Category Archives: KU School of Public Affairs and Administration

Remarks on Charles Jones’ Retirement: Danielle Marten

Good afternoon,

My name is Danielle Marten. I am a 2011 graduate of the Certified Public Manager program through the KU Public Management Center and I am a current MPA student.  I have been fortunate enough to learn many valuable lessons from Charles during both the CPM and MPA program.

For anyone in the room that has heard his retelling of a mad hatter named Sgt Boston Corbett to those that have participated in his tour of the State House, you know that he can make history come to life.  From his love of history, I learned that you must look at where you have been in order to clearly assess your current situation.  Do not lose sight of the big picture.

Charles also taught me to make sure you have the right people at the table when you are trying to move a new idea forward. By right people, I do not mean those that always agree with you.  You must also include those with differing opinions as great solutions often come when a single idea is challenged.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from Charles is the value of experience. Throughout my MPA program, he brought professionals from various public agencies to speak to our classes regarding what it is really like to apply the knowledge we learned in a real world setting.  As a practitioner himself, he also brought his past experiences and advice to the classroom.  This was specifically true as I was experiencing an ethical challenge while I enrolled in his ethics class.  Charles helped me not only realize the true ethical dilemma I was dealing with but he also helped guide me towards an appropriate solution.

In closing, I am not only here to speak from my own experiences. I was asked to speak from a student perspective.  That being said, I contacted a few of his former students and asked for their perspective as to what they learned from Charles.  I would like to share a couple of those responses with you today.

The first is from Emily Farley.  She writes “Charles led his lectures with enthusiasm for public service.  His background was a true testament of the dedication to public administration as he served at multiple levels of government.  With those experiences and his academic education he taught students to write beautifully, and to think ethically.  I find Charles to be authentic and compassionate for his fellow professors and students.  He has made an impact in how I want to be seen as a public servant to Kansans and I am very grateful for all the lessons I have learned”.

The second is from Carla Williams. She writes “I was personally and professionally challenged by Professor Jones, for which I am absolutely grateful.  I appreciate his candor and his mesmerizing skill with storytelling and playing the ukulele.  I have carried from one class to the next concepts such as bounded rationality, punctuated equilibrium and identifying and assessing ideological constructs.  I am thankful I had the opportunity to learn from him just as he was thankful to have learned from Heifetz.

Charles, on behalf of all of your former students, thank you. We are grateful for everything you have taught us and we wish you luck with the next chapter of your life.

Thank you.

Danielle Marten, CFP

Traffic Safety Consultant

Bureau of Transportation Safety & Technology

Kansas Department of Transportation

Remarks on Charles Jones’ Retirement: Dr. George Frederickson

Charles Jones Retirement Reception remarks by George Frederickson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus, School of Public Affairs and Administration, University of Kansas


Charles Jones

Charles Jones, former director

I am sure you will all agree that Charles Jones is a serious man. He is a man of high purposes.  Charles Jones is a man to be reckoned with.

How do we know this?

First, there is the matter of his name.

He is Charles Jones.

He is not Charlie Jones.

He is not Chuck Jones.

And he is certainly not Chucky Jones.

Charles Jones, a serious man, a man of high purposes, a man to be reckoned with.

In his early years Charles lived in Arizona and New Mexico. Then, at about age 12, his family moved to Los Angeles, but not just any place in L.A., they moved to the San Fernando Valley.

You have all heard of “valley girls.” Well, the “valley” in “valley girls” is the San Fernando Valley section of Los Angeles.  Valley girls tend to be blond, toned, tanned, well dressed and to spend a lot of time at the mall, and to be, as the song says, material girls.  And they have their own language.   Like totally rad, what—ever.

You may not have heard of “valley boys.” Valley boys are trim and fit, avoid fried foods, and have good hair.  They eat avocados.  Avocados grow like kudzu in the San Fernando Valley.

Valley boys and girls do not go to movies, they go to films, and especially to film festivals.

Charles graduated from Van Nuys High School, in the heart of the Valley. Other distinguished valley boys who graduated from Van Nuys High School include:

Clint Eastwood

Robert Redwood

Don Drysdale

Stacy Keach

Do you see where Charles Jones fits here? Lean, well dressed, good hair, avocados.

