This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, January 21, 1998

January 21, 1998 - Serving on Public Boards

Criticizing our government is one of the most popular spectator sports in America. It's common wisdom that whenever three people get together to represent the public needs, they immediately sell out, become idiots and crooks, or were chowderheads to begin with. (The idea is that anyone who wants a public position should be disqualified on that basis alone.)

And if you never have to serve on a public board yourself, you can probably nurse this opinion your whole life.

But the time may come when you see a way you can contribute to the governance of some public body. You may see it as looking after your own interests, which is certainly true. Immediately, some horrible discoveries are forced on you.

First, you realize that things are sometimes more complex than they appear, and you may have to do some very careful listening and thinking.

Second, you learn that there really are some differences between public and private business. Often, governmental agencies are formed to solve a problem or perform some necessary service because no business can make a profit on it, or the potential costs to the customers would be ruinous. (Ruination of customers for necessary services is considered "contrary to the public good.")

Further, there is an obligation to be open in a way that many businesses are not, to be more aware of and committed to a process of public review and commentary. This sometimes slows things down. But in America we strive for "the consent of the governed."

On the other hand, there are many similarities between public and private agencies. A budget is a budget. Customer service is customer service. There are sound management principles and unsound. A good private board member follows many of the same rules of conduct as a good public board member.

According to the Colorado Division of Local Government, there are over a hundred special districts right here in Douglas County. Most are governed by public boards. Given so many positions and so few people with the time or inclination to serve, it's a safe bet that many of those board members are new to their positions. Of those, some have not held either governance or management positions before. If they have consciences -- and a conscience is what got them into this fix in the first place -- they realize that they could benefit from some extra training.

To that end, and because good government is predicated on well-informed citizens, the Douglas Public Library District is pleased to announce a special half-day workshop on Saturday, January 24, at the Philip S. Miller Library.

Our key presenter and facilitator is Pat Wagner of Pattern Research. Pat has provided board training sessions in the private, public and non-profit sectors for almost 20 years. Among her topics will be:

* What do you bring to the table?

* Ethics, Conflict of Interest and Personal Preference vs. the Public Good.

* Board Interaction with Staff: Boundaries and Micromanagement.

* Advocacy: Communication with the Public about Key Issues.

I'll also be slipping in a short presentation highlighting free sources of community information, and opining about the pitfalls of institutional arrogance.

If you serve on a board in Douglas County, you should already have gotten a mailing from us about this free workshop, which is open to public board members and executive directors only. But if you have NOT received such a letter and would like to attend, please contact Cindy Murphy, Public Relations Manager, at 841-6942 as soon as possible.

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