By: David Ammons
Who or what inspired you to work in public service?
When John Kennedy delivered his speech imploring Americans to ask what they could do for their country, I was still just a kid, but I heard those words. I was probably more inspired by the words of his brother Bobby several years later extolling the work that each of us can do to change for the better even a small portion of life’s events. There is nobility in a focus beyond oneself and in a life of service.
What was the most meaningful class you ever took and why?
As a college junior I took an introductory public administration class. Professor Frank Baird opened my eyes to opportunities for service in government administration and especially the workings of professional management in local government. The more I delved into this field, the more fascinated I became. The next summer I did an internship with the City of Hurst, Texas, mentored by city manager Stan Neuse and his assistant Don Davis. By the start of my senior year, I was hooked.
Was there a transformational experience in your life that relates to public service?
Yes. While employed as a young professional in local government I had several opportunities to introduce changes in operations that worked out quite well. When I documented the effectiveness of some of these changes and produced articles that were accepted for publication, I found the experience stimulating and wanted to do more of it. All of this led me to pursue doctoral studies and a career that I hoped would allow me to devote more time to writing about local government management. I was fortunate to find opportunities at the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government and at the University of North Carolina’s School of Government where the educational mission included both engagement with practitioners in state and local government and the education of gifted graduate students. One foot in academe and another foot in the world of local government has been an ideal career environment for me.
What inspires you during these challenging times?
I am inspired by the courage and commitment of all the election officials who conducted themselves with integrity during and in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. Public administration ideals were on display through their exemplary conduct despite challenge and criticism. The nation owes these officials a debt of gratitude.
What advice can you give to folks beginning careers in public service?
Concern yourself less about titles and salaries than about the type of work you will be doing, the caliber of people you will be working with, and the contributions you will be making to your organization and the people it serves.
If you could witness any historical event, what would you want to see?
I would like to have been able to tag along on one of President Lincoln’s visits to military encampments during the Civil War to observe his interactions with generals and soldiers.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
I was a baseball fan as a boy and a collector of baseball cards. In my collection I had a special set of cards featuring players elected to the Hall of Fame. Along with career statistics, the cards listed the hometowns of these retired players. I wrote to some of them, enclosing the card and asking them to autograph it. One of the players who responded was Max Carey, a remarkable player for Pittsburgh and Brooklyn who set a National League record by stealing home a total of 33 times from 1910 to 1929. In addition to his signature, Max Carey wrote on the card, “Can’t hit unless you swing.” Words to live by.