Who else graduated from Van Nuys High School?

Natalie Wood

Jane Russell

Marilyn Monroe

I rest my case.

After high school Charles completed two years at Pierce College in the Valley.

Charles then moved to Lawrence and enrolled in the University of Kansas, majoring in biology. There are rumors that a young lady may have influenced  Charles’  decision to move to Kansas.  But never mind.  Far be it from me to monger a rumor.

Not long after coming to Lawrence, Charles befriended Francis Horowitz, the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies at KU. Over the years Dr. Horowitz became Charles’ good friend, wise mentor, and muse.

After graduation Charles took a position in the government of the State of Kansas, initially with the Kansas Corporation Commission. He steadily advanced in the range of his responsibilities and accomplishments.  His final position in state government was four years as the Director of Environment Agency in the Department of Health and Environment in the administration of Governor Joan Finney, where he was responsible for more than 400 employees and a budget of more than 40 million dollars.  At the completion of the Finney administration in 1995, and after XXXX years of state service, it is safe to say that no one knew more about Kansas environmental policy than Charles Jones.

Along the way Charles stepped away from state government for two years, 1987 and 1988, to earn an MPA degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. While there he took a particular interest in transformational leadership.

After the Finney administration, Charles consulted for a couple of years. Then, in 1998 he was elected a Douglas County Commissioner.  It might be said that Charles was a bit over prepared for a position on the county commission.  He was twice elected and served for over 5 years.

In the midwinter of 2003, I was summoned to Strong Hall where I was given the bad news that the wonderful Joe Harkin was resigning as Director of the KU Public Management Center. I was asked to serve as Interim Director of the Center and as Chair of the search committee for a new director.  It was during the course of searching for a new PMC director that I first came in contact with Charles.  He was appointed the new Director on August 1st, 2003, just a month shy of 11 years ago.

Over the course of that 11 years, Charles and I worked together on sundry committees and projects, and seldom missed an opportunity to talk about public administration, about leadership, about Kansas, and about politics.   We often lunch together, with Charles ordering something with avocado in it.

Charles has become a valued member of the faculty, a voice of reason and insight. He is often the source of different and original ways of looking at things.  As a faculty member he carried essentially a full teaching load while directing the PMC.  And, his teaching is superb.

As I reflect on the past 11 years it comes to me that Charles was simultaneously teaching transformational  leadership in the MPA curriculum and practicing transformational leadership at the PMC.  Transformation is about change and betterment.  Charles is a man who practices what he preaches.  Here are some of the transformations that Charles led:

  1. Shifted the organizational arrangements for the PMC from Continuing Education to what is now the School of Public Affairs and Administration.
  2. Greatly expanded the number of students in the Certified Public Manager Program, most particularly increasing the number of city, county and other local government CPM students.
  3. Significantly increased the number of CPM students who moved into the career MPA program.
  4. It is safe to say that the University of Kansas now has one of the top CPM programs in the country.
  5. Moved the day-to-day operations of the PMC from Topeka to the central offices of the School of Public Affairs and Administration in Wescoe Hall on the Lawrence Campus.
  6. Relocated the PMC Topeka classrooms to the Brown v. Board of Education building.
  7. Established the Law Enforcement Leadership Academy in conjunction with the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center.

I know a few things about the glacial pace of university change and can say absolutely that this rate of change is astonishing.

As I said earlier, Charles is a serious man. Charles is a man of high purposes.  Charles is a man to be reckoned with.  Douglas County is better because of Charles Jones.  The state of Kansas is better because of Charles Jones.  And, the University of Kansas is better because of Charles Jones.

Election reflections of a MPA student

election-puzzleI have to admit that growing up in Kansas I was never really interested in government or politics. Political jargon and discourse were incomprehensible and bewildering. Candidates spoke in vague generalities or made emotional appeals that simply did not register on my attention/interest radar. But through the years (though it’s only my fourth time being old enough to vote in a presidential election), and now as an MPA student, the puzzle started to piece together. This particular election year coincided with the awakening of the policy analyst in me as I was enrolled in Public Policy and Administration. We discussed topics related to policy development/implementation/frameworks, agenda settings, forming coalitions, and knowing your stakeholders. We also discussed characteristics of being a great leader in the public service arena. Obviously, there is no leadership position and responsibility loftier than the POTUS.

