POSTED BY HANK REICHMAN
Most Americans know California’s Napa Valley as a tourist destination and the source of many of the country’s finest wines. But people live there too, of course, and many of them go to school. Specifically, many attend Napa Valley College, the local community college. Last week Doug Ernst, the public information officer published an op-ed in the Napa Valley Register, comparing his experience over several decades in the private sector with his work at the college. It’s worth quoting at some length:
In January, after having worked 40 years in the private sector, I began a new career in public service, as Public Information Officer (PIO) for Napa Valley College.
Napa Valley folks who have known me for 38 of those years often ask how public service is different from private business. . . .
In the private sector, especially in the news business, decisions are made rather quickly, and actions are taken without too much internal debate. In the news business, the debate often takes place externally, out in the community, after stories are published and the paper hits the fan.
The public sector is different. Not better or worse. Just different.
First, I am enjoying my PIO stint at the college tremendously, as I am learning firsthand that public servants care deeply about the quality of the work they do.
As a journalist, I had developed a cynical view of public workers because my training taught me that my job was to keep elected officials honest. Now, as a public servant, I am pleasantly surprised to see how honestly public workers do their jobs.
For one thing, public officials don’t make decisions as quickly as folks in the private sector. This may come as no surprise to government critics who say public officials are too slow and should instead operate “more like a business.”
I used to think that, too.
But my position as an insider has given me the gift of a new perspective regarding how public service actually works. It’s called “shared governance.”
Now I see that each sector of the college is consulted before key decisions are made.
Why does this communication take place at every level? Because each sector – faculty, classified staff, administrators, students and community partners – has a vital role to play in making sure the final decisions are positive for the college and the taxpaying public.
The downside of that process is that it usually (always) takes public officials longer to make decisions than private business owners.
The upside is that, when decisions are made with everyone’s input, every sector can say they had a say in what’s best for the college and the community. It’s a “measure twice, cut once” philosophy.
I have learned that, even when a public agency decision is not universally accepted, the system of shared governance is universally respected.
I’m not sure if every government agency works as well as it does at Napa Valley College, but, as a Napa resident since 1978, I hope that they do.