Raising a monument to the ‘common good’

During my nearly 40 years in government, I was privileged to work with myriad people who dedicated themselves to public service for the common good.

They made sure the water was safe to drink. They arrested dangerous people. They ran into burning buildings and raced to get people to the emergency room. They inspected elevators and restaurants. They kept roads paved and mowed grass in parks. They gave vaccinations. They taught children. They saw that the law was carried out.

These are the people a new monument, “The Common Good,” honors and recognizes. Situated in Dayton’s Cooper Park, outside of the new downtown Dayton Metro Library, Jon Barlow Hudson’s striking 8-feet by 6-feet by 16-inches sculpture captures the spirit of public service. Carved out of Pennsylvania granite, the parabola’s passage way and seats are intended to demonstrate that there is always more than one perspective on how we govern ourselves and how to promote the common good. Those perspectives depend, in part, on where one sits.

Hudson, who lives in Yellow Springs and whose sculptures grace outdoor spaces in more than 20 countries and 10 states, also compels viewers to walk the circle that makes up his art. Thirteen quotations about the role of public service wrap around all four sides of the evocative piece.

“When the burdens of the presidency seem unusually heavy, I always remind myself it could be worse. I could be a mayor,” said President Lyndon B. Johnson, whose quip the sculpture memorializes.

“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life,” said sociologist Jane Addams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” said boxing legend Mohammad Ali.

Public service is a calling and a privilege. Our communities abound with public servants who have chosen essential careers, working selflessly, anonymously, diligently and often heroically, day in and day out. We shouldn’t ever forget that their professionalism, commitment and skills make our city, county, state, country and world a better place.

Paid for with private donations, “The Common Good” rests outside the library in Cooper Park — the right place in a most apropos city. Daniel Cooper, an original Dayton settler and a founder, established Cooper Park “to be an open walk forever.” How fitting that today this sculpture sits in the City’s first community greens. How apt that it is here in Dayton, considering the city’s prominent place in the good government movement. (Dayton was the first city to adopt the Council-Manager form of municipal government, putting professional qualifications above patronage.)

Hudson captures perfectly the sentiment that public servants are a community’s rock. Rather than decorative, the sculpture embodies an idea and the insight that achieving the common good requires listening and talking to one another. It communicates that democracy often requires circling back, reconsidering, even meandering to get things right. And the work reminds us that getting along and solving problems take recognizing the wisdom of those who came before us, acknowledging that sacrifice and compromise are essential to ensuring benefits for all.

Join us for the unveiling, if you’re able. If you can’t be there, thank a public servant who’s keeping us safe, secure, healthy and ensuring that knowledge informs us all. Self-government is precious, but so are the many honorable public servants who put our will into action.

Tim Riordan formerly was the City Manager of Dayton. He also was an Assistant City Manager and Acting City Manager of Cincinnati.

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