Honest mistakes will happen, for Pete’s sake

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If you dedicate your career to public service, you know this: The complaint department is always open.

Some public servants heft that weight better than others. It’s not just that their shoulders are bigger; their understanding is keen that citizen expectations will generally exceed reason. And when the public servant screws up? The wrath is expected and met with equal measures of humility and aplomb. Steps are then taken to ensure the mistake isn’t repeated.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Kootenai County Jury Commissioner Pete Barnes. Pete made the front page last week because of a letter with his name on it notifying 2,500 law-abiding residents that they were teetering on the precipice of a misdemeanor crime because they hadn’t returned a jury questionnaire.

The mistake, Barnes told Press reporter Brian Walker, led to scores of calls and emails from folks who ranged between understanding and incensed. The complaint department wasn’t just open; it was running on overtime.

What really made the story newsworthy, though, was more Pete’s reaction to the boo-boo than the boo-boo itself. He took full responsibility for the false alarm. He made no excuses. He promised to do better.

Pete Barnes, we submit, is the best kind of public servant. He’s loyal; 24 years with Kootenai County, the past 15 years as jury commissioner — a thankless job if ever there was one. And as we all just learned, he’s fully accountable, refusing to pass the buck even if some passing would have been justified.

As a postscript, here’s a thought for citizens dealing with public servants. If the compliment department kept the same hours as its ugly cousin, maybe we’d all be better served in the long run.

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