The president’s Cabinet is part of the executive branch of the United States federal government. Its role, which is advisory, is inferred from Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The Cabinet has traditionally been comprised of the vice president and various heads of executive departments, although the Constitution doesn’t specify which departments, how many or what their duties should be.
George Washington included only four other members in his Cabinet, but modern Cabinets have been comprised of dozens of individuals, including lower-ranking officials. Some of the more familiar core Cabinet members include the secretaries of State, Defense, Treasury, Interior, Agriculture, Education, Energy, Commerce, Veterans Affairs, Labor, Transportation, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and Housing and Urban Development. Others, like the attorney general and the CIA director, aren’t typically referred to as secretaries, and their roles on the Cabinet generally aren’t so well-recognized.
Over the years, presidents have used their Cabinets to differing degrees and for different purposes. Moreover, each new president appoints his or her own Cabinet members, with changes occurring throughout the president’s term. The names of the key departments and their heads have also changed over time, with new ones being proposed from time to time (like departments of peace, social welfare, public works, community development and arts, to name a few).
The one constant, though, is that all presidents have tried to appoint to their respective Cabinets individuals on whom they could rely as experienced, knowledgeable and trusted advisers. Anyone who serves in public office, especially at the head of government, needs good advice. None of us could or should do it alone. It would be a serious mistake to rely solely on our own opinions, agendas and worldviews. Trusted advisers bring fresh perspectives to bear on critical decisions.
In Boulder City, neither I as the mayor nor any of my fellow council members has an official Cabinet to rely on. But we do have each other. I rarely come away from a conversation with one of my colleagues without a helpful new perspective, an idea that’s never occurred to me, or an important piece of information that I feel compelled to consider in deciding an issue. We don’t always agree on all the details, but it’s actually quite rare when we don’t come to a consensus after some healthy debate, deliberation and compromise. I’m so thankful for what each of them brings to the table in our effort to continually do what’s best for Boulder City.
Furthermore, each of us relies heavily on the city manager, department heads and upper-level management teams to provide us crucial information and recommendations. Those include the city clerk’s office, the city attorney, our fire and police chiefs, heads of the Public Works, Finance, Community Development and Parks and Recreation departments, our administrative officer, airport manager, contracts and real estate manager, electric utility administrator and city engineer, and the many other staffers to whom these key players delegate responsibilities.
The same is true of our advisory committees and commissions to which so many generous citizens devote their time and energy. Without these individuals, we would be perpetually underwater and ill-equipped to make informed decisions. Truly, each of these employees and residents plays an important part on Boulder City’s unofficial “Cabinet.”
While I can’t speak for other council members, I can tell you that my own Cabinet of trusted advisers doesn’t stop there. In fact, I’ve assembled several less-formal Cabinets that I affectionately refer to as my Kitchen Cabinets. I won’t embarrass the individuals who serve on them. And most of them wouldn’t even realize that they did anyway, because we rarely, if ever, meet as a group, much less in a formal settling. Instead, it’s usually one on one around the kitchen table, at a kids’ event, at the grocery store or anywhere else that we happen to be gathering or bump into one another around town.
The subjects that my Kitchen Cabinets and I discuss range broadly from historic preservation to local schools, public health and safety, airport issues, landfill permits, marketing, real estate, building codes, economic vitality, parks, energy initiatives, public opinion, athletics, home health care, drug court, customer service and on and on. And that’s good, because I find that I need good advice on just about everything.
Like the president’s Cabinet, my Kitchen Cabinets change over time, ebbing and flowing to meet the needs of the day. Some of my Cabinet members approach me with unsolicited ideas, questions and advice, not even realizing that they’re on my Cabinet or that I end up turning their input into an action item. Other input I specifically solicit. Regardless, all of my Cabinet members play an important role in helping to shape public policy.
To those of you who have unknowingly served on my Kitchen Cabinets over the years, I owe you a debt of gratitude. I wish I could proudly display each and every one of you to the world as if in my china cabinet. Hopefully, one day you’ll get the recognition you deserve. But, for now, please accept my heartfelt appreciation for all the help that you’ve given and continue to give me so unselfishly and almost always without praise or fanfare. Thank you.
Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.