June 24, 2018

Public Service At Its Best

Dr. Malcolm Cross

Last Friday afternoon current and former government and civic leaders celebrated the career and retirement of Cindy Stafford, Stephenville’s longtime city secretary.  It was a most timely celebration since it reminded us not only of the exceptionally high quality of service she rendered throughout her tenure, but of the fact that outstanding public servants of her caliber do exist.

Perhaps we don’t need such reminders, but anyone who only follows the national news, and gets it only from television or over the internet, could be pardoned for thinking our government, at least at the national level, was run by folks who make the Three Stooges look like Newton, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking.  The Republicans, after promising/threatening for years to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, have produced no credible alternative.  They have no realistic plan to reduce the deficit or national debt, and they’re caught up in trying to defend meetings between the Trump campaign and a weird series of British and Russian misfits who seem to be refugees from bad spy novels.

And what about the Democrats?  Had they won the White House even with one of the worst presidential candidates ever, they would have been mired in policy stalemates and investigations as Republicans would have blocked every single Hillary initiative while demanding explanations for Ukrainian support for her campaign, Loretta Lynch’s possible interference in the FBI investigation of her emails, and the flow of foreign—especially Russian—cash to her family’s foundation.   As it is, they have no coherent message or appeal to the public, a record of complete failure (so far) in winning special congressional elections, and little prospect of winning back the Congress in 2018 or the White House in 2020.  In short, it’s safe to say that at no time in the recent past have our national leaders and parties been less effective or more incompetent.

Which is why thinking about the career of Cindy Stafford is such a necessary and refreshing tonic.  She is an outstanding reminder that great public servants do, in fact exist, and make the business of government run so much more smoothly, efficiently, and honestly than might otherwise be the case.

I had the privilege of working with Cindy Stafford for 14 years while serving on the City Council.  During my tenure, other council members came and went, as did mayors, city administrators, and department directors.  Yet she remained a steady, constant presence, performing her duties with flawless efficiency, competence, impartiality, and integrity, thereby setting an example for everyone who worked with her to follow.  Stephenville governance was far better with her than it could have been otherwise, and everyone who worked with her knew it.  That’s why so many of those who came and went throughout her tenure returned to honor her.  We all knew that the quantity and quality of work she performed made us all better for the effort.

If the bad news is that Cindy Stafford has left the building, the good news is that the example she set remains—an example to be followed not only by her able successor in the office of City Secretary, but by every elected and appointed official who aspires to quality governance. 

Moreover, Cindy Stafford’s career in Stephenville shows that throughout the country there can be men and women at the local, state, and federal levels of government who seek to provide the best public service possible, notwithstanding the wretched examples set by our national “leaders.”  These are the folks who’ll help educate our kids, keep our parks and monuments open, care for our infrastructure, keep us safe, keep our Social Security checks coming, and otherwise do their best to help us cope with the antics, buffoonery, and ineptitude in high office about which the media love to keep us informed. 

So as Cindy Stafford enters her well-earned retirement, appropriately to the cheers and well wishes of those privileged to work with her, let’s remember the example she set of public service of the highest possible quality.  And let’s not settle for anything less from those who aspire to lead us.

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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