Take Care of the Jacket, Evan

This opinion piece published in the Sonora Union Democrat on Dec. 5, 2011 is also part of my backstory. It was written to my successor when I left the Board to seek a seat in Sacramento. I plan to attend a Board meeting in Sonora next month while on my rambles with Ruby. Evan is now gone after serving two terms (8 years) and there’s been a bit of turnover on the Board and at the County in general. Public service was (and still is) one of the best things I’ve ever done. Though it seems this phase for me is over, I am sometimes still pulled to put on another jacket.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Gandhi

Becoming a Tuolumne County supervisor is not unlike putting on a jacket. I put it on full of dreams to build a better future for our children. Now, four years wiser and with accomplishments, victories, and some failures behind, it’s with sadness (and a wee bit of relief) that I’ve taken it off.

It’s on the coat rack in your new office, Evan. Please take good care of it.

You probably know yourself pretty well now, but as you wear this Jacket, things you don’t know about governing and that you didn’t know that you don’t know about yourself will come to light. You’ll “find yourself” even if you weren’t lost. I guarantee it.

I didn’t think the learning curve would be too steep. I’d attended Board meetings for a year and a half. I understood the relationships between federal, state, and local governments. I’d worked in local government for a long time: the process was not new to me and politics was not either. I felt prepared to put on the Jacket.

I had no idea.

I had to learn where bodies are buried (and who buried them), how to balance my agenda with others’ motivated by distinct convictions and dreams, and I had yet to experience the level of public scrutiny that comes with being a county supervisor.  I had no idea how much I could give, how much I could take, and upon which hills I would ultimately be willing to die. I do now.

This fifty-four year old woman found herself.

The Jacket comes with preferential treatment, “yes” men and women, naysayers, and in the midst of circumstances that require humility. It brings duty and responsibilities, satisfaction and fulfillment. To be sure, it entails a degree of respect and some power too, though not nearly so much as one might think.

Wearing it well necessitates simple, yet critical math skills. There are various ways to get the three votes a supervisor needs to get anything done. Over time I expect you’ll try them all.

It requires what a friend calls the “splendid loneliness of leadership”: at times we take solitary paths against the current. We take them with courage, decisiveness, and without polling for public opinion. We aren’t elected to be followers after all, but leaders.

 As a Board member, you’ll make decisions that impact our everyday lives and you’ll be held accountable. No matter your decision, you’ll hear from constituents. They’ll tell you how they feel on the street, at the store, and call you at home. They’ll tell you when you’ve done well and when you’ve fallen short (and how far).

There are times to broker peace and times to run into the battle. I’ve learned when to listen, speak up, negotiate, and when to embrace controversial decisions.  Being a county supervisor comes with attacks from foes and people I thought were supporters. It comes with worry about Tuolumne County’s future and sleepless nights.

Despite all that, I have loved being District 3 Supervisor. Public service is a worthy calling. Wearing this Jacket has been an honor.

There are few better feelings than caring for your constituents and what’s important to them. Fail to care for them properly and someone will wrestle you for the Jacket in your next election. That is as it should be. They may try even if you do well.

This level of learning and performance is only achieved from inside the Jacket where much is expected. As you wear it, it requires focus, energy, and that you make it your top priority.  In the process, you will be revealed to yourself and others.

Many have worn the Jacket before and many will wear it after. None owned it, but it owned them. 

So, now it’s your turn, Evan. District 3 residents have entrusted the Jacket to you. Put it on with expectation and anticipation. Enjoy yourself.

And please, take good care of the Jacket. 

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