I take my hat off to anyone whose job description requires dealing with a committee — either as a member or someone anywhere in any chain of command that will be subjected to the work of a collection of people of varying skills, motives and, frankly, microcosms of public intelligence.
My views of committees in general are the result of having served on them; having appointed people to them; and then being required to make something of the work product they produced — or didn't. And being among that vast population of people whose life will be affected by something that the committee did — or did not do.
The committee is the minefield of accomplishment. If the task at hand survives the work of the committee, someone should hand out medals. Good committee work deserves recognition, because the best results will likely do more good than harm, which might be the same result as an arbitrary decision by management, but it's harder to do.
Awards are, indeed, handed out for committee work, even when they make a mess of things, because good manners require a show of appreciation for effort and showing up, and sometimes the injuries to reputation, health, personal financial costs and self-esteem that can result from serving on a committee.
Another reason recognition is given to a committee is that it serves as a way of diverting blame when the skunk goes under the wheels and stinks up the neighborhood. I have been asked to serve on committees only to learn that our recommendations were ignored and the objectives of the authorities were to gather fingerprints on the murder weapon and be able to say that the policy is the result of recommendations made by an objective committee of citizens. Government-appointed boards and committees are indispensable to elected officials and to savvy bureaucrats who are looking for ways of managing the team selection processes for lining up enemies, allies or scapegoats.
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All kinds of personality styles go into putting together a committee. First essential attribute, in my opinion, is the forbearance to resist yanking the fire alarm to hasten adjournment.
But most community committees are good-faith efforts made by honorable civilians whose desire to serve the community compels them to embrace the talents and opinions of others.
Leaders are measured by their skills at forging teams of neighbors who will agree, or disagree in an agreeable fashion, to swerve around potholes in the road to progress or stand at the ramparts of convention and hold off the destruction of community standards.
Many of us agree to serve on such committees without stopping to think that out of such good intentions, wars have resulted and families divided forever. Those who stand at the front of the efforts accumulate credentials sufficient to win medals and combat pay.
So, when a good man like Steve Guthrie announces that he will step down as superintendent of schools at the end of his current term, I would say that any assessment of his accomplishments over more than three decades of dealing with the students and parents of the public school system should begin with raising a glass in a toast of appreciation.
Let us show some admiration for the commitment, class, grace and composure of a survivor whose contributions leave our school system high on the list in Maryland mostly because of — and sometimes in spite of — crossing those minefields of innumerable committees, public meetings, letters to the editor, newspaper columns from both present and wannabe politicians, and the voids of apathy of a public whose appropriate prayer is, In God We Trust, because we don't have a clue.
Dean Minnich writes from Westminster.