Think Again: The challenges of public service

This is the one-year anniversary of this column, and I appreciate the opportunity the Glendale News-Press has given me to share my thoughts with readers. The column has allowed me to raise issues hopefully readers have found worthwhile.

I appreciate the feedback over the last year and respect everyone who has taken the time to share their views with me, regardless of whether they agreed or disagreed. Driving public conversation is the point of such a column. There has been one unintended consequence of the column, however, which has forced me to do some thinking on a personal level.

Many people have been asking whether I'm getting ready to run for City Council in 2011. Around the time I started writing this column, I was appointed to the Glendale Water & Power Commission, so maybe this drove some of the speculation. The reason I wanted to serve on that commission is because I work in the electric utility industry, so I thought I could do good by putting my knowledge to work with my public service.

Perhaps it's the topics I've covered. When someone speaks up about the public interest, integrity and transparency in government, not taking the public's trust for granted, etc., people seem to interpret that as a prelude to a run for office. I find this troubling because my hope is that more citizens would be vocal with demanding these things from their government.

More people need to get involved in our community because that is really the best way to guarantee the quality of life we desire. This has always driven my involvement in the political process because I believe democracy can't reach its full potential unless citizens get involved. When apathy takes hold, bad things can happen in government. The ultimate responsibility for oversight rests with all of us.

I've always looked at my involvement in the democratic process from the outside facing in, and this questioning of whether I'm running for council has forced me to think about what factors could drive one to cross over into the inside facing out, where you play an elected leadership role.

I posed this question to a senior executive at work whose opinion I respect. Interestingly, because of the gridlock in Sacramento, she said serving as a local elected leader is a way to make a real difference in your community. I would also add that volunteering for any form of community service also makes a meaningful contribution to our community.

With competing life priorities and a tough economy, it's hard balancing family life with a demanding career. Like most people, my top priority is my family, especially as our baby has started growing into a young boy. Like most parents, I think about his safety, his future education opportunities, the values he grows up with and all the potential he represents for the future.

At the same time, I also think about the need for knowledgeable leadership in our city to define a vision for our collective future, especially with our responsibility to the next generation. I think about the fact that the true test of leadership is leading when times are tough, balancing business interests with the public interest.

It's no surprise many talented people avoid elected office. The evidence of this is apparent on the state level where we are missing a healthy dose of new faces who can bring fresh ideas and innovative thinking. Talented people who do take the dive and get into the game are to be commended. After all, they are the ones who willingly paint a bull's-eye on themselves for the wasps of the political world to attack.

It's much easier to stay on the sidelines as a spectator. But if enough good people walk away from such an unattractive challenge, you end up with mediocre choices at the ballot box. And that, essentially, is the dilemma for all of us.

ZANKU ARMENIAN is a Glendale resident and a corporate communications professional. He can be reached at

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