Inspiring a New Generation of Public Servants

Inspiring a New Generation of Public Servants
Posted on 07/03/2017

By Council Member Mike Shelton 

Several years ago, I was attending my first youth city council dinner as a city councilperson. The council and mayor were each asked to give a brief introduction and to explain what inspired them to become a politician.  When it was my turn, I stood up and among other things, I said, “I have never wanted to be a politician.  I have a hard time being associated with the term politician. I will do my best to be a public servant, but I have never wanted to be called a politician.”

Mayor Cullimore was next to answer the question. As best I can recall, he stood up and said, “With great respect to Councilman Shelton, I disagree that politics is a concept that we should view with skepticism or derision.  I have always wanted to be a politician. I came to understand early in life that in our country, it was elected politicians who could make the greatest difference and shape society.  I wanted to be involved in the decisions and the direction that could make my community better.  Politicians are those who want to step up and make a difference.  I am proud to be a politician.”  

I have thought about the lesson Mayor Cullimore taught me many times since hearing those few words.  I may not have realized at the time, but the important lesson Mayor Cullimore taught on that day has become clear to me over the past several years.  Elected politics often facilitate significant participation in public service. As the 2016 presidential Election Day was nearing, a friend of mine was traveling throughout the world on business.  As he met with people from different countries, he was commonly asked, “Are these candidates the best that you could find in your great country?” 

I believe that the vast majority of those who do run for public office, including all of those who ran for president, are good men and women who sincerely want to do their part to make the world a better place.

Sadly, I think that many in this country might have wondered, why are our best men and women not stepping up to run for political office? I have come to believe that the answer might be found in that lesson that I learned from Mayor Cullimore.  

There is an old saying that says, “Give a dog a bad name and you may as well hang him.”  I believe that the labels we give to people and things matter. When I told a group of young people, some of whom might have aspired to become politicians, that politics was a word that I did not want to be associated with, I gave politics and politicians a bad name.  

Are we encouraging good men and women to pay the price of politics to participate in government?  Is the way we talk about elected officials inspiring the rising generation to think of elected office in a positive light?

I came to understand that the way I was talking about politics, and about those elected to political office might be part of the problem. The way we talk is perhaps partly to blame for some good men and women not wanting to be associated with the term "politician."

One of the best fringe benefits that has come to me while serving on the City Council has been my close association with the other elected politicians who have served the city.  This group has collectively changed the way I think of those who seek elected political office.  

At the end of the year, Mayor Cullimore will step down as the only elected Mayor of the City of Cottonwood Heights.  His decision not to run gives me the opportunity to express my appreciation to him.  

Mayor Cullimore defines everything good you would want to say about a politician.  He has tirelessly devoted his time to make our community the best it can be.  He studies every important issue carefully.  He puts himself in a position to make a difference.  He is a man of incredible tact, yet he is never afraid to stand up for what he thinks is right.  He communicates clearly, and effectively.  He takes every call possible, he returns every voicemail and every email.  He sincerely cares about the issues citizens bring to him every week.  He makes well informed, good decisions.

As he leaves office, several agencies across the county will deeply miss his efforts.  He has made a significant, positive impact for the Unified Fire Authority, the Canyons School District, the Central Wasatch Commission, the Council of Governments,  several charitable organizations that he has served, and most importantly, the City of Cottonwood Heights.  We are all so fortunate that he has been willing to serve.  

Mayor Cullimore is paid a small amount for what is anticipated to be about 20 hours per week of work as a part-time mayor.  I suspect that his efforts for the city have often doubled, and sometimes tripled the time beyond which he is paid. For Mayor Cullimore (and for most elected politicians), it has never been about what he could get out of serving as Mayor. It has always been about what he could give.

Councilman Tee Tyler has also decided not to run for another term.  Not long after I came to know Tee, we were together at a conference in St. George. One evening we were talking as we walked down the sidewalk.  I noticed as Tee saw a wrapper lying on the ground, he would reach down and pick up the garbage left by someone else and put it into his own pocket. I remember thinking, what a good guy.  That was not his problem. He didn’t make that mess. This is not even his city. I mentioned to Tee that I was impressed that he would do that. Tee’s wife Debbie said, “He always does that. He is a Boy Scout.  He tries to do a good turn daily.” It might have been a small thing, but it was a glimpse into the big things about Tee Tyler. As a politician, Tee is constantly looking for the things that need to be done, and then he gets to work to take care of them. Where some might think, “Oh, that needs to be done, I wonder who will do it?” Tee thinks, “What needs to be done? I should do it.”  Tee makes a difference, and over a lifetime of service, he has quietly made the world a better place.

These men, and the other elected men and women whom I have had the pleasure to work with, have changed the meaning of the word "politician" for me. When I think of them, and the things they have devoted their lives to, it gives me such an appreciation that they were willing politicians.

I fear that the way we talk about politics and politicians in this country discourages good men and women from being willing to direct the affairs of government by seeking elected office.  

Dale Carnegie said, “Give a man a fine reputation to live up to, and he will make every effort to live up to that reputation rather than see you disillusioned.”  If we want more good men and women in politics, we must begin by making the term "politician" a good name.

Edmond Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”