In this time of prolonged budget cuts and a federal administration hell-bent on dismantling government, it's hard to feel good about public service. The words of President John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country," seem a light-year away when cynicism about government runs deep and wide in our political affairs.
So it may come as a surprise that May 6 through May 12 was Public Service
Recognition Week, during which a bipartisan resolution in the U.S. Senate (S. Res. 495) noted that public service is a noble calling. The resolution went on to acknowledge that public employees at all levels of government contribute significantly to the greatness and prosperity of the United States.
Being in complete agreement with the sentiment of Resolution 495 and in honor of Public Service Recognition Week, I want to highlight three outstanding public servants and one significant public service accomplishment.
If you lived in Juneau and walked in to pay your utility bill or a parking ticket, you would be dealing with the city cashier, Mary Belcourt. Mary is the first person you see when entering City Hall and as such she's literally the face of Juneau government. With her cheerful disposition, she has an uncanny knack to get people to smile back. "I want people to leave happier than when they came in," explains Mary. Not only does Mary competently do her job year after year, she also goes out of way to point people in the right direction for whatever city service they're looking for. It can be howling ugly weather outside, but step inside City Hall and there will be Mary extending reliable service with one of the biggest smiles you'll ever encounter. She has been like this day after day for decades.
Budget cuts from the past four years have affected every state office, but often this hits hardest in offices that need to maintain a high level of responsiveness and provide essential services to the most troubled segments of our society. One such office is the Office of Public Advocacy, which advocates for abused and neglected children in protective proceedings, provides public guardianship for incapacitated adults and advocates for victims of elder fraud, as well as for parents of children in need of aid. Managing the lives of incapacitated adults with an ever-increasing case load, make Dawn Pedersen and Sarah Bosma unsung heroes. Covering all of Southeast Alaska with amazing dedication, these public guardians are outstanding public servants who think "what more can I do to help" every day at the office.
The next recognition comes at the federal level of public service and it involves all three members of Alaska's congressional delegation. Instead of politics playing out as usual, i.e., delivering for the benefit of the wealthy and well-positioned special interests, politics recently played out the way it was supposed to — delivering benefits to local communities out of an elected responsibility to provide for the public good.
Thanks to consistent pressure from our congressional delegation, four new Coast Guard fast-response cutters and two new patrol boats are headed to Alaska. Two of these cutters and the two new patrol boats will be stationed in Southeast Alaska. As Sen. Dan Sullivan said, "Particularly for Southeast Alaska, this is a big deal."
When you add in the additional $51 million to fund new housing and infrastructure related to the new cutters, this Coast Guard addition becomes a really big deal for Alaska's coastal communities. Not only is public safety enhanced, but local economic development will also be boosted by the certainty of this Coast Guard investment. Concerted action by all three members of our Congressional delegation is a welcome example of public service that floats many communal boats.
Andrew Cuomo, the current governor of New York, says, "I believe we need to attract a new generation of the best and brightest to public service and I believe that government can be a source of inspiration, not degradation." In honor of Public Service Recognition Week, I submit these examples of public service as a source of inspiration for the next generation.
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