So, as I began habitually to watch broadcast news and other media reports, the significance and consequences of foreign and domestic policies became dramatically apparent. Every aspect of our lives is steeped in policies and their effects. We depend upon government to operate efficiently for our safety, protection, health, livelihood, and progress. It is the duty of government to create/revise policies that effectively address broad citizen concerns and needs. During any election cycle, and pointedly in the recent presidential election, we are boldly solicited, “Vote for me because I have the answers” and “If you elect me, I will fix everything.” Of course, in our representative democracy, no one person assumes praise or blame for the course of our nation. What has become most annoying, however, has been the hardened stance of party “leaders” that has produced the “brinkmanship” we suffer.  Who is willing to compromise/negotiate for the greater good?  I WANT to believe that elected officials are working for the wellbeing of our country and not for their own narrow/rigid/personal policy agendas. Whose foundation for arguments/position consists of cold facts, credible evidence, and consensus opinion?

by Kristin Kelly

Is Hiring a Volunteer Manager Enough?

Rebecca Nesbit, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of nonprofit management in the School of Public Affairs and Administration at the University of Kansas. She researches volunteer management in public and nonprofit organizations.

One of the questions that I get most often from volunteer managers (or those who have been given the responsibility for coordinating volunteer efforts) is how they can get their supervisor or executive director to support their efforts at involving volunteers in the organization.

Many executive directors think that once they hire a volunteer manager they will no longer have to worry about the volunteer program. This is not true. Volunteer managers need specific, supportive actions from their supervisors or the head of their organization in order to make the organization’s volunteer program more effective.

Do you provide adequate resources for the volunteer program? Volunteers are not free. Beyond hiring a volunteer manager, the volunteer program will need a budget for supplies, communication, and recognition activities. At the very least, the action of giving a budget to the volunteer program indicates its importance in your organization.

Do you hold staff accountable for good working relationships with volunteers? Many executive directors believe that relationships between volunteers and staff at their organization are good, but the volunteer manager often knows differently. In many instances, especially when introducing a new volunteer program, staff might be reluctant or resistant to working with volunteers. (Look for a future blog article about employee reluctance to working with volunteers.) If the organization is truly committed to using volunteers, then working productively with volunteers should be part of employee job descriptions and performance evaluations.

Do you orient and train staff in ways to work effectively with volunteers? Executive directors often assume that volunteers can fit seamlessly into their organization, but working with volunteers requires a range of skill sets—interpersonal skills, communication skills, the ability to give feedback, managerial skills and time management skills. In addition, most employees do not understand what volunteers want and need in order to help them to be effective contributors to the organization. Staff members need training and orientation in these areas before being asked to work with volunteers.

What are the most frequent issues brought to you by the manager of volunteers at your organization?

Fall 2012 School Newsletter

We’re excited to share the fall 2012 issue of our School newsletter, now available at In it you’ll find news about:

• Our recent visit from ICMA president Bob O’Neill
• The 2012 Inspiring Women conference
• Recognition our faculty have received for their work
• Recent KUCIMAT gatherings
• The John & Carol Nalbandian Scholarship

and much more. And there’s a new way to stay connected—the School is now on Facebook! Visit to like our page so that you can keep up with news about the School, our students, and your alumni colleagues.

“Great Necessities Call Out Great Virtues”

School of Public Affairs and Administration Graduation Ceremony (April 20, 2012)
Comments Delivered By Brian Handshy
Brian has been named a 2012 Presidential Management Fellow. Fewer than one percent of applicants are selected to take part in this prestigious program, which matches outstanding graduate students with federal leadership opportunities and employment. Click here to read the full article regarding Brian’s accomplishment.

I speak tonight on the ideal of dedication of self to public service.

