Once upon a time, municipalities had civil servants—employees whose job was to serve the residents. Today, we mostly have bureaucrats who act as if the public should serve the bureaucracy.
Its time to bring back the civil servant.
Today servant is a very unpopular term. No one wants to be a servant. Regrettably, it has become a negative word synonymous with an abused peon. The title civil servant has largely disappeared from use in context with municipal employees and their elected officials.
In my opinion, this loss of identity has resulted in a decline in the quality of public services.
What is a civil servant?
Civil is an adjective pertaining to the ordinary citizens, like you and I. Servant is simply a person in service to others. It is not a slave or any other derogatory inference.
Municipal employees provide services to the community’s residents. They are “civil servants” by definition.
What is your experience with interaction with your municipal government and its employees? When you enter municipal facilities, do you feel immediately welcomed? Or do you feel unwelcome, an inconvenience?
Entering many town or city halls today can be a very negative experience. In those cultures, if acknowledged at all, you are met with a frigid welcome. You have inconvenienced the establishment with your presence.
Some employees, after years of public service without the clear strategic priority of civil service, are no longer there to serve the public. They have become conditioned to collect a wage, build a pension and serve the municipal bureaucracy, rather than its residents.
Of course, there are always employee’s who are shining stars. In fact, at Revelstoke City Hall, there is one person who epitomizes the caring civil servant. For this article, I will not use her real name. I will call her Nice because, well, she is nice — to everyone. Nice is even nice those who don’t deserve it. Those who work in City Hall probably know what Nice’s real name is.
If Nice is at the front desk, you are greeted cheerfully when you enter City Hall. Even when it is very busy, Nice will give you a direct glance and a smile. In an instant, you exist and are important. That nice smile goes a long way.
Nice is the sunshine in the sometimes-gloomy bureaucracy.
Everyone at City Hall could learn the techniques that Nice implements throughout the day in her interaction with others. Nice is always nice to people.
Even the councillors could learn from Nice. The council members are generally pretty good people; however, some are from time to time dismissive of people that have opinions that don’t align with theirs.
Perhaps they could ask Nice to give a workshop for employees and councillors on how to be nice to citizens. She can show what it really means to be a civil servant. Nice will demonstrate that being a true civil servant is an honour and elevates you in public esteem.
After a lengthy delay, the Revelstoke city council has released its, politically correct, strategic plan. Hopefully, city staff will create an implementation plan and share that with the public. The strategic plan frequently refers to municipal services.
At the very end of the strategic plan, it states the City of Revelstoke will “focus on creating a service culture to improve service to the public.”
It is unclear how they plan to focus on that noble achievement of public service. And there is a good chance they haven’t yet told their employees of this objective.
I suggest bringing back the civil servant would be a good start in transforming the service culture in the city. Yes, that would be nice.
Tim Palmer, a municipal bureaucrat for more than 25 years, now assists municipalities.