To our everyday servants: Thanks for giving

Yes, this year has been challenging. In 2020, our local public servants have been our on-the-ground heroes.

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In the last couple of years, the book The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis has stood out to me. In it, Lewis examines the important role federal bureaucrats play in keeping us safe and advancing citizens’ interests. He observed that the best bureaucrats worked in government because they believe in its mission.

While the focus of The Fifth Risk was federal, the same truth applies to our local institutions – especially in 2020. This year has been challenging. And our local servants have been its heroes.

Examples abound. Earlier this month, I visited with a friend who is a superintendent at a small school. He said a pandemic is an especially difficult time to be a school leader; he’s not qualified in epidemiology, but the local school board looks to his expertise to keep students and staff safe and in school.

Many of our school superintendents implemented mask mandates based on their best information and guidance. This was not always popular, but it was effective. In Southwest Nebraska, our schools have been one of the best organizations to prevent COVID-19 spread, even as coronavirus is again spiking in our region. Superintendents deserve our thanks for the difficult decisions they’ve made.

The message to follow CDC guidelines, such as wearing masks and socially distancing, has come the strongest from our local hospital – an operation filled with heroes. Health-care staff is on the front lines, providing regular services while putting themselves in harm’s way to help those infected with the virus. Hospital administrators have developed plans, backup plans, and backups to their backups. They’ve also gotten the message out to follow CDC guidelines and help prevent community spread.

This fall, in a unique election season, local election officials rose to the occasion and became heroes, as well. With more than 153 million votes – at least 65 million of them early mail-in ballots (including mine) – it was an election like no other.

There are 3,143 counties and county-equivalents in the United States. Election officials, county clerks, and volunteers occupy the important, nonpartisan roles of counting every vote. Amid immense pressure and unsubstantiated claims of substantial voter fraud, election officials in counties and cities across the country successfully executed the largest election in U.S. history, all while dealing with a surging pandemic.

These servants – and countless others who don’t regularly make national headlines – are not in these roles for fame or fortune. They’re there to serve us and our communities. They often hear our criticism but rarely our thanks.

So, as we enter the holiday season, here is to the local officials who make our communities, counties, state, and country work: I’m thankful for county clerks who make our counties run and our elections fair. I’m thankful for local health-care workers, who sacrifice their personal health to keep us healthy and safe. And I’m thankful for school officials, who do what’s best for the students and staff – even when some parents and community members may disagree.

America works because our local communities work. Our strength is in our neighbors and public servants who make our daily lives better. As we move our towns and cities forward, we can’t waste time worrying so much about what happens in Washington. Because locally is where the work happens.

Andy Long is executive director of the McCook Economic Development Corp. He also is the director of Cultivate Rural Leaders, a nonprofit organization providing rural communities and organizations with leadership education. For more Civic Nebraska Writers Group columns, click here.

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