Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bureaucrats and Public Servants - A Tale of Ruts

Consistently--over twenty years of public service--I've made a distinction between bureaucrats and public servants. In spite of the demonization of bureaucrats and bureaucracies, the voluminous interest Max Weber devoted to the same is enlightening, if not tedious. Suffice it to say, as the word itself implies ("bureaucrat" is derived from the French word, "bureau," which means desk), a bureaucrat sits at a desk, applies rules and regulations in the performance of his/her daily duties and leaves self-judgement with regard to the efficacy or propriety of any particular rule or regulation on the nightstand before he or she leaves for work in the morning. A bureaucrat does his/her duty, collects his/her paycheck and, above all, shuns any extra effort or initiative to pierce the adamantine shell in which he/she--usually quite happily--envelops themselves within.

Public servants, on the other hand--my view--fear not the, at times, courageous, onerous--what they perceive as--duty to question the heavy heap of bureaucratic baloney that has been enshrined, codified, coddled and hurrahed by politicians and policy makers. Yes, if one is comfortable with the demonization of bureaucrats, then one must also be comfortable with the undeniable fact that the bureaucracy is a creature of politicians--whether the politicians (such giants of the intellectual realm), realize it or not.

Can I hear an Amen!

A story in this morning's Rocky Mountain News, provides an illustration. Seems the residents in an upscale neighborhood in Denver (Crestmoor Park), have had enough of Mayor Hickenlooper's and his minions inability to remove the layer upon layer of ice that has been left on residential streets for, um, almost two months now. Driving down those streets--not unlike most residential streets in Denver--is best left to the most adventurous of us. The foot or more deep ruts in the streets provide a thrill a second, especially when one vehicle encounters another approaching from the opposite direction. See, one must plant their tires within the ruts. If two vehicles meet--going the opposite direction--one brave soul has to pull his or her vehicle out of those ruts to let the other vehicle pass. Then, of course, the brave (or stupid?) good Samaritan who pulled out of the ruts--once the other vehicle passes--must attempt to reestablish his or her vehicle back into those ruts in order to get on down the road. Problem is, it's a wee bit difficult to climb over those ice hills that straddle those ruts.

The good, certainly affluent folks over in Crestmoor Park decided they'd waited long enough for Hick and company to dig them out, and they took it upon themselves to hire a contractor to do the job which, by the way, is an essential service relegated to the City and County of Denver. So, the independent contractor is working away, clearing the streets and along comes an unnamed city employee, a bureaucrat, who tells the Crestmoor neighbors and the contractor that they can't do that; that they aren't allowed to plow streets. "That was the irony of the whole thing," said John Sadwith, President of the Crestmoor HOA (Home Owners Association). "They [the city] won't come out and do it, but they don't want to let us do it."

Now, methinks a public servant upon arriving in the Crestmoor neighborhood and seeing independent contractors undertaking a task the city is unable to accomplish, would have turned his city vehicle around, and, smiling hugely, looked at himself in his rear view mirror and given himself a little winky-winky and thanked almighty God and the well-healed folks over in Crestmoor for taking care of something that he and his crews (I'm assuming this unnamed Public Works employee was a supervisor), couldn't. End of story.

It is probably instructive to recount the source of the Crestmoor neighbor's frustration with the city. From the News story, comes this: "We had many e-mails with (Councilwoman) Marcia Johnson, and the e-mails back from her were always the same, which was the city says they'll get to everybody in two weeks. That was on the 10th. The 24th rolls around, and we haven't seen a plow yet. We're just getting doublespeak from Public Works." And, I'd add, from Councilwoman Marcia Johnson, as well.

To be fair, the Hick and City Council are hustling to abolish a rule or regulation with regard to private contractors having to "pull a permit" to to clear a city right of way.

P.S. Over here in West Highlands, over here in our little old Northwest Denver neighborhood, over here on our little old street, neighbors have spent uncounted hours chipping the ice out of the street. The few nice days we've had in the past three or four weeks, has seen pretty much each of us--in happy groups or individually--take the initiative to chip, chip, chip away at the accumulated mounds of ice that cradle those damnable ruts in the road.

Go figure! Guess the good folks over here on the North side, have a little less faith in the city (and certainly, a little less disposable income) than those in Crestmoor Park.

P.P.S. After more than twenty years in the public sector, there are some things that even the public servant cannot, should not, must not evade with regard to rules, regulations, codified edicts. Those "sacrosanct" imperatives generally reside in the area of financial matters (including purchasing process/procedure), and other functions where the best interests of the city require absolute adherence to established (codified or not), requirements that preserve the integrity of system; that demand ethical behavior from all public sector employees--hired, appointed or elected.


Stephen said...

I'm a motorcyclist in Denver. Last Winter, I was unable to ride 4 or 5 times. As of today, I've ridden exactly twice since the first snowfall back in December.

And now, I am moving from my SE Denver apartment to my new, swanky CapHill apartment. Trouble is exactly what you're talking about--getting a normal car through the sidestreets is hard enough without towing a trailor.

I think it'd do Denver a lot of good to take all the Homeland Security money we've not been spending and throw it into a giant hair dryer, to melt all this damn ice. I'm sick of it.

Da Momster said...

After seeing the addresses that were being plowed today, methinks the Mayor is using a hunt and peck method east of Broadway. Driving through Barnum, Westwood, WestBarValWood, West Highland, Highlands and Berkely is something to be experienced. Not only do the ruts require fortitude, negotiating the cars parked on the other side of the mound - requires grit.

Anonymous said...

George, there's also a third classification: idiot City employee.

And, now, the Mayor's NEW 10 million dollar initiative...just as Mother Nature will have taken care of most of the problem by the end of this week. A grand, meaningless public relations gesture solely in response to the photo and story on page one of the RMN last week. Otherwise, the side streets be damned (except for the lucky few).

....As most of you have probably heard, the Mayor has pledged $10,000,000 for snow and ice removal. As you can imagine, the interest from Tree & Landscaping companies, individuals with snow plows on their pickup trucks, etc. has been overwhelming. I just took a call myself from someone trying to find out how to participate. Here is the scoop:

The City has two major snow removal contractors. Any additional assistance will be subcontracted for by these two big contractors, who are responsible for qualifying and hiring any extra helpers......