Dumb Management Stuff
DUMB ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT STUFF

Organizations tend to beat up staff with silly rules or prodecures. Email us your examples  
to paul@zuckersystems.com and we'll put them here. Please indicate if you wish to remain anonymous.

Your Boss Asked You To Do What?

Overpaid Do-Nothings

Urban Planner Becomes Billionaire

Share Your Computer Password and Get Out of Jail Free - Not!

No Ordinance - Bikini Car Wash

Make Three Copies

Wrong Number

The Private Sector Can Be Dumb Also

Dumb Interviews

Dumb Invoice

Bad Bad Boss

Blue Ink

Planners With Guns

Dumbest Local Government

Billable Hours

How to P*** Off Customers

Imaginary Work

What Your Planning Professors Forgot To Tell You about Sanitaria

Home of the Whopper


When is Fast Too Fast?

What's a County Planning Board?

You Forgot to Dot the "i"

The Recycled Paper Clip

The Chair Caper

The Phone Runaround

No Thinking on the Job Please!

A Recent Voicemail Transaction Went Like This...

Is Anyone Home?


Your Boss Asked You To Do What?

by Debra Auerbach, CareerBuilder Writer

  • To be prepared to delete all emails and computer files at a moment's notice.
  • To be a surrogate mother for her -- more than once.
  • To spy on senior management.
  • To buy a rifle for him, and he would reimburse the employee.
  • If she knew of anyone who could "hook him up" with illegal substances.
  • To go online and post false good comments about him.
  • To come up with a science-fair project for her daughter.
  • To fire his (the boss's) brother.
  • To lend him $400 for a down payment on a car.
  • To remove her stitches.
  • To be better friends with him.
  • To scour an abandoned office building for furniture and supplies they could use.
  • To bail another co-worker out of jail.
  • To clip her dog's nails.
  • To help plan her wedding.

Overpaid Do-Nothings

By David Noer
Freelance Columnist

Having confided in me that the current layoff provided a good opportunity to get rid of those "overpaid do-nothings" in marketing, the newly appointed general manager stood on a table in the employee cafeteria and addressed his new employees. This is a paraphrase of his comments: "Since you were lucky enough to keep your jobs," he shouted, "I expect you to work extra hard to make this organization lean and mean. This won't be the last layoff. I'm good at cost control, and I personally intend to monitor everyone's performance."

Pausing and looking over the mute and stunned audience, he sternly continued, "I won't tolerate any grousing and whining. Now let's stop wasting time and get to work."

As a consultant, I had what proved to be the impossible task of convincing him that "lean and mean" strategies often translated to "sad, angry and unproductive" employees and that he had become the poster child for three classic traps that prevent leaders from revitalizing downsized organizations. Because private and public organizations throughout Greensboro, Guilford County and our region are caught up in an international epidemic of layoffs and cost-cutting, understanding the dangers of these traps can be helpful to both managers and employees.

The Gunnysacking Trap

Gunnysacking is a term for storing up hurt feelings, anger, affronts and unresolved conflicts, and, when the weight of the psychological gunnysack becomes too heavy to bear, unloading it, often to an inappropriate degree in an inappropriate context.

We all gunnysack to some extent -- think of your relationship with your spouse or significant other -- but most of us find ways to keep our bags relatively light. Unfortunately, organizational leaders are not immune to gunnysacking, often burdened by heavy bags for years and using a crisis mode of operation as an authorization to unleash long-repressed feelings of anger and frustration by figuratively beating their fellow employees about the head with their overloaded gunnysacks.

In layoffs this takes the form of those in power "getting" both functions and people that frustrated them in the past but were protected by a more tolerant organizational culture. Often, leaders collude in their gunnysacking. Recent government examples are the "cost-saving" adventures of Guilford County Commissioners Melvin "Skip" Alston and Steve Arnold and attempts by some Greensboro City Council members to form a coalition to "get" City Manager Mitch Johnson.

Gunnysacking is unhealthy for both the leaders who practice it and for the prognosis of organizational survival. If you see it happening, help those wielding those heavy bags find better ways to lighten them. If, in the heat of the battle for organizational survival, you are tempted to form a coalition to "get" a person or a function for the wrong reasons, resist it.

If you find yourself the victim of gunnysacking, don't try to get even; that only compounds the problem. Try to discover what past event lies unresolved in the leader's bag and muster the courage to directly confront the issue.

The Cost-Cutting Activity Trap

An activity trap involves becoming so enmeshed in a task that one loses sight of more important, fundamental objectives. Leadership gurus such as Peter Drucker have long warned of the hazards of getting caught in activity traps.

