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In defense of public employees: Do you know who I am?

By Eric Johnson

I am the scourge of the modern era. I have been verbally assaulted in the local and national media. My utter existence has all but been criminalized. I have been accused of causing the budget shortfalls of every municipal and state government in the nation.

Who am I? I am your dedicated and hardworking municipal employee, now retired. What have I done to earn all of this notoriety? Nothing less than spend 36 years of my life working for you as a public works employee with a local municipality.

I am the one you saw maintaining your park and open space areas so you could enjoy your picnics, barbecues and outdoor weddings in a safe, healthy and pleasing environment. I maintained your athletic fields so you and your families could participate in your favorite sports. I am the one who swept and maintained your streets, and installed the road signs and signals so you could negotiate through your fine city and arrive safely.

I trimmed your urban forest to keep branches out of the way of your passing vehicle or your face as you walked down the sidewalk. I kept your sewer and storm drains flowing. I maintained my municipality’s fleet of vehicles so they were ready for emergency responders in a moment’s notice.

I worked for you rain or shine, hot or cold, during regular hours or on weekends, holidays and after hours while on call. In an after-hours emergency, I would be out of my warm bed and at your front door in less than 30 minutes.

The most important aspect of my job was the administration of your money in the most effective manner so as to benefit you, and the rest of the community. If I did not, I ultimately answered to those you elected. I did all of the aforementioned as a maintenance, supervisory and management employee. Every step of my 36-year hike was dedicated to improving the quality of your urban life and environment.

During my career, you paid for this by providing me with a decent wage and benefits package. Thank you.

When I retired, I had accumulated more than 1,500 hours of unused sick leave. Why so much? Because I chose to serve you instead of staying home when I was a little ill, achy or otherwise not feeling up to par. I even worked for six weeks with a cast on my left hand and forearm. After all, I am right-handed and could still serve. If I had used all of my sick leave, you would have paid me much more than the small amount I did receive.

Although I was only performing the job you paid me to do, a few of you over the years actually wrote, called or e-mailed my bosses conveying your appreciation for my services. You know who you are. Thank you.

For the rest of you who have jumped on the blame-the-city-worker-for-all-of-life’s-current-problems or the if-I-can’t-have-it-no-one-else-can-either bandwagons, shame on you. You, too, know who you are. Your actions remind me of my elementary school playground days when those without the new ball took it from the one who had it.

I have always been, and continue to be, proud, to have served you. I deserve better than your wrath.

Letter originally published in the Union-Tribune.

Cartoon originally published in USA Today.