I ask, on what occasion should humanity withdraw from personal interests and self-absorption, and rather tilt forward toward calamity, toward peril, toward possible obscurity, to preserve the hope and future comfort of its posterity?

Abigail Adams, wife and confidant to our second president, John Adams, in a letter to her son, once said what I consider to be the answer, “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are found in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues.”

“Great necessities call out great virtues” and signal best the occasion for serving others’ needs.

We, who are alive today, face no real shortage of ‘great necessity’.

Our world is smaller, faster, and daily becoming more crowded as technology extends and improves life for some, even as it exacts famine, strife, indifference, and death upon others.

Who then amongst us will answer the challenge of ‘great necessity’? I tell you tonight that in my experience, answers abound everywhere. For instance, I think of:

-Blue Hills Community Services (BHCS), a Kansas City, Missouri based non-profit affordable housing developer, who has used a block-by-block approach to urban revitalization.

In 25 years of service, BHCS has rehabilitated over 200 family units, eliminating blight, decreasing crime, creating local employment, and helping older residents to remain in their homes.


-Beth Sarver, a local artist, is committed to the idea that humanity is more than our productive capabilities. She has helped adults and children learn about the world around them through play, storytelling, and creative outlets of all kinds. Her efforts in working with local governments, non-profits, and numerous private organizations have led to the improved cognitive and social awareness of metro-area at-risk children.

Or perhaps,

-One of our own recent graduates, Chris Hoyt, who demonstrates service above self in a way that I can only aspire to; mentoring and educating not only hundreds of at-risk children in the rural villages of Mexico, but coordinating and training dozens of new volunteers, often outside of his normal work hours.

-Perhaps one of the best examples of public service that transcends any one sector of employment is the city of Greensburg, Kansas. In the aftermath of a tornado on 2007 that completely wiped away the infrastructure and physical presence of its town, when others might revel in despair, the people, government, administration, and businesses of this small town came together to re-imagine what a rural community can be in the 21st century. They have become a world icon of green-energy solutions, collaborative power, and the immense durability of a society that values the potential of the future, rather than the constraints of the past.

It is important, I think, that we see in these examples that public service is not the story of one person’s challenge or endurance, but the narrative of a committed few working to inspire and reach out to others.

Public service brings about a familiar vision of bureaucracy and politics. A vision that of late, has met with distrust, disgust, and contempt in many citizens’ minds. I don’t blame them, considering the examples of service in popular news media where servants have squandered both the financial resources and the delicate trust that they have sworn in many instances to uphold.

But, with this in mind, I challenge all of you to remember that together we have done wonderful things as a species, things greater than any one mind could imagine possible.

With this in mind, as some of us move on from graduation to career advancement and potentially more responsibility, and as others leave this graduation banquet to resume daily duties; I ask please that you endeavor to improve the lives of others around you.

Endeavor to work as a volunteer, or run for office, or offer your ideas and skills to your local government. Conversely, if you are privileged to serve the public as a government employee already – remember to listen and engage. These are not just customers, but your neighbors, family, and friends.

I began this speech with a quote from Abigail Adams, and so too will I close with one. One that I think best presents the challenge and the power of public service.

“Public business, my son, must always be done by somebody. It will be done by somebody or another. If wise men decline it, others will not; if honest men refuse it, others will not.”

Here’s to celebrating those with the wisdom and courage amongst us – those who accept this challenge on our behalf.

Reflections on Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference: Katherine Carttar

By Katherine Carttar (KU MPA 2012) & Margaret Mahoney (KU MPA 2012)

The 36 year hiatus after the first women’s conference has almost been forgiven as the second “Inspiring Women in Public Administration Conference” in two years displayed real potential for the conference to become a nationally-recognized and attended annual event. Over 150 women and a handful of men attended the one day event hosted by the KU School of Public Affairs and Administration and KU Public Management Center on the K-State Olathe campus. Dynamic speakers, such as Treasurer of the United States Rosie Rios, inspired us to take every opportunity to empower the women around us. International attendees from Middle Eastern countries, at KU for a month taking classes with the KU Women’s Leadership Institute, helped us view our environment through a new lens. Their awestruck reaction to seeing a woman in a police uniform [Ellen Hanson, Chief of Police for the City of Lenexa, KS] illustrates how far we have come, but the fact that there was only one woman in uniform in attendance also shows how far we still have to go. As we participated in thought-provoking roundtable discussions and good conversation, common themes began to emerge as issues important to women in public administration.

