Following are excerpts from the speeches that were delivered at the Newly Elected Officials Course Graduation Dinner & Awards Ceremony on March 25, 2010.
Colonel Michael P. Crall, Commander of the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
A wise man once told me, great moments come from great opportunity. All of us who work in government whether elected or appointed have an opportunity to make a profound and positive impact on our region as long as we remember who the shareholders of our organizations are….and in every case it’s the American people.
I have had the privilege to command paratroopers at many levels during combat operations, humanitarian relief operations, and during peacetime engagement as well as work at the interagency level of government for the Departments of Defense and State but no job has challenged me more than serving the people of the Upper Ohio Valley as the regional Corps of Engineer Commander.
As we execute the federal civil works missions in a five state area, our lines of operation of navigation, flood damage reduction, environmental cleanup and restoration, hydropower, water supply, recreation, regulatory, and emergency management often compete against each other for resources and outcomes. I remind our team that our focus regardless of our functional responsibilities must be on reducing risk to public heath and safety, the environment, the economy and to the QOL of the citizens under the law. Not on the process, not on wining interagency squabbles, but on outcomes that effect people in a risk informed, values based, interagency, intergovernmental manner. That’s hard to do.
Knowing how hard it is to balance competing purposes even under the law, a governmental agency must continue to serve citizens. I use an acronym called REDD-UP to convey to our 800 member, multifunctional workforce how we should serve our region.
- Responsive, Engaged, Delivering, Developing, United, Posturing
When we do not behave in this manner we affect our mission and our reputation because we are letting the region down. Responsiveness is a key factor in how I grade my subordinate leaders, ensuring we are proactive while managing expectations and developing a path to get to “yes”…that has not always been the case…
I serve the President, The Secretary of the Army, many Three and Four star generals as well as 5 Gov’s, 10 Senators, 21 members of Congress, countless state and local officials, 6.6 million citizens and I must be accountable and responsive to them all.
I expect my government as a tax payer to leverage complementary capacities and competencies, act as an interagency team at the local, state and federal levels to deliver an effective approach to a problem…..not advocating that government is the answer, but when a mission is clearly in the wheelhouse of multiple agencies then we should work together towards positive outcomes.
But that does not always happen automatically. Non-governmental organizations flourish in our region as they bring public and private sector resources to bear to achieve a specific purpose….why? Can’t we sit at the same table and synchronize, integrate, and de-conflict to achieve intergovernmental cooperation? You, on the front lines with citizens play an important role in synchronizing agencies resources to ensure government works for the people of the region. You will become a clearing house, a hub for citizens, the private sector, the media as they engage your offices to understand the best approach to achieve an outcome. The challenge becomes understanding the roles, authorities, appropriations timing, and missions of federal, state and local agencies which can be overwhelming to you and your staffs…heck I don’t even know all the mission areas that we are sometimes engaged in but I will sure be neck deep in them if my team is not responsive to regional leaders and citizen queries.
A few weeks ago I came into the federal building stopped into our reservoir control room to get an update on the pool levels of the16 flood control reservoirs in the AR, MR and OR basin. Walked into a teleconference with the NWS and the USGS. Was very pleased at the interagency cooperation in place amongst this federal team sharing data, resources, and synchronizing activities. But was concerned because my Chief of Hydraulic Engineering and Hydrology was as white as a ghost as they discussed the snow pack conditions that were on the ground in MR & AR basins and the LR forecast that proffered an amount of precipitation coupled with snow melt that would create the top three flood of record in history.
As we conducted an AAR after the flood fight I told my team: In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing…..words spoken by a true statesmen Teddy Roosevelt.
In summary I hope you followed the trail of breadcrumbs that I was weaving tonight but it’s about leadership, risk informed, decisive decision making while forming & leveraging a team of diverse private and public sector functions to serve the share holders of our organizations….citizens.
I want congratulate all of you and wish you all the best as you serve the public good and challenge you to make the intergovernmental team work and to expect responsiveness from the agencies you call upon. And if you don’t get that from the Corps of Engineers, my number is in the book. Thank you.
Bernhard Erb, Councilman, Municipality of Monroeville:
Susan, Newly Elected Officials, Distinguished and Honored Guests, Instructors and the magnificent staff of the Local Government Academy I would like to start with a quote from Teddy Roosevelt from his address at the Sorbonne, not from the “man in the arena” section of the speech, a speech I highly recommend if you have not read it in its entirety. It is truly an incredible dialogue on Democratic Republics and their citizens.
“A Democratic Republic such as ours – an effort to realize its full sense government by, of and for the people – represents the most gigantic of all possible social experiments the one fraught with great responsibilities alike for good and evil.”
You all have entered this effort. From the first day I know we all came with a view toward honesty and openness toward the people, our citizens and constituents. Honesty you will each need to determine on your own. As for openness – use whatever social media you are comfortable with, use press releases since your municipality may not, use the phone, here’s an idea – do the same thing you likely did to win – knock on your citizens’ doors. The Newly Elected Officials Course by the LGA gave us the tools. To stay the course we had courses on ethics. We learned about the Right to Know and the specifics of the “Sunshine” Law. We were given the insights into good communication and so much more.
