HomeOpinionOPINION: Public servants are needed much more than politicians

OPINION: Public servants are needed much more than politicians

By Olivia Abernathy

Guest columnist

“Have you always wanted to be a politician?” 

I have been asked that question many times since deciding to run for the County Commission over a year ago. I’ve served on the Commission now for 10 months, and I still cringe every time someone refers to me as a “politician.” Yes, I ran for a political office, but I don’t want to be counted in the same ranks as many of the characters I see on the national news.  

Politicians are driven by personal ambition, status, and financial gain. Politicians yell at each other, lie on the record, and act like toddlers on national television. Politicians push simplistic partisan narratives and make decisions in the interest of their party, not the people they represent. Politicians frequently are caught in scandals and indiscretion. No, No. We don’t need any more politicians. 

What we do need is more public servants. 

The difference is more than mere semantics. Public servants lead with a genuine desire to improve the lives of the people they represent, not their own personal agendas.  Public servants do the hard work of asking questions, analyzing data, and making decisions based on facts. They care about the wellbeing of their community. Public servants tell the truth, even when it’s not popular. 

Perhaps so many of our political issues and divides are a result of too many leaders acting like politicians instead of public servants.  

The Jackson City Council will welcome five new members on July 6. This major transition on the Council comes on the cusp of tremendous opportunity for Jackson-Madison County. Since joining the County Commission, almost every conversation I am in somehow circles back to the unprecedented growth coming to the region. There are great things ahead. The new Council also coincides with a Presidential election season that is guaranteed to be fraught with divisive political theater. Tensions on the national level will likely trickle down to tables right here in Jackson. The new council is stepping into a big moment in our community’s story – a moment that will require selfless and visionary leadership. We don’t need politicians, we need public servants. 

 A few nights ago I spent the evening with friends celebrating two of the outgoing council members, Ross Priddy and Paul Taylor. Both councilmen had relatively short but incredibly impactful tenures on the council and have decided to step away to focus on their personal and family lives. It was a bittersweet night. I am happy and relieved for them and their families, but the loss of their leadership will be huge. 

Ross Priddy has been a friend to my family longer than he’s been on the council. I’ve always trusted his measured wisdom and attention to detail. As I’ve seen him lead and worked alongside him, I’ve been struck by his willingness to ask hard questions and his commitment to truth and reason. He led with integrity. 

I met Paul Taylor through our shared work at Hands Up! Preschool- him as a board member and me as a staff member. I could tell pretty soon after meeting him that Paul had a brilliant mind and a deeply caring heart. Paul’s impact on the City Council has been farther reaching than most citizens will ever know. He put in many hours of unseen labor improving processes, reviewing codes and ordinances, studying data, and helping move good work forward. 

If I knew the other outgoing council members like I do Ross and Paul, I would likely be able to say as many great things about them. The track record for this council speaks for itself. Under their leadership, the City saw major improvements in financial health. They established Budget and Audit Committees to provide oversight, reduced the City’s debt by $33 million, and increased the fund balance by $21 million. Under this council, Police Officers received significant pay increases, with an average raise of 12%. Ground has been broken on a new senior center, animal care center, homeless shelter, and recycling center. Councilman Taylor’s efforts to revamp the Jackson Transit Authority led to improved services and customer experience through the implementation of GPS tracking and mobile pay options. As a citizen of Jackson, I am deeply grateful for the work of this council and I am hopeful for our future.   

After a couple of hours with friends celebrating two great leaders, I left challenged and encouraged in my own role. These men did not lead like politicians. They led like true public servants. I hope to do the same. 

And now they pass on the torch to a new group of leaders. In this critical moment in our community’s story, I hope the incoming council members will rise above politics and power and embrace the noble call to selfless public service. 

Olivia Abernathy (I) is a County Commissioner representing District 2. The Jackson Post’s opinion/editorial page is meant to help launch public discussion of local issues or allow local people to discuss national or statewide issues. To join the discussion, send a guest column or letter to the editor to brandon@jacksonpost.news. 

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