David Rodeback's Blog

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Saturday, March 11, 2006
Recent Experiences with State and Local Governments

For once, American Fork City provided a happier experience than the State of Utah. I hope the good half of that is a trend.

I recently received a letter in the mail from a state agency, telling me that certain bad things were about to happen, because an organization with which I am involved had failed to file a certain required annual application. (No, it wasn't a tax return.) Happily, I had delivered the application in person, complete and with all required addenda, several weeks before. More happily still, I could prove it. So I sallied forth one morning to the appropriate state office, armed with copies of all the necessary paperwork.

The folks there told me that the letter was sent because they had written to my organization, requesting additional information on a couple of points, and we had not responded. I wondered, if that was the case, why didn't the letter say that, instead of saying that we hadn't submitted the application at all? They blamed a computer error.

I also truthfully told them we had received no such communication. They produced a copy of that request. It had been sent the day before, or in other words, several days after I got the sterner letter that was supposedly sent because we never responded to this one. I got this one in the mail the next day, but they made a copy for me while I was there.

Are you as confused by this point in my narrative as I was frustrated that morning? Probably not.

While there, I examined the letter. It didn't specify exactly what they wanted to know -- what was missing from our application, in their view. It listed several items of information which were supposed to be included, and I pointed out each one in the original application materials. Well, I'd have to talk to their auditor, they said -- but I couldn't do that just then. Also, because of this alleged omission, they needed some additional information of another sort. The letter said they needed it for the last few years, but they corrected that for me that morning: They only needed several weeks' worth of that data.

I played the whole scenario in the government office pretty calmly, I think, but I did consider slamming the door on my way out. (I didn't do it.) All of this took so long that I got a parking ticket for an expired meter. This didn't make me any angrier than I already was. Bill Murray's (Phil Connor's) counsel to the groundhog in Groundhog Day did come to mind. "Don't drive angry. Don't drive angry!"

Before this is finally resolved -- early next week, I think -- I will have spent at least three hours cleaning up their mess. It's three hours I didn't really have to spare, and three hours that could have been put to far more productive use. I think they should have to pay me for my time. I wouldn't insist on my full hourly rate, just a token. Perhaps $25 per hour? A guy can dream.

When an agency has what you want, and you can't get it anywhere else, and when you get it is up to them, and so is whether you ever get it at all . . . this scenario is hardly surprising. But that is not my point. My point is, why would we ever want to give government any more power or responsibility than we absolutely have to?

On a happier note, I recently requested some materials from American Fork City. Some were for LocalCommentary.com, so I had to pay for the copies. Some were for a City committee on which I serve, so they were free to me, while working on City business. I e-mailed the request to the one City official who has answered my e-mails promptly (or at all) for several years. (Others do so promptly now, but they have only been in office for a couple of months.) He was pretty busy, so he said it would be a couple of days, which was fine. One day early, he e-mailed me some of the materials and told me the rest were ready for me to pick up. What I got was exactly what I requested, and I got it sooner than I had a right to expect. City Recorder Dick Colborn, take a bow.

Sometimes professionalism is the best PR.

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