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Diana Sroka Rickert recently had that experience after she accepted a high-level position with Illinois’ state governor’s office. She would go on to leave that job after just a matter of weeks of growing frustration, describing what that state government’s highly dysfunctional environment was like:
Throughout all levels of state government, what permeated the most was an overall attitude of defeat. There was no sense of purpose. No hunger to do more, push further or to succeed.
No acknowledgment that this is a state government that is ranked last by almost every objective and measurable standard. A state government that fails every single one of its residents, day after day — and has failed its residents for decades. A state government that demands more and more money each year, to deliver increasingly less value to Illinoisans. A state government that cannot pay its bills, cannot make good on its promises, cannot help people in need.
The games that were played in the office, the problems that would be easily resolved if anyone cared, the inability to get an initiative off the ground … it was almost like a running joke, or some sick rite of passage. It was as if the culture said, “You’re not a real state employee until you’re bolting out the door after 7.5 hours with nothing to show for it.”
It was appalling to see how self-absorbed so many staffers and former staffers were. Here they are in a state government that is crumbling — heck, in a building that is literally falling apart — yet at the end of the day what they care about the most is themselves….
I experienced this in a very personal way when these exact people characterized my resignation as a termination — even though the governor’s own statement said I resigned. This type of behavior was not surprising to me because these are people who believe they raise themselves up by pushing someone else down, and who do not care about what is best for Illinois. I consider it a badge of honor that they felt the need to attack me on my way out because it was made very clear: I am not one of them.
It’s no fun to work with nasty people who use the power they have to put their own interests ahead of those they claim to serve, to the point where they create a hostile work environment for their peers. Unsurprisingly, in the context of a state government, not much in the way of needed reform on behalf of the public interest can get done, so it goes undone.