In today’s political environment many people — myself included — frequently wonder if the meaning of the term “servant of the people” is still relevant to the people occupying leadership roles in government.
I’d like to believe it is, but, in the larger media environment, the ones we seem to hear the most about are the ones working the hardest to keep the attention on themselves by subtly or not-so-subtly promoting their accomplishment and the “good” they are doing rather than just letting the results speak for themselves.
Maybe it’s just an occupational hazard, due to the fact that they feel the need — in a world driven by pollsters and trending tweets — to control their “image” so they can keep their job and do more of the people’s work.
But at the very least it makes you question if they are really doing it for the right reasons or if they are more focused on their popularity and ego gratification.
But then there are those who restore your faith by simply going about their work without attempting to draw any attention to themselves. The unfortunate thing with that, though, is that these people seldom get the credit or attention they truly deserve.
In his six years as Trenton’s city administrator, Jim Wagner has epitomized the best qualities of a public servant, eschewing attention and credit in favor of simply rolling up his sleeves and doing whatever he could to help move the city forward — and that included some of the biggest challenges the city has faced since its incorporation more than six decades ago.
It didn’t always make him the most popular guy in the room. There were some difficult debates, and some things that didn’t necessarily go the way he had hoped, but the bottom line is the city is much further along and in a position for some better days ahead thanks to his knowledge, patience and perseverance.
And kudos to Mayor Kyle Stack for convincing him to take the job in the first place. All too often in small-town government the inclination is to favor a home-grown talent without even looking beyond for someone who could bring in a different background that could make people look at things in new ways and potentially deepen the pool of knowledge and engender thinking that might lead to new and greater possibilities.
So, in that sense he was a bit of a surprise hire, but his regional knowledge and familiarity with state and county government gave him a unique resume that made him an ideal candidate — and a great fit for a brand new mayor — who had the foresight to know she would need someone with those type of credentials to have her back as she tried to lead a city fighting its way out of a major financial crisis and strive toward sustainability.
The other factor that made it all work was his demeanor — humble, unflappable and unequivocally fair-minded. There was never any doubt that his effort to serve the people was anything but genuine.
So Trenton can consider itself fortunate that Wagner was willing to hold off on his retirement quite a bit longer than he probably would have liked. While the official date is coming up at the end of February, his influence is likely to benefit the city for years to come.
But he would never try to take credit for that. That’s just not what true public servants do.
(For the full story on Jim Wagner’s retirement, see the article that begins on Page 1-A. To contact Editor and Co-Publisher Joe Hoshaw email firstname.lastname@example.org).