Emerging Generations in Local Government – 19

We’re continuing our series in the Cookingham Connection with a perspective from an emerging leader in local government. You heard what Interim City Manager Ed Wyatt had to say about Cookingham’s 19th guidepost. Now hear it from the perspective of Vanessa Shrauner. Vanessa is the Development Coordinator for Odessa, Texas. She earned her MPA from Texas State University.

Guidepost #19:

Always remember that you will never get in trouble or be embarrassed by doing what is right. You may lose your job for standing up for what you think is right, but you’ll always get another and better job. Besides, you will be able to sleep soundly…

I would like to start by saying we never know what might “get us in trouble” or cause us embarrassment when it comes to working in municipal governments. Therefore, I would like to take a little liberty and rephrase Mr. Cookingham’s statement while hopefully keeping the intent. If you get in trouble or are embarrassed by doing what is right, it will quickly be relieved by a clear conscience. So, while you may lose your job, you will have maintained your integrity and values and typically employers respect that; therefore, you will get another job and it may be better. Good things happen to good people.

Doing what is right is typically aligned with staying true to one’s own core values. Core values are determined in a variety of ways in peoples’ lives, so values differ from person to person; therefore, doing what is “right” can differ from person to person. The best-case scenario in municipal government is that a manager’s core values are in line with decision/policy makers. This scenario makes maintaining a moral path easier in that basically everyone is on the same page. In doing what is right, the manager has the support of the decision makers.

Should the manager’s core values not be in line with the board or council, then staying true to one’s beliefs of right and wrong becomes more difficult. Here’s where the “you may lose your job” part comes in. Each individual must decide for themselves their limits on their integrity. If a council asks you to do something that you believe is not right, you have options. Most of us are members of organizations that protect us in ethical matters. However, there may still be instances where a request goes against one’s values and that leads to the firing or the voluntary resignation of a manager. In other times, the option may be to say/do nothing, depending on the circumstance. If saying or doing nothing does not violate your personal values and can still meet the needs of policy makers, it may be the most viable solution.

Another aspect I think is worth mentioning is being flexible, not with your personal values, but with your view of the values of others. I believe that trying to look at circumstances from the other side may warrant us adjusting or revisiting the limits of our values from time to time. Being that right and wrong can vary from person to person, there is another perspective for us to observe circumstances from. Things are not always as black and white as they may seem in the beginning and a little re-evaluation and introspection may give us the ability to compromise and reach a solution which works for all parties. I find this an integral part of the job I do on a daily basis. Now, not every decision is an ethical challenge, but the practice of seeing both sides of a situation allows me to exercise that skill when the stakes are higher.

Applying this in my career means knowing my values, knowing my manager’s values, and knowing where I can be flexible. I fully anticipate a conflict of values at some point in my career so, should I face the instance of losing my job for doing what I believe is right, I hope I can do so with my values and integrity intact. And I always hope I stay true to my core values because, as Mr. Wyatt said, I have to be able to live with myself.

The Cookingham Connection blog series is published in partnership with Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). ELGL members are local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating, and educating.

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