege" to describe working a funeral detail may, to some, sound like odd words. However, for anyone who has ever attended the funeral of a fallen member of law enforcement, they'll know exactly what I mean. Standing alongside over 2,000 members of law enforcement arriving in over 300 marked patrol cars and 200 motor units from throughout the State of California is truly an awesome sight. Unfortunately and sadly, this awesome display of respect was marred by the fact it was to pay our final tributes to this 29-year-old hero who left behind a wife and two young children, who he will never have the opportunity to see grow up, hug, kiss, tuck in at night or simply wave good bye to as they run off to school feeling safe, because their daddy is a policeman.

As a volunteer myself, this day brought a lot of reflection of what it meant to be a "public servant." While the funeral service was being held, the State of California was under siege from wildfires raging out of control as evidenced by the brown smoke that filled the sky and the air we breathed that day while working the traffic detail. At the same time that columns of police cars kept coming and coming into the overflowing parking lot, other members of "public service," both fire and law enforcement, were on the front lines attempting to save lives and property as the wildfires continued to spread throughout Southern California. In the end, the October 2007 Southern California wildfires destroyed over 2,000 homes and claimed several lives. As more and more patrol vehicles began to arrive, we would occasional hear a crackle on the radio that a high ranking member of law enforcement, such as a county sheriff and in one case, the attorney general for the State of California, Jerry Brown, was inbound. But nowhere to be seen was the governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who it seemed at the time was too busy running around the fire-stricken areas telling everyone how "fantastic" things were and there was nothing to complain about.

The governor himself was close enough to fly in by helicopter to attend the funeral of this brave hero who gave his life to protect the citizens of California, yet he did not attend. The same was true of the members of Congress who sat safe and sound in Washington, D.C., well protected, representing the district this fallen officer worked and lived. What could have been more important that they couldn't take a few hours of their day to help honor our fallen hero, while paying their respects to his family, or at least to send a representative of their staff to do so?

It seemed like not too long ago, when someone was referred to as a "public servant" or was honored for their years of "public service," it meant just that--someone who served the public through their work in government or volunteer efforts, while sacrificing their own needs to do so. However, these days when we hear about "public servants" being honored, it seems more often than not to refer to folks where we ask, "Where was the sacrifice in their service." Case in point: remember the speech President Bush made when Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted by of a jury of his peers and sentenced to federal prison time for "outing" a covert CIA agent? President Bush described Scooter Libby as a tireless "public servant" who served his nation well and as he felt, did not deserve the 30-month prison sentence, or for that matter, any prison time. While Mr. Libby certainly did spend a great deal of his time in government, in between government roles he also spent time in a private law practice, earning as much as $585.00 an hour, equaling $93,800 per month. This was for defending fugitive from justice Mark Rich, who was later pardoned by President Clinton. During Mr. Libby's last position as a "tireless public servant" working as the Chief of Staff for the Vice President, Mr. Libby earned a salary of $161,000 a year, not to mention all the perks, and of course, the "get of out jail free" card. Compare that to U.S. Border Patrol agents Jose Compean and Ignacio Ramos, who are now both serving ten-year plus prison sentences for shooting a convicted Mexican drug smuggler in the butt as he fled from them, while he was pointing what was believed to be a gun at them. Both agents, one nominated for Border Patrol Agent of the Year, sit in federal prison even after three jurors signed sworn affidavits saying that they were coerced into entering a guilty vote and the GAO inspector for DHS acknowledged the initial investigation into their "wrongdoing" was based on false and misleading testimony.

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