However, in times of economic chaos, many action-oriented leaders, uncomfortable with omplexity and ambiguity, are driven to do something personal, immediate and tangible. They become heavily involved, often obsessed, with line-item budget cuts and the layoff process.

At the very time when their perspective, wisdom and creativity are needed to help the organization survive, they succumb to the seduction of micro-management. In today's environment, cost-cutting and layoffs are sobering and necessary realities, but that's not how true leaders spend their time. We need leaders to give us hope, inspire us and, difficult though it may be, navigate a strategic course that will ensure organizational productivity and survival.

The This-Is-What-Got-Me-Here Trap

Leading organizational growth is much easier and requires a different set of skills than leading organizational decline. Most definitions of management include the classic "ings": "directing" "organizing" "evaluating" and "controlling." And most leaders of public and private organizations got where they are by excelling in these "ings."

However, in many years of working with organizations going through downsizing, I have yet to hear employees describe their best boss as one who excelled at directing, evaluating or controlling.

During troubled times, the best bosses are seen as those who are good listeners and straight communicators, and who have the ability to form empathetic relationships. Helping skills, not controlling or evaluating skills, are the leadership currency of the realm during troubled times.

That doesn't mean that leaders are absolved of the responsibility to make hard decisions or can magically alleviate the pain of organizational restructuring. It does mean that, in order to revitalize organizations, it is necessary to re-recruit demoralized employees, and that is not accomplished through excessive control, evaluation or direction. It is done through the leadership "ings" of listening, empowering and coaching.

Leadership is not necessarily a hierarchical phenomenon. One does not need to be formally anointed as "boss" to exercise leadership in an organization. Families in Greensboro and our region are making uncomfortable lifestyle adjustments and belt-tightening. Political leadership in a time of reduced tax revenues and increased expenses is everyone's business. We all need to work to avoid becoming ensnared in these leadership traps and help our families, communities and organizations rebound.

David Noer (dnoer@elon.edu) is the Frank S. Holt Jr. Professor of Business Leadership at Elon University and an honorary senior fellow at Greensboro's Center for Creative Leadership. He writes a monthly column for the News & Record on leadership, organizational behavior and community issues.


Urban Planner Becomes Billionaire

Allegedly corrupt Spanish urban planner became billionaire

January 2009
By BEN SILLS
and SHARON SMYTH
Bloomberg News

SAN DIEGO - As an urban planning adviser in the sun-drenched Spanish resort town of Marbella, Juan Antonio Roca had after-tax income of less than 150,000 euros a year.

When he was arrested for corruption in March 2006, police seized assets worth 2.4 billion euros ($3.4 billion), including a century-old palace in Madrid, a country estate equipped with a helipad over-looking the Rock of Gibraltar and a stud farm guarded by a tiger.

According to a 451-page July 2007 indictment by Marbella prosecutor Miguel Angel Tones, Roca also owned a ranch to raise fighting bulls, a private jet, a helicopter and a painting by Spanish master Joan Miro.

Known in Marbella as "The Boss," Roca has become Spain's national symbol of municipal corruption amid the boom and bust of the country's real estate industry.

"Marbella is a special case, but the conditions which allowed it to occur exist across the country," says Jesus Sanchez-Lambas, a law professor and general secretary of Madrid's Ortega y Gasset University Institute. "Corruption in town planning is institutionalized."

Roca, 55, who was convicted of bribing a judge in August by the High Court of Andalusia in Granada, is currently standing trial at Spain's National Court in Madrid where, along with five other defendants, he's charged with embezzling 36 million euros of public funds.

Prosecutors are preparing to go to trial in connection with the 2007 indictment, dubbed Operation Malaya, against Roca and 85 others in Marbella, Madrid, Barcelona and San Sebastian. The charges include embezzlement, money laundering, dereliction of duty and bribery.

Roca's lawyer, Jose Anibal Alvarez, said in December that none of the evidence proves that Roca took bribes, embezzled from city hall or laundered money. Spanish officials are making him a scapegoat for the corruption that's widespread in city halls across Spain, he says.

Graft and bribery thrived along the Costa del Sol as the country rode a 15-year real estate boom, fueled by a plunge in interest rates, rising incomes and strong demand for second homes by sun-starved Northern Europeans.

The newfound wealth and borrowing power created a potential bonanza for Spain's 8,111 town halls, which have limited powers to raise taxes yet have to pay for local police, garbage collection and sports facilities. Spanish law does give the municipalities power to grant all permits for new homes, shopping centers and factories.

