What Say You?

I’m in a quandary. Here’s why.

Do the people in public organizations, especially at levels that interact with elected officials, have a responsibility to tell the electorate about the elected official’s performance while in office?

While serving in the military, the answer was no. While serving as a director of a local government agency, I remained neutral. But, now that I’m retired, should I speak out? Should others in similar situations speak out?

In Federalist No. 1, Alexander Hamilton wrote that the important question his peers had to decide was whether men were, “Capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend on their political constitutions on accident and force.”

Every campaign season, people run for office promising good government. What if they don’t deliver? Should they be called out by those that work for them or wait for the public to discover it by themselves?

The public wants to know when “corruption” or “misdoings” occur. Are they as interested if a candidate fails to deliver on their promises? We have laws to protect whistle blowers. Would the same laws apply in this circumstance?

Hamilton believed a principle tenet of good government required it to pursue extensive and arduous enterprises that promote national security, tranquility, commerce, revenue and liberty. These endeavors would require the nation’s best talent and resources accordingly. What if these endeavors show a “personal” agenda that fails to produce the necessary results? What if the effort never sees the light of day despite valuable resources being applied to it? Should the electorate be informed?

In 2011, Public Administration Review published a supplemental discussing how modern American government upheld the ideals of the Federalist Papers. Each submitter was asked to append his view to the particular paper chosen. Professor Paul C. Light would add this to Federalist No. 1: “…(W)e now worry that the executive oversees an administrative apparatus that can no longer assure the Constitution’s direction that the laws be faithfully executed. … We worry that the executive is overburdened with enterprises that do not meet our call for extensive and arduous tasks.”

If, in the opinion of a public administrator, an elected official’s agenda falls into a category that does not meet Hamilton’s concept for their community, are they ethically obligated to call it out or remain silent during the campaign season? Often candidates at the local level target departments for fixes. Ask anyone in public works or community development. And, that’s fair. But is it not also fair for the public administrator to point out the good and poor performers in their local government?

What say you?

Submitted by Larry Keeton

One thought on “What Say You?

  1. You pose an under considered question. I think people, the electorate and the beneficiaries of government, should know the failings of a candidate’s (elected leader’s) efforts or (lack of effort). But the way in which such a measurement is performed and reported are subject to as deep a consideration.

    We seem duty bound to report a leader who intentionally mislead voters about her or his intentions, using a pledge or promise to curry favor, but abandoning that pledge or promise while in office or leadership position. But how do we gauge their measurement of strategy and schedule for pursuing the fulfillment of such a commitment? How do we interpret their sincere attempt and failure form resistance or obstruction to their efforts? How do read their internal measurement of conditions that might justify their delay or weak efforts?

    Some issues and efforts are complicated to understand and implement. Ie: Read Paul Light’s, Tides of Reform. Others are clearly incompetently, carelessly, or insincerely pursued. We can use a CBO or OMB type assessment of “Did” or “Did not fulfill commitment” – but how will the reality be spun to the masses? Should we be concerned with that potential outcome?


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