The Nobility of Public Service

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By Kirk McCarley 

Kirk Mccarley

One of my neighbors was a highly articulate and intelligent follower of government at local, state, and federal levels.  Our dialogue sometimes meandered into his most recent ramblings about street and infrastructure disrepair, wasteful spending, and ethical compromises.   Resolution of the state of affairs often concluded in stalemate over a couple of beers and gradual digression into conversation about sports.

On more than an occasion or two as he held court, myself in rapt attention, I would interrupt with, “That’s really a good idea.  You should run for public office.”  Admittedly part genuine and part patronizing on my behalf.  At that point he would demur, citing work and family obligations, disinterest in the hassle, and nod to a green, yet overgrown lawn.

A fundamental concept of government is to provide services that are otherwise unattainable for many.  Local government provides clean water, sanitary sewer, thoroughfares, public safety, and a host of other utilities.  The provision is made available through the economies of scale we share with our neighbors.  For most of us, were we to contract any of these services individually it would not only be inefficient, but cost prohibitive as well.

The January 6 attack on our federal government was shameful.  Further, as a former long-time employee at the local government level any assault on our public systems strikes a nerve.  Unfortunately the development is not new.  It has now been 34 years since the Edmond, OK Post Office shooting.  The massacre at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building came just nine years afterwards.  The Columbine High School incident in Colorado is now 22 years ago.  Admittedly, there were times I felt threatened or unsafe.  Lucky was I that matters never escalated beyond that.

Aside from physical concerns, far more common are criticisms.  As government service is publicly funded everything about the organization and its operations is an open record for residents.  The difficult conversations I recall were often at public places such as the soccer fields or the supermarket:

“How come the building department denied my permit?”

“When is the highway division going to repair my street?”

“I see that you got a pay raise!” or “I can’t believe that’s what they’re paying you!”

In spite of the perils and frustrations I’ve experienced, and even considering recent horrific events, I reflect back on time in public service with pride and gratitude.  Regardless of the political leanings or faith beliefs of my colleagues each sought to live up to the mission to provide a service to the best of our respective capacities.  What were high points?

  • For one, it was interesting work.  There was always a sense of knowing the community’s “pulse.”
  • Those in protective service environments, such as Fire and Police, demonstrated high levels of professionalism and bravery, integrity, and the ability to often bring order to chaos and confusion.
  • Each day, a genuine opportunity awaited, to make a difference in the life of someone.
  • Most co-workers shared the same passion for seeking service above self.
  • Finally, it was a noble career choice.  What can be of greater good than having an opportunity to help others?

In consultation with Career Development clients, it is enlightening that few entertain the thought of pursuing public sector work, at least initially.  Perhaps it is partly some of the previously shared concerns, notions about compensation levels below market, or even lack of awareness.  Increasingly yet, I find, job seekers express a desire to identify employment where they not only achieve fulfillment, but a chance to serve, and find altruistic benefit, too.

Public service not only provides that opportunity, but needs loyal and dedicated employees now more than ever.

A graduate of the University of North Texas, Kirk McCarley is a Certified Professional Coach as well as a Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and SHRM-CP Certified. He also is a Production Assistant for both college football and basketball for ESPN and leads group cycling classes as a Certified Spinning instructor. Contact,, or call  314-677-8779.

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