One of the recurring themes throughout the day was the need for civility as professionals in public service. The topic was addressed in the morning panel and in both the morning and afternoon breakout groups. Julia Novak, President of The Novak Consulting Group, gave some great advice on the topic of how to handle incivility. She pointed out the need for more deliberation and less debate. Deliberation is a skill that we can all learn and practice, and it includes using negotiation and compromise. As a leader, you set the tone—so don’t allow incivility, don’t do it, and practice respect. This advice was echoed by Beth Linn, City Administrator with the City of Edgerton, who stated that we should lead by example and treat others with respect. Karen Davis, Senior Management Advisor with Management Partners Inc. and conference Chair, also noted the importance of diffusing incivility up front—do not assume it will get better as time goes by. Incivility is an unpleasant reality faced by many public service professionals, but with this advice it can be dealt with proactively and professionally.

The importance of honing the skill of good communication was referenced repeatedly throughout the day. In a morning breakout session, Sheryl Sculley, City Manager of Antonio, TX, described communication as a necessary skill to acquire in order to make the leap to the top. Women especially need a confident presence and the ability to speak assertively, while remaining willing to learn and be coached. Women have a tendency to wait for projects and promotions to be offered but we must become more comfortable with asking for what we want professionally. Mary Birch, Government Relations Coordinator at Lathrop & Gage LLP, took the necessity of good communication skills a step further. Collaboration and leadership are both achieved through communication. The best way to solve a complex issue is by taking the time to discuss it face-to-face but be sure to arm yourself with the objective facts, research, and data to achieve the best solution. In addition, the ability to convey a clear, concise, and compelling plan results in leadership that inspires and instills hope.

Professional Development
It is a good reminder to all of us to continue our professional development and education. For many of us, we have the great resources available through KU for continuing education and lifelong learning, but wherever you work, don’t be afraid to ask your employer to attend conferences and take classes. Moreover, encouraging education for your employees is critical. As Susan Stanton, Principal at SMS Consulting, points out, the public sector needs to act more like the private sector in recognizing that human capital is the most valuable asset. Sheryl Sculley also suggests doing a lot of different types of work early in your career to get a variety of experience and learn new skills. Jewell Scott, Executive Director of the Civic Council of Greater Kansas City, also suggests “going into orbit” every day—pick up a magazine, newspaper, watch the news, learn about something new—rather than “ossify” in our own narrow part of the world. Opening up to new experiences and paying attention to the world around us not only allows continual growth both personally and professionally, but it allows us to be more creative and innovative.

Every business in every sector must find a way to innovate or eventually perish. Much of the success in the private sector is a result of fearless innovation. These businesses plan ahead for every scenario so that an unsuccessful innovative gamble will rarely bankrupt them but rather provide information to ensure the following variation is a success. The act of receiving tax payer money has turned the public sector into followers and late adopters of efficiency increasing trends. In the afternoon keynote, Susan Stanton challenged public sector administrators to get out of the comfort zone of following and start taking risks by becoming true innovators. Public administrators are notorious for automating the same old process and calling it innovation. The real innovation needed in government is a total shake-up of organizational design to function across jurisdictions and allow the government to act proactively instead of always reactively. Unfortunately, with true innovation comes failure, which is not accepted in the public sector. As citizens and in our professional capacity, we must be willing to accept some amount of failure as it is an important aspect of success and progress.

Importance of Mentors
It is impossible to attend a conference today where the importance of mentors is not touted. While “mentor” may be a current conference buzzword, there is no disputing the validity of this advice. Karen Davis described mentors as a foundation for support and a person to approach for honest feedback. Mary Birch reminded mentors that they can get as much or more out of the relationship since it is only a matter of time before the mentor becomes the mentee. Treasurer Rios viewed the mentor relationship more broadly. She encouraged the women in the conference to establish informal foundation that supports women because it is our job is to inspire the next generation and create the conditions where women can succeed. It is important to view past and current challenges as women in public administration as an investment for future generations rather than a sacrifice. All forms of mentorship can result in profound and unexpected benefits for those on either side of the relationship.

