Core values controversy misses the larger question

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow will take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.”

— Jesus, from Matthew 6:34

In other words, there’s no need to rent trouble when you’ve got plenty for free.

It’s an important lesson for political and civic leaders to keep in mind when public skepticism of government is near an all-time high, thanks to scandals both real and imagined.

They may have forgotten that over in North Las Vegas, as an 11-member committee of city employees mulled in recent months the truncation of a list of the city’s “core values.” Those that may be excised in the name of a smaller, more memorable list are “integrity,” “respect,” “creativity” “quality service” and “leadership.”

What’s left? “Accountability,” “communication” and “teamwork.” (Easy potential acronyms include ACT or CAT!)

The editing job came to light after the CURE Committee (for Community Unified by Retaining Employees) surveyed fellow employees and found that many didn’t know the city’s core values. The city manager got involved in January, sending a citywide email asking workers about potential changes. The CURE Committee’s recommendations will ultimately be presented to the City Council for consideration.

There’s been some level of controversy about the changes; some city employees worry about the implications of removing “respect” or “integrity” from the city’s self-identified priorities.

But there’s a much more basic question to be asked here: Are you freaking kidding me?

You’re saying that in a city that’s become the No. 1 candidate in Nevada for state receivership, where a huge budget deficit still bedevils leaders, where development is slow and layoffs have claimed nearly half of the city’s payroll, 11 people actually found the time and inclination to work on the city’s core values list? And that the issue actually rose to the level of the city manager? And will someday occupy the attention of the City Council?

I only ask because it’s hard to imagine something that matters less to the actual functioning of City Hall than this. If you fail to field enough police officers, crime goes up. If you don’t have enough firefighters, call response times rise. If the guy from public works doesn’t paint the lane stripes properly, accidents could happen. If the library staff is late, the doors don’t open.

But the core values? Even the people who work at the city don’t know them! There could be no core values, and no North Las Vegas citizen would notice the difference. Or do we think that city employees will suddenly start stealing from the till at the water and sewer counter if “integrity” is no longer a core value? Will they start treating people rudely at city parks without “quality service” as a core value?

Of course not.

City spokesman Mitch Fox says the employees in question didn’t spend a lot of time on the project, and leaders allowed it to go forward because they wanted employees to feel as if they had a voice in how the city is run. Says Fox: “1,200 people, a lot of whom live in North Las Vegas, are going to feel better about their jobs. … They need to be empowered to say what kind of city this should be.”

City chief of staff Ryann Juden said North Las Vegas got the idea from the city of Las Vegas, with which it has collaborated on ways to provide municipal services. But he acknowledged that no law, regulation or moral duty required North Las Vegas to follow suit. (Disclosure: My wife works for the city of Las Vegas.)

As much as we all benefit from happy, empowered municipal employees, the bottom line is that city jobs exist to provide services to the public. Any time diverted from that purpose is a waste of resources, no matter the careworn excuse that even the well-run cities are doing it. That may explain why “fidelity to the taxpayer” isn’t on either list of core values. But it should be.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.

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