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By Shauna Kaczynski, City of Kettering, Ohio, Clerk of the Council
I am a young African American woman. I live and work for a community that is predominately Caucasian. I love my community, but sometimes I find it very hard to separate the personal and the professional when faced with obstacles in the workplace.
I am the City Clerk, and that alone holds a lot of weight and pressure to be professional all the time no matter the circumstance. As the Clerk, I wear multiple hats throughout the day, but the biggest hat I wear is liaison between the Mayor and Council and the community.
I must keep in mind to maintain a positive attitude when interacting with the public no matter how irate someone may become over a certain topic because I am a direct reflection of my Council and City Manager.
Sometimes all you can do is keep a straight face and remind yourself that the work day will be over soon, but how can you keep a straight face when you feel personally attacked? I have encountered this tug of war multiple times in my career as City Clerk. Here’s just one example:
It is 3 o’clock in the afternoon and my desk phone rings. I greet the resident with a warm welcome and thank them for calling the Mayor and Council Office. I introduce myself by name, LaShaunah, and ask how I can help them. The resident begins to complain that a young African American boy is standing at the bus stop at the front of his house. He is upset over the fact that the boy’s bus stop is directly in front of his home. You see, he does not want other people in the neighborhood to get a misconceived notion that an African American lives at his home.
I was taken aback that someone in the year 2017 would call their local City Hall to complain that someone of another race who they feel inferior to them should be moved because of the color of their skin. I was extremely upset. We are talking about a child who is doing something as simple an innocent as waiting for his bus so he can go to school. In that moment, I struggled with my desire to stand up for the child who does not have a voice. In reality, I also wanted to stand up for myself.
There’s really no way to give this guy a piece of my mind while upholding the dignity and professionalism of my office.
I decided to keep a straight face because me being upset would have not helped the situation, it would have only hindered it.
I’m sure some people may say that I am being over sensitive in my reaction to the call from this resident, but this is my reality. I am different from most people who live in my community. While this occurrence may have led others to brew anger or become jaded, I decided that moment forward I would focus on creating change in the community which I call home.
This isn’t my temporary home, this is my permanent home.
I have the opportunity to change perspectives by upholding my position with the upmost respect and always remaining professional no matter the circumstances. Also, I have decided to give back to my community during the Annual Municipal Clerks Week through a project which will reach out to our youth.
Even in the face of encounters which are deeply personal I have the responsibility to uphold the dignity of the Clerks’ Office.