Given the scorn that is being heaped upon members of Congress and the White House over the so-called “fiscal cliff,” it is no surprising that many civic-minded Americans would choose to steer far away from public service.
Fortunately, there are individuals in all walks of life who take the opposite choice and dedicate themselves to careers in government.
One of them stepped down earlier this week — former Bartholomew County Commissioner Paul Franke.
Franke operated in an arena considerably smaller than the U.S. Congress, his service covering 26 years in local government — 10 as a member of the Bartholomew County Council and the last 16 as a commissioner.
Nevertheless, he and his fellow elected officials were subjected to intense scrutiny by the public and a good share of criticism, some earned and a lot unearned.
While public officials are and should be held to high expectations, it is difficult for many individuals to personally justify the sacrifices that have to be made in what should be a noble pursuit of service to others and their community.
Franke’s decision to step down was made in large part because of his age (68) and his sense that it was time to turn over his duties to someone younger.
Yet, as we make this transition, it is important that we as a community not overlook the fact that this one individual dedicated more than a third of his life to serving the public in an elective position.
It is not just the service that has to be taken into account. Franke and all others who serve in elective positions put themselves before the voting public at a number of intervals. It is often said that politics requires a tough skin, but even the most hardened are tested by verbal attacks that sometimes strike at their personal lives.
It speaks to Franke’s humility that during an interview with John Clark of The Republic he said that he had never prepared an acceptance speech for any of the election nights he experienced as a candidate. The only words he committed to paper in advance of the returns were framed in the form of a concession.
Elected officials like Franke are paid stipends for their service, but those amounts often translate to pennies on the hour. Both as a council member and commissioner, he spent countless hours beyond scheduled meetings to delve deeply into the operations of government.
In serving the public, Franke and other elected officials have put forth their beliefs in how to best make government run. Sometimes those beliefs run counter to those of their constituents, setting up confrontations that can become heated and occasionally personal. There are times when individuals have to modify their beliefs in order to get things accomplished and serve the public good.
It is one thing to stubbornly insist upon a particular position in a national arena, but in settings like Bartholomew County government, good government is often dependent on the ability of officials to work together, regardless of their personal beliefs.
Paul Franke is only one of a very large number of local residents who have devoted great parts of their lives to public service. We should hold high expectations for these individuals, but we should also recognize that their sacrifice often comes at a personal cost for them and their families.
We should be grateful that there are still those willing to make that sacrifice.