Lessons Learned From a Dusty Road and an Apricot Branch
Welcome to a new year, and if you’re new to office or renewed to office, this is local government and we are family, so welcome to the family. We are glad you joined us!
When asked to submit this little article, I struggled with what the topic should be. So many different folks read this publication. Different officials in different offices doing different things, but connected to one another. That connection is what I decided was important.
We are all a part of the whole of our local government. We all provide services to our constituency and to one another, as well as our state. What we do may seem mundane, almost rote, at times. I want to dispel that feeling. What we do in our offices, from our homes, at conferences, etc., every day is a direct reflection of meeting the needs of those we serve.
So, whether you are brand spanking new or just need a kick in the pants to get you back in the groove and happy to be serving, I want to remind you of a few things.
You should feel honored to have been elected. It means your folks think enough of you, trust you, and believe in you and your work ethic enough to vote you into office. Let your mind settle on that for a minute. If you have votes enough to get you elected, you had better kick it into gear. Those aren’t votes – those are people who are counting on you.
With that being said, what is it that we can do? When I reflect on my years in office, the thing I do every single day is listen. Let me say that again in case you weren’t listening! I listen all day long every day. Whether it’s to my peers, my co-workers, those whom I oversee, or my constituency, I listen.
In the big scheme of things, it’s the best we can offer. Sometimes, it’s all that’s needed. Our constituents want to be heard. We may not be able to give them exactly what they want, when they want it, but if we truly listen and they know we are sincere in our desire to hear them, that may be enough to satisfy them.
I want to share a story from a few years back when I first took office. I was sitting in my office at my desk doing what I do most days. My attention turned to the window, where I saw a woman walking up the sidewalk carrying what seemed to be a very large branch. She carried that branch right up the stairs and into my office, wanting to talk to me about her Commissioner, her apricot tree, and her unpaved county road! She was upset about all sorts of things that day. Most, I couldn’t begin to help her with. It seemed her road was extremely dusty from oilfield traffic like we had never witnessed in our county. It was in the heat of July with no rain in sight. I have no doubt her road was dusty, and because she lived at the stop sign, I have no doubt the dust from the road covered everything inside and outside her house.
That apricot branch was her proof that the caliche dust was killing her prized tree and quite possibly her husband, who suffered with lung disease. According to her, she had tried to get in touch with her Commissioner, to no avail. She needed to vent. She needed me to listen. I did.
I explained the problem with no rain and assured her even if the road crew came and put out water, the dust would reappear in a matter of days, if not hours. I picked up the phone, with her in my office, and explained the situation to her Commissioner, and he made sure she knew he would stop by to see her the next day and talk about her issues.
When she left, her road was still dusty, her tree was still dying, and we were still experiencing heavy truck traffic during a drought. The difference in her attitude when she left my office lies in the fact that I was willing to listen. I was willing to help her get the Commissioner’s attention, and she felt she had been heard.
Sometimes, that’s all it takes. Before she left that afternoon, I asked if she would leave that branch in the corner of my office. She was puzzled, but gladly left it rather than having to drag it back out to her pickup. I wanted it, and I left it in the corner of my office the remainder of that year as a reminder. I didn’t fix one problem; I really didn’t have the ability. I had an open mind and a little time and an apricot branch to remind me. Take your time and listen.
By Glasscock County Judge Kim Halfmann, Second Vice President, County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas