Vertical toned image of George Washington Statue at Federal Hall in New York City. Washington was the first president of the United States. Actual tilt-shift lens used for selective focus.

Op-ed: The fallacy of the indispensable

Originally published in the Deseret News.

George Washington was an extraordinary leader, among the greatest in all of human history. Following the Revolutionary War he had access to absolute power. He could have been — and scores of Americans wanted him to be — king. Many declared him the indispensable and irreplaceable man.

Sadly, most men and women hearing such accolades of indispensability listen to that siren song, assume it is a choir of angels, and then begin to believe it and act on it. Washington knew better and rejected the throne of irreplaceability while setting a standard of servant-leadership for all to follow.

I regularly saw the fallacy of the “irreplaceable” in my work as a business consultant. Whenever I heard an executive say “Mary is irreplaceable,” or “Steve is indispensable,” I knew there might be a big problem. I would respond to such statements by asking what would happen if Mary quit tomorrow, or Steve tragically got hit by a bus. This usually drew a nervous laugh or long moment of silence as the executive realized the fallacy, risk and irresponsibility of allowing someone to become irreplaceable. (This is not to say that some people aren’t harder to replace, or that their absence would be difficult to deal with.)

The irreplaceable often became a constraint on innovation, growth and improvement in the organization. It also inhibited the development of other leaders, created a dependency culture, and in many instances undermined the mental muscle and personal commitment of others inside the company.

Sadly, the American people have also begun to buy in to the indispensable leader syndrome. Currently, the United States Congress has a 9 percent approval rating. Yes, that puts its popularity slightly behind that of the influenza virus. Yet incumbents in Congress are re-elected at a rate of about 94 percent.

Despite a presidential election that was a message from voters to change politics as usual and “drain the swamp” — the status quo was maintained in the U.S. House and Senate, with only a few seats changing hands, and fewer changes in the leadership of either party.

It is easy to cast aspersions on the rest of Congress while convincing your constituents they cannot survive without you. This attitude fosters the belief that some political savior can waltz in from Washington and fix all our problems — further weakening the nation as more and more citizens absolve themselves of personal responsibility. Ultimately this ends in an imperial presidency, with the president’s political pals and pawns running, and often ruining, the nation. This never ends well for everyday citizens.

If we begin to view political leaders as replaceable, they will be, and elections will become less consequential to our lives because we will make government less consequential in our lives.

During my time in Washington, D.C., I regularly walked through the Capitol rotunda late at night. I would always pause and spend a few moments gazing at the majestic painting of George Washington resigning his commission as general in 1783. In the quiet and stillness of the empty rotunda, you can hear and sense and know the principles that made Washington an authentic and extraordinary leader.

His resignation of his army commission was an ultimate act of servant-leadership. In one of the few such instances in history, the commander of a conquering army did not assume complete authority, control and power but instead returned it to the citizens and their representatives.

Any, and every, would-be leader — political or otherwise — ought to take note.

Washington clearly understood that power is not something to amass, barter with or cling to, nor is it a tool for pursuing political purposes and self-promotion. While many proclaimed him to be indispensable and irreplaceable, Washington knew the future of the nation wasn’t dependent on him. He believed America’s destiny would be secured, down through the ages, by individual citizens who would enter the world’s stage, make a contribution in their homes, communities and country, and then travel on.

Individual Americans, living and applying indispensable truths and irreplaceable principles, will be the force that guarantees America will remain a nation indivisible, with liberty, justice and opportunity for all.

From HB 477 to the Utah Legislature winning the Online Democracy Award

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Photo Credit: Scott Catron

Nailed it.

This week, Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Wayne Niederhauser accepted the Online Democracy Award from the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL)  on behalf of the Utah Legislature. NCSL recognized the Utah legislative website,, as Best in the Nation. You know what? They deserve it. The site really is awesome and it makes it possible for anyone with an internet connection to get more information about sausage making legislation and the Utah Legislature than they could possibly consume.

After the cachinnations in the press over HB477 died down, the Utah Legislature–led by Lockhart and Niederhauser (and their staffs)–buckled down and showed they were earnest in wanting to give Utahns access to their government. Transparency is an ongoing effort, but this recognition shows we’re moving in the right direction. Follow how legislation is made and what those scoundrels up at the legislature are up to more on social media, blogs, and their website below:

Utah Legislature:

Senate Cloud:

House Twitter:

Senate Twitter:

House Facebook:

Senate Facebook:

Senate YouTube:

House YouTube:

Legislative Blog Sites:

Originally posted here at Utah.Politico.Hub.



Utah’s education system gets ‘D’ in financial transparency

Are Utah’s public education administrators properly committed to openness and transparency regarding their stewardship over public schools and the tax dollars that pay for them? A recent analysis from the Cato Institute suggests the answer is no.

The analysis graded state education department websites for the financial transparency they provide. Utah’s State Office of Education (USOE) received a score of 65/100 – good for a “D” grade and coming in at 23rd out of 50 states. Two states got a grade in the “A” range (New Mexico got an “A” and South Dakota an “A-”), and 19 states got an “F” or a “F-” grade.