Life Balance
As professionals, wives, mothers, friends, daughters, and the countless other roles that woman play, how do we stay balanced and live up to our own expectations and the expectations of others? Treasurer Rios suggests using a “pie of life” to describe what “having it all” means to a woman. Quite simply, you define what kind of pie you have and what goes in it. She advises us to let go of guilt and individually define what “having it all” means and also to remember that the pie will change. Susan Stanton suggested a similar approach—finding balance in your life by aiming for a balance in the totality of life. It may not be perfectly balanced at this moment, but it will be balanced overall.

Throughout the day of the conference a variety of topics were discussed, but one common theme to all of them is the importance and impact of women in public service today and into the future. The conference allowed us to take a moment in our busy lives to come to together to realize how far we, as women, have come, and how much further we have to go. Relationships with mentors and forming our own networks are critical to empowering each other, as well as utilizing effective communication and creativity. This conference is a great first step toward enacting these themes in our daily lives to improve our professional performance and personal wellness, and we encourage everyone to attend in the future.

School of Public Affairs & Administration Graduation Speech: Emily Knight

Comments Delivered By Emily Knight
On April 20, 2012

I have to be honest, as a freshman in college, I would never have guessed that I would be giving a speech at my graduation. For starters, I wasn’t sure I wanted to graduate college, but I was all too aware that not doing so would have devastated my parents.

I couldn’t pick a major because I wanted to save the world, and I couldn’t figure out how to do that in a life drawing or physical anthropology class. Finally, it was during an intro to public administration course that I started to learn how to save the world, so I declared my major half way through the semester and I haven’t looked back since.

Because this room is full of current students, highly informed graduates, brilliant professors and others dedicated to public service, I don’t need to explain how public administration is the key to saving the world. I’ll explain it for our guests, however, like my family, who I’ve been told still don’t quite know what I’ll do with a public administration degree.

Basically, everything we complain about in life exists because there aren’t enough people dedicated to working in the public sector. Anything we don’t complain about, we are happy with because it is taken care of by public servants.

It is easy to identify the public employees that directly serve the public, from teachers to firefighters, but every professional is also regulated by public servants who protect the common good. Architects must receive approval for bridge designs from employees in federal agencies to ensure they are safe, because without that oversight the public could be in danger.

We often talk about frustrations with bureaucracy, but the extra paperwork we fill out on job applications protects us from discrimination, and the long lines at the DMV exist because people care that our roads are safe. We take public servants for granted, and hopefully we will always be able to.

Public administrators are entrusted with our tax dollars, which we all just finished paying a few days ago, and I studied public administration to ensure that, in the future, those taxpayers can live a life that is safe, full of opportunity, and above all supportive, so that anyone can change the world in their own field, be it drawing or anthropology.

Looking around this room, there are many people who have dedicated their lives to serving others, and on behalf of my class I want to say to them: We’re coming for you, and we’re going to take your jobs.

My classmates and I are clearly well-educated, impassioned, and we are committed to getting better, even after we graduate. We will continue to improve because we know what you know: that serving the public is the most important job you can do.

So to anyone who isn’t afraid to take on a new college graduate, I hope you challenge us in our attempts to take your job, because when we are all doing our best, the public wins, and we all win.

That being said, I also want to thank you. It is because of dedicated public servants that I could spend my life figuring out how to contribute to the world while you make complex choices to protect my future. I want to thank my professors as well, because their research and skills are unmatched in our field, and their passion captivated me so that I could become passionate myself.

And finally my family, especially my parents and fiancé, who didn’t care what I studied, as long as I was happy, and in my mom’s case, a graduate. She always said she gave her kids names that would look good on a diploma, and to support that she has probably given more money to KU for her five kids’ tuition than most of the people who have campus buildings named after them.

Thank you all for letting me speak tonight, and I look forward to seeing what an amazing world we can create together.

