This article was originally published on GoErie.com on March 6th, 2015 .
Serving in public office -- be it on school boards, municipal councils or row offices -- is no cakewalk. With the exception of a few seats, there's no way one could honestly associate the salaries paid for these positions as being a driving force to run for office. There are several hundred such officials representing our region and communities across the 38 municipalities and 13 school districts in Erie County. Most of us ran because of altruistic reasons and work long hours that often go unseen. Most of us hold other jobs and have to balance public service with work and family. The majority of public officials whom I have met are decent people who want to collaborate, share ideas and take meaningful action wherever possible. It would be wrong and irresponsible for any of us to make immature character attacks just because we disagree with their methods or perspectives. Given the responsibilities before us, however mundane or contentious, our every action (or lack thereof) is rightfully open for scrutiny, and as difficult as it may be for my elected peers to hear, Pat Howard's lament about our "lackluster political class" in his Aug. 17, 2014, column, "Nonprofits helping to fill void left by elected officials," bears some truth. We haven't delivered anything transformational, anywhere. There might be the rallying speeches, program announcements, meaningful recognitions or events of interest, but if you're looking for significant long-term change, you won't find it. Good has been done, and continues to be done, but "doing good" is not enough. My military experience taught me that leadership takes risk, and it takes guts. It's not something to be mistaken with management or responsibility; having or doing either does not make one a leader. Leadership must be learned, practiced and exercised. And leaders aren't afraid to bear the burden of putting themselves on the line for something greater. We cannot shackle ourselves from action because we're afraid of upsetting someone, nor should we hesitate to hold each other accountable, future political ambitions be damned. We're all taxpaying citizens, which gives us the right to challenge the status quo, but being in elected office we have the irrefutable responsibility to do just that. If leaders' feelings or egos get hurt because they were challenged to do something more or different, they should probably rethink their choice in serving. Public office is not a job for the reluctant or weak-willed. If something isn't working in our community, then we need to fix it. We can't hold grudges, we can't pass the buck, and we can't do it alone. Let's work together, holding each other accountable, and throw this risk aversion in the trash can along with the petty turf wars where they belong. We all ran for office on platforms of leadership; it's time to be those leaders. JAY BRENEMAN, who represents Erie County Council's 4th District, lives in Erie with his wife, Jamie, and their two children. He is a licensed social worker and served in the U.S. Army from 2002 to 2009, including two tours in Iraq (email@example.com).
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