Kasey Wright served as City Attorney in American Fork from 2008 to 2018. He now serves as City Attorney in Nephi and also represents the Juab School District. He lives and practices in Juab County. He wrote this primarily for his own community but graciously allowed it to be reprinted here.
“A community is only as good as those who live in it.” I read this in a Nephi city council candidate’s campaign pamphlet. While this statement is true, it is even more true that a community is only as good as those who serve in it.
Community service comes in many forms: coaching little league, shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, volunteering at the 4th of July or Pioneer Day celebrations. Generally, we praise and appreciate those who provide community service. But there is one type of public servant who all too often is mocked and disrespected for their service: our local city council, commissioners, and school board members.
What Local Officials Do
For a decade and a half, I have had the opportunity to work closely with local elected officials. During that time, I have learned their job description can be summarized as:
- Dedicate hours of your time for little to no financial compensation,
- Lose life-long friends for voting your conscience on difficult issues,
- Be vilified and have your character defamed for doing your best to make our cities and schools a better place, and
- Before getting this job, spend personal time and money campaigning for the job, thereby placing your ego on the altar of public opinion.
Sounds appealing, right? Wait, it gets better.
What We Do to Public Servants
In the last year alone, on social media and in public forums, the character and motives of our public servants have been attacked using the harshest of terms. This goes beyond being critical of a decision. We all have the right to do that as Americans. It goes to ascribing the basest of motives to men and women who at personal sacrifice are trying to do what is in the best interest of their friends, neighbors, and those they serve.
This didn’t happen in Washington D.C. or “up north.” It happened right here in Juab County.
Speaking of what it means to be an American, for far too many it means sitting at the diner or behind the electronic device, criticizing leaders and opining about how we could do better, yet never actually doing anything to bring about positive change. The school board and city council routinely hold open houses and public hearings, begging for public input, but public attendance at these events and regularly scheduled meetings is virtually nonexistent. Apathy toward and uneducated criticism of local government are not American virtues.
Conversely, our council members, commissioners, and school board members represent true American values. They don’t just talk. They back it up by dedicating their time, talents, and souls to make our community better. It is not uncommon for school board members to spend all day being trained in ways to help students (often expending personal PTO), and then attend a board meeting that evening, implementing what they learned. Similarly, council members work late into the night, multiple evenings a week, making decisions that improve our quality of life.
Surprisingly, the substantial sacrifice of personal time is the easier part of being a public servant. The grueling part is mentally and emotionally agonizing over doing what is right for your community and students, now and for generations to come. Our elected officials understand that with American rights comes American responsibility.
It is time to give our local officials the praise and recognition they deserve. They are not perfect, and it is not wrong for us to criticize their decisions, if we have an educated disagreement. But, we should not defame their character simply because we oppose their decision.
So, to our local elected officials and those who are running for those positions:
Thank you for dedicating your time to make our lives better.
Thank you for struggling emotionally and mentally to make the right decision.
And thank you for answering President Kennedy’s call to “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
What We Must Do
To the rest of us: recognize that the power in this country still lies with the people! As Theodore Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts.”
If we are unhappy with government, then we need to work to improve it. Get involved on the local level. Attend board meetings and council meetings. Get educated about the issues. The right decisions on the local level will make for right decisions on the state level. The right decisions on the state level will make for good federal government.
Seek out and demand accuracy from our media. Do not get sucked in by left and right media outlets — we all know who they are — who pander for ratings and stoke fears, seeking control. Do not accept the defeatist position that there is nothing we can do about it.
Voting for the lesser of two evils is not acceptable. We need to find and elect women and men who are worthy of their office and public trust. They are out there!
Freedom is won on the battle field and preserved by informed, involved, freedom-loving citizens. When everyday Americans commit to improving local, state, and federal government, then this nation shall again, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “have a new birth of freedom” and be a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”