Certified Public Manager Graduation Speech: Craig Weinaug

Comments Delivered By Craig Weinaug, Douglas County Administrator
On November 18, 2011

Craig Weinaug addresses CPM 2011 graduates

Craig Weinaug addresses CPM 2011 graduates

As we approach another election cycle, I feel a mixture of excitement and dread as our attention is drawn again toward discussion of public issues. It certainly seems to me that at the state and national levels, some candidates base their entire campaigns on a baseless claim. They tell voters that government is responsible for virtually everything bad going on in the world today. Candidates for elected offices at every level compete to be perceived as the candidate who would eliminate the biggest chunks of this thing we call government.

Even in TV sitcoms and in almost all popular culture, any character part of a mayor, state legislator, or any other public job is almost always portrayed as incompetent, lazy, and/or just plain comically stupid.

Government is rarely presented in public debates or in popular culture as a positive force.

I once had a conversation with a young lady who was working toward her M.P.A. degree. She had interviewed the governor of the state where she went to undergraduate school. When he found out that she was pursuing a career in public service, he could not understand why a topflight student would seek a career in the public sector as her first choice when she could make so much more money in the private sector.

I am here to make an important point that seems to have been lost in public discourse: Government is the means that we have to collectively pay for and provide those services that we collectively need.

Government is not a boogeyman. Government is roads and bridges. Government is schools and libraries. Government is the military keeping us safe around the world, and government is public servants keeping our water and air safe at home.

The vast majority of government workers are public servants who have chosen a career in public service because they want to make better life for all of us.

Government includes our teachers who spend every day of their professional lives giving our children the opportunity to be all that they can be, regardless of the level of success of their parents.

It includes occupational rehab specialists that work with our neighbors with disabilities so they can live with dignity and be productive citizens regardless of the disabilities that they may have.

It includes law enforcement officers and fire fighters that are prepared on a moment’s notice to risk their lives so the rest of us can be safe.

It includes road engineers that devote an entire career in the continuing effort to make our roads as safe as possible and minimize the loss of life.

It includes public health officials who work to protect us all from the outbreak of diseases that would regularly threaten our communities, if it were not for their perseverance.

It includes the social workers at SRS who work to ensure that there is a safety net for the children of our citizens who have lost their jobs.

It includes the psychologists at our community mental health centers who work to meet the critical needs of our neighbors with mental health disorders. In many cases, the services of our mental health centers make the difference between a productive life and a life spent in and out of jail or worse.

It includes building inspectors who try to assure that our businesses and homes are safe and secure for us to live and work in. Government includes the emergency communication specialists that can quickly direct virtually any type of emergency personnel to meet a citizen’s need, and when needed, they can even give instructions to someone on the scene to clear the air path of a suffocating citizen.

It includes the garbage collector who picks up your trash and safely disposes of it in a sanitary landfill, and the public works employee that makes sure that when you flush your toilet that your human waste flows away from your house safely and does not flow back into our lakes and rivers until that sewage is clean and harmless.

It includes court officials who spend their entire careers balancing our constitutional safeguards against the need to incarcerate those who are a threat to our safety.

Government includes economic development specialists who work hard to make sure that our state retains and attracts jobs for all of us, including our children.

It includes the army enlistee who risks her life on the other side of the globe to keep us safe.

Government includes every member of this graduating class.

We are engaged in a great debate in this country and in this state about how much government we can “afford,” and it is an important debate. There are no easy answers.

There are always going to be people who want to distort the debate by characterizing what we do as somehow inferior or unnecessary or inefficient. Don’t let those charges go unanswered. Do your job well, do it with pride, and stand up for yourself and your colleagues.

We strive to find the balance between the services that we provide as public servants, the investments our communities need to make for the future, and the taxes it takes to support that vision without passing the bill on to the next generation.

And at every level of government, in every department or division or agency there are dedicated and determined public employees who are working every day to help our elected officials to strike the best and most appropriate balance.

Government is what we do. It is the work that you have dedicated your careers to and by earning this degree I know you are committed to doing it well.

Public service is a high calling. It is essential to who we are as Kansans and as Americans. Let’s perform that service with pride.