We gathered on the third floor of the County Administration building on 56th Street, a grand room with arched ceilings and intricately carved decorations. I sat in the seat of a County Board Supervisor, complete with personal lamp and microphone, looking at walls hung with photographs of past chairmen, imagining all the past business that had been conducted in the stately room… And then we learned from Joe Potente’s presentation that the building was built to be the Moose Lodge for Kenosha and served the Moose until bankruptcy during the Depression forced a sale. Later it housed the UAW, and the large upper room was a roller-skating rink! My image of the high seriousness of the space took a hit, but it was still inspiring to sit ‘in the room where it happens’ and learn about the different chapters of its history. We heard from four different elected officials, serving city, county, town, and village governments. I was surprised to learn how low the stipend is for officials in Kenosha County, and my admiration for these civil servants grew as I heard their stories of their vision and their work.
Our afternoon exercises about ethics and values and ethical leadership (after a delicious lunch catered by Chef David) were intended to make us reflect on our own businesses or institutions, and they did. But for me they also reflected more light onto the speakers from the morning—how important it is for elected representatives to do the work of the people, guided by clear values and a strong code of ethics. No one spoke about national politics at all, except to say that they were deliberately not talking about national politics, but I was struck by the contrast between the extreme dysfunction in national and state systems on one hand, and the pragmatic approach to getting work done at the local level on the other. As the alderman said, potholes are not partisan.
We met in our small project groups for a period, making some initial choices about our graduation ceremony in May. We learned about the process to define the scope of our projects, and about how the projects will be judged at the end of the course. Our leaders encouraged us to think more about collaboration than about competition, and there was a cheerful, helpful spirit among the groups as they worked on their own projects but also shared ideas and contacts that might be helpful to another group. More ethical leadership! And working locally to get the job done together. I’d say we are learning our lessons well!