Bruner: In honor of those who serve on Scottsdale boards, commissions

In the early 1800s, a French sociologist came to the young United States initially to study its prisons systems, which he did for about nine months.

Jim Bruner (file photo)

He traveled by steamboat, by stagecoach, on horseback and in canoes, visiting American penitentiaries.
He returned to France in 1831 and wrote his report. His name was Alexis de Tocqueville.

Then he set to work on a broader analysis of American culture and politics published in 1835 as “Democracy in America.” This book is considered a classic on early American culture.

One of the issues he focused on dealt with how the Americans — as contrasted with the Europeans — handled societies’ problems.

In America he said, neighbors, volunteers, would work together to help each other many times through their churches. In Europe, people would rely upon the government and its agencies to assist people.

He was amazed with how different our country was as compared with Europe in solving peoples’ needs.
Who knows how the volunteer spirit in America started, perhaps it goes all the way back to the days of the Pilgrims. But from our earliest years of people volunteering to help a neighbor build a barn, getting the crops harvested for a neighbor who had some adversity, helping others in need, as examples, this has been a constant theme of the people of this country.

Certainly true of the citizens of Scottsdale. They love to volunteer.

Who are volunteers? They are people who believe in a cause, a project, that helps their community:

  1. Volunteers need to be motivated, need to have a leader they trust and respect. There is an old expression, “you can’t boss a volunteer.” They need a leader who will motivate them, inspire them. Otherwise, if they have no respect for their leader, they’ll take a hike and go find another cause, group, issue to support.
  2. Volunteers must be volunteering for the right reasons. They must believe in the mission of whatever the group is and want to help. I have worked with volunteers, as I’m sure most of you have, that are in it for themselves, either personal or business gain. You can spot these a mile away — have “phony” stamped on their forehead. Most of these type of volunteers aren’t very effective and don’t last very long.

What role have volunteers played in the history and development of Scottsdale? It would be difficult to estimate the value volunteers like you folks bring to this community.

By serving on the many boards and commissions of the city, you and those who came before you, have attained tremendous achievements for our community.

Our former Mayor Herb Drinkwater said many times that many of the best ideas the city has used or adopted have come from its citizens.

The formal process of using citizens’ input probably came from the original STEP committees, Scottsdale Town Enrichment Programs. These were active in the 1950s and 60s, where many ideas were discussed in citizen’s groups.

Obviously not all ideas worked out, but the important thing is to think, to dream, of how Scottsdale can be a better place for all of us.

An idea everyone is familiar with is the Indian Bend Wash.

In the early 1960s, the Army Corps. of Engineers wanted to build a 300-foot-wide concrete ditch through the heart of Scottsdale to control flood waters, like the concrete ditch they built through the heart of Los Angeles.

In February 1964, a Scottsdale citizen, by profession a landscape designer and architect, wrote a guest column for the Scottsdale Daily Progress. He proposed a grass-lined channel with mini lakes to control the flow of water following heavy rains, but several days later when the water cleared and debris cleaned up, there would be parks, golf courses and other recreational amenities available to the residents of the city.

This idea became a reality and made what could have been an eyesore into something that we are proud of and is known through the country.

The Scottsdale citizen who wrote that letter became active in the community and later served two terms on the Scottsdale City Council. His name is Bill Walton.

In closing, I have no idea what any of you folks who serve on the city’s boards and commissions might have as your dream for our city but go for it.

Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t but if you don’t try we will never know.

We are enjoying the shade of the trees planted by those who came before us. It is now our responsibility, our obligation, to plant the trees for those who follow us.

Thank you for your service to our community.

Editor’s note: These remarks were originally delivered by Mr. Brunner Monday, May 22 at an appreciation reception for members of the city of Scottsdale’s Boards and Commissions

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