The privilege of public service

Published 3:20 pm Friday, July 23, 2010

The recent high profile political scandals in North Carolina get under our skin, dont they?

One reason they disturb us so much is that we are proud of our states good government tradition. We have never been perfect. But, generally speaking, we are blessed at both the local and state level with a core of civil servants who serve with professionalism and unselfishness.

It could be different, as it is in some other states where corruption and unprofessionalism are the rule rather than the exception, as it is in our state.

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Some people give credit to North Carolinas good traditions in local government administration to Donald Hayman, who died a few days ago not long after his 91st birthday.

Maybe you remember some things I wrote about Dr. Hayman a year or two ago when I was celebrating some good people that Kansas had shared with North Carolina.

Back then I wrote, Sixty years ago, a young Kansan moved to North Carolina to teach public law and government at the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill. His specialty was personnel administration, but his colleagues called on him for many other important tasks. Shortly after his arrival, his study of the financial soundness of the state and local governments pension systems prompted revisions that still guide retirement plans for government employees.

Within a few years, he was deeply involved in the Institutes programs to educate, train and serve the professional managers of North Carolinas counties and municipalities. The modest Hayman became the godfather of thousands of North Carolinas public servants. He quietly encouraged them to follow his example of professionalism and service.

As a result, North Carolinas citizens are the beneficiaries of a corps of high-level public servants who can trace their professional standards to Donald Haymans inspiration. Although many of the men and women that Hayman trained are now retired, they have passed on his legacy to their successors.

About the time I wrote about Dr. Hayman, UNC-Chapel Hills School of Government&bsp; (successor to the Institute) honored him with the MPA (Master of Public Administration) Alumni Distinguished Public Service Award and named the award for him. At the ceremony, former students called him the father of sound public personnel administration and the father of professional local government in North Carolina.

For many years Dr. Hayman also led a state government internship program for North Carolina college students. Forty-five years ago, as one of those interns I got a dose of his quiet enthusiasm for public service and his demand for unselfish professionalism.

Since his death I have tried to put in a few words about how this quiet modest man left such a strong and positive impression on his students.

His example was critical. Always well prepared, he was still careful to listen with real respect to what others brought to the table. I learned that he exhorted his MPA students to be clear, concise, and free of ambiguity in all their communications.

His students learned the skills of public administration as well as the importance of competence, tact, and non-partisanship.

There is something more that is harder to describe. Dr. Haymans students (including those summer interns) came to understand it was a privilege to serve the public and that such service was both a heavy responsibility and its own reward.

Underneath it all was the recognition that dishonesty, private gain, or betrayals of public trust were unpardonable, unspeakable sins.

Dr. Haymans death is a good time to remember that the civic virtues his students brought to public life in North Carolina are treasures to celebrate, to renew, and to protect.