Some things we were not prepared for. A year ago when you were getting signatures for petitions, did you expect what we have today? Who among you, I know I didn’t, expected 30 inches of snow in your first two months? Who among you, I know I didn’t, expected not only budget deficits but declining revenues. I didn’t sign up for this. O wait, I did, I ran for office, as did you. Marcus Cicero provided this recommendation “Live [as] brave [men]; and if fortune is adverse front its blows with brave hearts.” Remember this is work. I used to have a boss who would say “Bern, this is not play, that’s why they call it work. It’s hard. If it were easy they wouldn’t call it work.” Government is work. It is hard. LGA gave us the tools to do our work.
You know one of the things near and dear to us is water and sewage. In that same speech Teddy Roosevelt talked about the same thing. Water and Sewage simply don’t go away. A good friend of mine, one of our instructors, Paul Lauer called me November 3 after the election, “Bern, I know you, don’t be your usual self, and don’t treat government like a bull in a china shop. It moves slowly. Government was here long before you arrived. It will be here long after you are gone.” And there it is 100 years ago President Roosevelt talking about the same thing we talk about today – water and sewage.
In closing, I will leave you yet again with words from Mr. Roosevelt which are my sentiment to you, “I believe you will have a great future. Long may you carry yourselves proudly as citizens of a nation which bears a leading part in the teaching and uplifting of mankind.”
Natalia Rudiak, Councilwoman, City of Pittsburgh
As your representative of our host municipality, I want to welcome you to the City of Pittsburgh tonight. I hope you all notice that I made special efforts to be here on time tonight. But we're still working at all hours of the day and night to fix our pension fund, so if any of you have $200m lying around, please let me know.
I will also start out with two quotes.
"The credit belongs to the men and women who are actually in the arena, whose faces are marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strive valiantly; who err, who come short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming."
“The problems today are not the vitriolic words and the evil actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and inaction of the good people." - Martin Luther King, Jr.
Ladies and gentleman, as newly elected local officials, we are the good people who will not be silent. When we see problems in our communities, we act. When we see opportunities for change, we raise are hands. When we see wrongs, we strive to right them. We are the ones who have the dust, and sweat and blood on our faces and we are the ones who are leading our region into 21st century. We will work to maintain the values and traditions of communities, while capitalizing on the changes needed to build communities our children will thrive in.
And you know, local government is the arena where the dust settles. Although federal funding, state mandates, and county laws stand before us and lead back to us – to every street, every block and every house in our communities – in our world, it’s personal. As local officials, we are tasked not only with zoning issues in our own back yard, but we must also understand the complex layers and levels of the hierarchy of government in order to get things done, all with our neighbors and families and friends watching. We have all recognized this, and we have listened and strived to learn about Public Safety, Land Planning and Development, Personnel and Infrastructure, and so much more. Personally speaking, these courses have been invaluable to me as I have started in my position.
In many ways, even though most of us are unpaid and under-appreciated, we are tasked with understanding all levels of government, and we are the first lines of contact when responding to our neighbors needs, from day care to shopping developments.
As local elected officials, we are in the crossfire every day. Each of us who have been elected to office know that it’s our names, our families, our words, and our legacies on the line. We have all received calls to our house, we have received the wagging fingers in our chest at the grocery store, and we always end communities meetings in the parking lot, because we’re so passionate about the issues that we advocate for.
My grandmother Rudiak once said: "There are no strangers in the world, just people I haven't met yet.”
I have followed in her footsteps, and I will say that I have sincerely enjoyed getting to know each of you. Whether we’re supervisors or councilpeople, Republicans or Democrats, we cannot forget that we were elected to make a difference. Learning about these issues, making connections with all of you, I feel that the biggest lesson that I have taken out of this is that it all comes down to people. Systems are made out of people. And systemic change is about how people are organized.
Last week, for example, I joked around about how Bellevue lent me coughdrops, or how the councilwoman from Duquesne and I traded lunch. I’ve shared meals with elected officials from Monroeville and had conversations about inter-municipal cooperation with Crafton, Brentwood, and Mt. Oliver. Although it’s never as easy as sharing lunches or trading business cards, every single step forward starts with a conversation. And this is what it is all about. Sitting down and having honest, real conversations about what we can do to better our communities.
I challenge you all, and I challenge myself, most of all, to continue these conversations. To continue to share information. To work every day to improve our communities, block by block, street by street. As elected officials, this is what we have been tasked to do.
I want to end with the pledge that each of us has taken here.
This pledge states that we will strive for excellence in the duties of our new office. It also states that we commit to the following principles, to the best of our abilities:
• We recognize that leadership requires a dedication to lifelong learning.
• We recognize that local government is a unique environment. Although we may have experience outside of municipal government, we understand that by voting for us the citizens entrust us with a special obligation that require us to become as knowledgeable as possible to perform at the highest level of public service.
• We commit to obtaining the highest level of knowledge and expertise on the issues impacting local government and the citizens of my community.
• We commit to ongoing professional development within the means available by us and our community
Thank you all for your time and commitment – your constituents thank you, your colleagues thank you, and as a Councilmember of the City of Pittsburgh, I thank you, and I look forward to working with all of you.