“People trust government less than ever. The level of cynicism is incredible, almost impossible to deal with.”
That was one of the first things a reader told me shortly after I started this job 10 years ago. This wastewater treatment professional was upset that people attending board meetings almost always assumed he was lying. He’s a very smart, very articulate Midwesterner who takes great pride in cost-effectively and sustainably providing a critical public service.
Regardless of the issue, regardless of his tenure, customers challenge his answers to their questions. In effect, they’re questioning his integrity.
That would be upsetting.
Unfortunately, I doubt his experience is unique. Running a public agency is difficult enough on a good day. After the Flint, Mich., debacle, cynics who believe the public should always be suspicious of claims made by government feel vindicated.
It doesn’t matter that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers drinking water treatment and distribution one of the 20th century’s most significant health advancements. The national media coverage of regulatory and managerial failures in one community has turned the laser beam of public scrutiny on all communities.
This is confirmed by the response to our latest quick poll: Has your public agency been getting more calls from residents concerned about their drinking water’s safety? We heard from readers from all over the country.
Drinking water standards are complicated. In the wake of Flint, customers are going to be less inclined than ever to believe anything your agency says to reassure them and correct misperceptions.
On page 20, we take an in-depth look at how Flint’s lead crisis is affecting water agencies nationwide: how EPA is responding, what regulators are going to expect from public water systems and why, and what that means for the men and women who lead these agencies.
If you have any thoughts on the matter, feel free to share them with me at firstname.lastname@example.org.