It’s Possible for Everyone to Be Wrong

Posted on April 22, 2022

Photo Sarah Moss and Denver City and County Building

Today’s Morning Buzz is by civic dreamer and doer Sarah Moss, MPA, who has worked in local, state, and federal government. She is a strategist based in Denver who helps clients solve policy and political puzzles across the United States. Sarah also teaches values-based strategic planning and process improvement for the Colorado Certified Public Manager® program at the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs. Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter and read her past ELGL posts.

Once upon a time during my Master of Public Administration studies, I took a class called Public Service Leadership and Ethics taught by the wonderful Dr. Annie Miller. Annie – who I’m now lucky to call a friend and colleague – challenged her students to study multiple ethical frameworks, consider our own values, and write This I Believe-style essays.

We also read and discussed complicated ethical case studies. A big tornado is coming. Your local government only has resources to rescue either the kids at the elementary school or the older adults at the community center. What do you do? Depending on which ethical framework we applied, my classmates and I could passionately argue for one solution as easily as another.

Chris Traeger on Parks & Recreation: “It literally let’s me see the world from a different perspective” (via GIPHY)

When values compete, choices can seem impossible. Every choice could be right. Every choice could be wrong. 

I take you now to a real-life parks and recreation story – of course! – as told by local nonprofit journalism outlet Denverite. It involves pickleball, a permanent marker, police, and prosecution. As you read this I-couldn’t-make-this-up tale, consider:

  • What is the public good?
  • What serves the bests interests of the people (ICMA Code of Ethics Tenet 4)?
  • What is the public trust?
  • Why do we provide a service?
  • Who are the customers to be served?
  • How do we balance the needs of different groups?
  • How might the ethnicity, age, or socioeconomic status of a permanent-marker-wielder affect potential consequences?
  • What is fair? What is equitable? What is just?
  • What role does transparency play?
  • What role does accountability play? To whom, and for whom?
  • One of my public servant friends remarked on this story: “It’s possible for everyone to be wrong.” Is it possible for everyone to be right?

March 30: Pickleball Parley: Denver DA suggests mediation between Parks Department and Central Park man accused of drawing pickleball markings on rec center court

Additional background, if you desire to dive deeper into this fuller alliteration-filled fable:

Public service and life don’t always come with easy answers. In the true and inconclusive words of Leslie Knope,

Leslie Knope on Parks & Recreation: “Oh boy” (via GIPHY)



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