The other day I ran in to my state representative at the grocery store, where we chatted about our kids’ whereabouts as we loaded our carts for the weekend. I’d already hugged one of my state senators when we bumped into each other outside the farm store, where we stopped to talked gardens. “It must be a relief to be home,” I said. She agreed, then said she was on her way to deliver her petition to be on the ballot again in the fall.
It’s hard to find adequate words for the gratitude and awe I feel for such public service. For legislators from Windham County, serving in Montpelier means living in the state capitol for most of the week when the legislature is session, attending meetings, study groups, and workshops during the summer, and fielding calls from constituents all year long. And our legislators are not the only ones whose service keeps the wheels of government turning.
Recently, I attended the Windham County Public Service Awards Ceremony, where the Vermont Secretary of State honored local public officials who’ve served their communities for twenty years or more. I went on account of my husband, a long-time Town Health Officer. He was one of one hundred and twenty-one people honored, though only about half of the honorees were present.
The others were probably attending previously scheduled board meetings and couldn’t get to Marlboro College in time for Jim Condos to distribute the awards to long-serving Town Clerks, Listers, Justices of the Peace, Firefighters, Emergency Services Volunteers, and members of local road crews - people who work for the common good, because there are jobs that have to be done, and these good citizens do them. A few of these jobs are underpaid, but most are simply unpaid, giving real meaning to the term public servant.
According to Jim, the evening’s honorees had donated upwards of 4,500 hours in the last year, collectively running elections, appraising our property, managing our schools, keeping our roads passable, and keeping us safe.
Nineteen of the 121 honored were from my town, representing more than 620 years of volunteer service. Two honorees have given more than fifty years of service – each – so far.
Certificates were handed out and photos taken; a brief but congenial reception followed. Then everyone dispersed for another five years, when the Vermont Public Service Awards will again recognize the good people of Vermont who demonstrate the vital principal of participation that makes democratic government work.