Ethics in Local Government

Ethics in Local Government

The guest in class this week has me seriously thinking on local government and how we establish trust with the public. As engineers and in any other profession. We commented that you trust your doctor to look out for diseases and to talk care of you, just like you likely trust your government, or at least local government.

When I grew up I wanted to be president. As I aged I thought I wanted nothing to do with that career and switched into engineering but lately, admittedly since around summer of 2016, I realized that the people who run for public office really have no job requirements other than winning a vote. To me, that is terrifying. You always assume that your president, mayor, head of EPA or even your school board is looking out for you, but what if they aren’t? Who is keeping them in check and what can you do if you think that elected officials are no longer working “for the people”?

I was talking to a friend about this very issue and he mentioned that when he visited Hong Kong, the main thing he noticed was that pharmacies are stock full of baby formula. He explained that he heard it was because, for a while, Chinese baby formula was contaminated with pesticides that caused a whole host of negative health effects in infants. Now Chinese parents who can afford it buy British sourced formula in Hong Kong and take it back to mainland China whenever they can. This lack of trust in the government is unfortunately something I am becoming more familiar with but it is not something I grew up with.

My brother volunteered with our city council this summer and was in charge of researching the public record background of candidates running for office. Its a little offputting to me that no one else is in charge of this within the government but I guess I can see why. His research uncovered multiple candidates with pasts that I would not want for my government officials. Multiple candidates had serious offenses ( not felonies which would take them out of the running) and three had serious character flaws when you began researching their public record history. This is not who I want representing me in government, but then who should? This summer our Mayor decided to bisect a city park serving low income youth for an access road for the nearby golf course. He did this with parks and recreation funds and with a mayoral executive order. On the night of the city council vote when it could be overturned, only 3 of the 5 council members showed up and at least 4 were needed for the vote to win. My brother spent the rest of the summer researching other ways to stop the park from getting destroyed and that is still ongoing but I’m realizing that the people we place in our local governmental offices have more power over our daily lives than we would like to think.

Ideally kids can go to the park without a road running through it. They shouldn’t have to look both ways to get the frisbee that went to the other half of a previously large park, but that may not be the case anymore. We trust our local government to make sure the town’s bills are paid, the lights can be turned on and any local initiatives are taking place. We trust them to keep our schools running and our water clean. When people don’t hold up their end of a job they ran to convince you they should have, what should we do? We can’t kick everyone out of government but we can work on making sure that people realize being a member of local government is a responsibility and not a privilege. The public’s life is in your control and local government is not just a stepping stone to better things.

I like to think of our government as a collection of Leslie Knope’s trying to look after us, but I fear its not and it is our responsibility to change that. We can all vote, we can all run for office ( assuming you can fund it and don’t get me started on that). As a community we are responsible for others and I feel like in our politicized times we often forget that. I’m excited to keep going on with this course to discuss further the responsibilities of the engineer in this equation, but ethics do not just fall on you as an engineer. They rely on you evaluating the community you live in and deciding what it should look like.


2 Responses

  1. Marina says:

    Thank you for mentioning Leslie Knope. She is an inspiration even though her character in Parks and Recreation is pushed to an extreme. I completely agree with you. First of all, I don't think we know who we really elect and I think there is an entire public relation team behind every candidate, making sure that you don't find out who they really are. At the end of the day, we elect the person they created in their office, not really the man he is. Then, I believe most politician or any kind of public worker truly grasp the meaning of their role in the community. Maybe because they don't run in the first place for the good reason or maybe because being on top of the food chain was their real goal. Why work when you already achieve what you wanted?
    To be honest, I am happy not to be the only cynical person in the class. That said, let's hope our generation will do better.

  2. I really like your point about public office being a responsibility and not a privilege. It seems to be this trend (that I'm just now getting to be aware of) that people are taking advantage of a system where it is few and far between finding people who give a s**t. I really admire your image of the Leslie Knopes of the world who see public office as the most canonical appointment a person can aspire to. I think we can all learn a lot from your optimistic view of a future where only the most qualified people get into office and my cynical nature will continue to try and keep its mind open to change.

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