Read the rest of this post here at Sutherland Daily.

Swallow/Shurtleff A.G. alleged scandals and infographic

Click here or the image below for a large web version of the infographic.

spLast week, in my regular radio commentary aired throughout the state, I recommended that Utah Attorney General John Swallow resign his post as Attorney General. Sutherland Institute is in the world of politics but we try our mightiest not to be of that world – a standard hard to live up to. My recommendation seemed out of place for some people, but for me it was a natural conclusion born of Sutherland’s commitment to the integrity of Utah’s public institutions.

Everyone in politics has their own paradigm, or how they see the world of politics spinning around them. In the Swallow case, as we would expect, most people have jaded views – either Swallow is definitely guilty of something or Swallow is definitely the victim of some combination of opportunistic felons and Democratic Party operatives. Even those pundits who claim objectivity and a wait-and-see approach have somewhat confident opinions about the case of John Swallow.

I am no exception to this rule. I have an opinion, and that opinion is what led me to recommend that John Swallow resign. My only dog in this fight is Sutherland’s long-standing commitment to seek integrity in our public institutions. (I should add that I voted for John Swallow in the general election for attorney general and that I consider him a friend, even though he probably would not say the same thing about me right now – because, of course, seen through a political paradigm, friends either agree or they stay silent.  Read more

2013 Legislature: Testimony in favor of education transparency bill

Testimony given by Derek Monson before the Senate Education Committee on Monday:

Thank you, Mr. Chair. My name is Derek Monson and I am Director of Policy with Sutherland Institute. I am here to speak in favor of SB 128.

Click here to read more at Sutherland Daily.

Positive signs for Orem taxpayers after 8-hour tax hearing

After an eight-hour Truth in Taxation Hearing, the Orem City Council voted 4-3 at 1:45 this morning to approve a 25 percent property tax increase for the Orem portion of the property tax bill, instead of the proposed 50 percent increase. That will raise $1.7 million and the city will forego city employee pay raises and other purchases to cover the remainder of the $3.3 million city budget shortfall, $2.8 million of which is due to a UTOPIA bond payment. 

But Deputy City Recorder Rachelle Conner said she personally believes Orem residents will file a petition to make the tax increase a referendum item to be voted on by Orem residents in November of 2013. If the petition gets the necessary signatures and is validated, the tax increase will be put on hold until the vote, leading Conner to state that the city will have to make $3.3 million in cuts to city services to balance the city budget.

Read more

Video: U. students kick off transparency project

On Wednesday, students at the University of Utah hosted a public forum to release a set of “best practices” for transparency in local government. This initiative, the Utah Transparency Project (UTP), is supported by Sutherland Institute and other groups from both sides of the political spectrum.

Below you can see a video report of Wednesday’s forum, including interviews with University of Utah student Tanner Gould and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker:


Here’s the script of the video:  Read more

U. students and Sutherland advocate for transparency in local government

In today’s hyper-partisan political climate it has become difficult to find topics that generate universal (or near-universal) agreement, making those issues that everyone does agree on both refreshing and encouraging. One such issue is the need for open, transparent government.

An example of the universal agreement on this issue is the student-led Utah Transparency Project (UTP), which will be launched in a press event Wednesday, April 11 at the University of Utah. The purpose of the UTP is to “to make local governments in Utah more transparent and accessible to citizens” by encouraging them to adopt five transparency “best practices.”

As a conservative advocate for increased transparency in state and local government, Sutherland has signed on as a supporting organization to the UTP. (Full disclosure: One of the UTP’s best practices includes taking steps to put local government information online, as Sutherland has advocated for in the past.) However, others who view politics through a different lens than Sutherland, such as The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker (a guest speaker at the UTP launch event), are also supporters of the UTP.  Read more

Eagle Mountain joins the A+ transparency club


Stan Rasmussen and Dave Buer of Sutherland Institute with Mayor Heather Jackson

Eagle Mountain recently became the fourth Utah city to earn Sutherland’s “A+ Website Transparency Award.” Sutherland produced a report in the fall of 2010 that ranked city governments on the transparency and utility of their city websites — did the city make it easy for its residents to find information, and what kind of information was available?

Eagle Mountain’s initial score was a respectable 7.5 out of 10, or a B in Sutherland’s A-F grading scale. But, to their credit, Eagle Mountain officials wanted to be as open and transparent as possible, so they worked with Sutherland to see how they could improve.  Read more

California shows that ‘independent commissions’ are an illusion


Some in Utah, including interest groups, the media, and a few elected officials (usually former elected officials) favor creating “nonpartisan,” “independent” commissions to oversee important political processes like congressional redistricting and legislative ethics investigations.[pullquote]The influence of money and partisan interests does not magically disappear simply because we create “independent” commissions.[/pullquote]“Independent” commissions produce better outcomes, we are led to believe, because they make their decisions free of the influence of wealthy special interests and/or political partisanship.

Yet, as a recent Pro Publica (a nonprofit news organization) investigative report into California’s new “nonpartisan” redistricting commission shows, this promise of freedom from partisan or special interest influence is an illusion.  Read more