At about 2:25 p.m. on Monday afternoon, Oct. 29, a fire engine roared out of the Lindsborg station at First and Lincoln, heading west, then south on Main to highway Moments later another of the bay’s doors opened and a second engine followed, adding more lights and sirens. The trucks were from Lindsborg Fire District No. 8, each manned with four firefighters. They were on their way to Marquette to help fight a “structure fire,” said Tim Berggren, Lindsborg Police Chief and Public Safety Director.
“We also answered an alarm at Bethany College that day,” he said. “It turned out for the better – no fire.”
This isn’t about fires, but the people who fight them. And about other personnel, the police officers and ambulance crews, citizens essential to what is called public safety in our small city.
The Lindsborg department’s 26 firefighters are volunteers but rigorously and continuously trained, as are the 16 EMTs with the city’s ambulance service. Fighting fires and helping the ill and injured is not for the inattentive, the lazy, the indifferent.
The police? In Lindsborg, Berggren supervises five other officers. He plans to hire another one, an officer for the Smoky Valley Schools next year. (The District and the City will split the officer’s pay.)
In our town we know many of these public servants and others who comprise what is called local government, from those who keep us safe and healthy through the ones who keep the lights on, the water flowing, the streets clean, the parks trim, and more. We may know the people at city hall and the court house.
They work for the government. And as the republic’s founders declared, the government is the people. We select and elect those who serve us; they seek no glory, no riches, no beds of clover. They are at their jobs because they believe in community. They believe, in their own way, that they can help the community. Their work is to make a difference.
A couple of weeks ago former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius told a Lawrence audience that she sees a growing trend of disrespect for public service but is hopeful about the future for public leaders. Many younger people, she said, “see themselves as global citizens who are eager to figure out ways that they can be involved and engaged.”
For now, though, we have a problem.
Sebelius carries the scar tissue of a long career, the afflictions that often come with service advanced beyond the local scene. The territory, its constituencies and politics broaden, demands and expectations grow, stretching the difference between what is real and what is imagined, the disparity between promise and possibility.
Sebelius is a former state legislator (1987-’95), state insurance commissioner (1995-’03), was elected governor in 2002 and re-elected in 2006. She left office in 2009 to become President Obama’s Secretary of Health and Human Services and left the administration in 2014. She is now a consultant and lives in Lawrence. Her husband, Gary, is a federal magistrate judge.
“I represented a district in Topeka that had probably more public employees than any district because that was right near the Capitol and downtown,” she said. “I watched this in Washington, where elected officials spend time day-in and day-out demeaning public servants.”
That’s nothing new, she said. But the noise of it has increased, and “that’s a very dangerous place to be because the last thing we want to do is discourage bright, talented individuals from looking at public service as one of their opportunities.”
In February 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a massive bipartisan economic stim-ulus bill: billions in federal aid went to state governments, saving Medicaid and public education programs and helping local governments survive large revenue shortfalls.
It may be a long time, she said, before the American people see such a bipartisan effort. “I don’t think any governor could count on that happening today.”
But we can count on ourselves. Government starts at home, with the people we choose to manage things in our cities and counties. In Lindsborg this means the friends, neighbors, acquaintances, even those we don’t really know, but in whom we place our trust that they will do well.
This can mean the street department, and crews from the water and electric departments, who always fall in for the mission of keeping the town clear, clean and safe no matter the routine or the challenge. And the parks department and recreation managers, the Convention and Visitors Bureau personnel who ensure a brighter and more lively way of living and are proud to show it. And the assistants and mangers at City Hall who keep the teams moving, who collect the funds and pay the bills and manage the budget, and who plan for the next month, the coming year and beyond.
They are from us. Those who get their kicks and think they get their popularity by bashing public service only spin insults at their own kind. They mock the very citizens who have elected the servants and selected the managers. They deride their own, the very citizens who comprise that government.
Our government starts and ends with us, We the People. Those who seek to find fault might first look in a mirror.
So… does it bother us?
So… like, yes
The incursion of “so” into conversation began about six years ago, so far as we can tell. It hiccupped in and out of our dialogue for a while, then went dormant.
As a popular conjunction, “so” was once a comfortable link between clauses in a narration: “The dress was black, so I didn’t wear it. I’m small and slow, so I won’t try out for the Chiefs.” The word is also used as a pronoun (He was rich but did not remain so.) or an adverb (He was late, so he didn’t go.) or an adjective (He was so late.)
Now it pops up again, an interloper weaving into the spoken word like bindweed.
We’ve noticed it especially in radio and television inter-views:
Q: When did you discover the cure for this disease?
A: So… I was in my garage and, so, I was tinkering with these compounds and so, I mixed them.
Q: How old were you when you made the discovery? A: So, I was born in 1988, so, I would be 30.
So… “so” isn’t a threat to national security but it may be
a threat to sanity, like using like. So, like we can do without them both.