During recent months there has been a great deal written about the enormous financial pressures that local governments are facing. We have read about the battles being waged by counties and municipalities to keep from losing state and federal funds. The well-publicized McNamara Report released in December grimly reminded us that the severe pressures of 1982 will be with local governments throughout the decade.
This often depressing discussion is usually carried on by our elected officials in the context of the many policy and legislative issues that must be addressed. But beneath the well-publicized layers is something we hear very little about: the impact of all of these adversities on those out on the front lines-- the local government employees, the "public servants." During a time when government operations are beset by reductions-in-force (RIF), downgradings, reorganizations (a code word for cutbacks) and limited or no cost-of- living increases, we should ask ourselves: how well is the government employee holding up, and performing?
I have had an insider's view for the past four years, and it seems to me that in Montgomery County, the employees of our government have responded remarkably well to the unprecedented pressures that come with the times. The county executive has constantly reminded his agency heads that we must do "more with less." And that seems to be happening.
But just what do we mean by "less"? During the past four years, the county's full-time work force has been reduced from 5,238 to 4,795 employees (excluding the fire department). Even though this RIF process in Montgomery has been handled with great sensitivity (unlike that of the federal Office of Personnel Management, which is perceived as paying only lip service to the concerns of RIFed federal employees), the result is that the county government is left with fewer employees to provide the many services that the public has come to expect. What has this meant in terms of the availability and quality of these services? And what effect has the squeeze had on the attitudes and productivity of our employees? In my judgment, the effect on services so far has been minimal. True, convenience has been a casualty of the tightening-up process. But even though the open hours of many of our county facilities have been substantially reduced, the public still is able to get books from its library system, count on the ser- vices of its police force and in a variety of other areas look forward to county government's ongoing contributions to our quality of life.
As far as the employees are concerned, I have seen evidence that despite their understandable frustrations about added workload and the uncertainties of the times, they have for the most part adapted to the changes. Notwithstanding unprecedented levels of stress, there has been, and there remains, in the attitudes of most government employees an underlying commitment to serve the public. This is particularly evident at the local level, where the public we serve may be our friends and neighbors.
Contrary to some popular misconceptions, public employees do take pride in their work. The skillful response to the rabies emergency by our public health officials and the professional handling of life-and-death hostage situations by the men and women of our police department are but two examples. And most of us are aware of the often quiet but always important efforts of skilled employees working with the elderly, with our thousands of children and teen-agers, as well as with our citizens who are handicapped or disabled.
So despite the fiscal tourniquet that we all are feeling, we can take satisfaction in knowing that public service is alive and well in Montgomery County.