Even many legal projects involve the mayor's cutting a deal with developers, who may agree to build fire stations or put up street lamps in addition to paying for building permits.

Some officials also demand bribes.

"Local administrators have the power to decide who gets rich and who stays poor," says Victor Tone de Silva, a professor of law at Madrid's Instituto de Empresa business school. "There's a great temptation to share in the wealth that you can create."

That temptation may have ensnared Roca, who began his career as anything but wealthy.

A native of Cartagena in the region of Murcia, which neighbors Andalusia, Roca trained as a mining engineer and then set up a property development company called Comarsa that was declared bankrupt in 1990. The following year, he moved to Marbella.

At the time, the town was known for its celebrity residents, including King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, who built a palace modeled after the White House in Washington, except that the bathroom fittings were made of gold, according to Gorka Zamarreno, communications director of real estate company Aifos SA, who attended a party there.

Until shortly before Roca's arrival, Marbella had also been known for the drug dealers and prostitutes who plied their trades on its streets.

Mayor Jesus Gil changed all that. Elected on a platform of cleaning up crime, Gil wanted to attract more wealth to the town whose population was then less than half the current 200,000.

Gil hired Roca, a stocky man with dark, greased-back hair splashed with white around the temples, as the head of a property management company owned by the city, Planeamiento 2000, in 1992.

The two men then used the company to siphon off 36 million euros from city coffers, according to a press note issued by the National Court on behalf of the prosecutors.

Roca took bribes for granting building permits and adjudicating public works contracts at inflated prices to bidders who would pay him under the table, according to Tones, the prosecuting magistrate in Marbella.

Roca also sold at a cheap price to his holding companies undeveloped land that belonged to the town, prosecutors say. He then reclassified it as suitable for development and resold it at a huge markup to another developer.

As demand for new construction grew, so did the power of municipal firms like Roca's across Spain. In many places, it could take as much as four years before a developer had all the permits required to begin work on a site, Instituto de Empresa's Torre says.

Builders such as Aifos would start work on projects under the assumption that they would get all of the necessary permits before it came time to occupy the building. Once the builder had spent heavily on the construction, Roca would demand a bribe in return for the permits, prosecutors say.

Aifos paid 5 million euros of bribes to Roca over two years in a bid to get him to license two hotel developments in Marbella and Puerto Banus, according to the indictment.

Aifos Chairman Jesus Ruiz Casado, who has been indicted for bribery, declined to comment.

The Roca years will have a long-term effect on the economy of Marbella, says Angeles Munoz, who was elected mayor in 2007.

In the race to build without permits, developers wrecked the coastline and city officials neglected infrastructure such as roads, Munoz, 48, says.

"People have lived very, very well here," she says. "Imagine what it could have been like if they had invested as they should have."

Source Code: 20090107tdg


Share Your Computer Password and Get Out of Jail Free - Not

See how San Francisco Mayor Newsom, on his way to his wedding in Montana, stopped by the jail to solve a 10-day stand off to retrieve important city computer passwords.

Story courtesy of the Los Angeles Times California, Friday, July 25, 2008.

Click here to read the entire story


Dumb Org Staff

Have you seen this story out of San Antonio? Talk about zoning enforcement!

Andrew Spurgin, AICP
City of Alexandria, VA

Bikini Car Wash Reopens Despite City's Efforts To Close It Down

A controversial car wash on the South Side is back open despite the efforts of city officials to close it down.

The Bikini Car Wash is located on South Flores near Babel. Friday afternoon, the music was blaring, the hoses were running, and the workers were washing. But not everyone is happy about it.

The City of San Antonio tried to shut the small business down, but learned the car wash isn't breaking any laws. There are no ordinances prohibiting washing a car while wearing a bikini.

After fixing a drain that shut his business down temporarily, owner Ricardo Arsate's first day with the water back on caused a lot of rubber-necking and the lining up of a steady stream of dirty cars waiting for a soapy sponge.

"It feels great," Arsate told News 4. "I've been working on this for a long time. I've been thinking about this since I was a kid. So, hey, it's good."

Arsate isn't the only winner. His employees are also winners since they still have a job.

"It is a job, and it's paying bills like everybody else has, and we're trying to do the best that we can," said employee Tiana Smith.

Customer Vincent Alejos drove all the way across town to get his car cleaned.

"I'm supporting the business," said Alejos. "That's all I'm doing. I'm trying to put money back into this economy."

If business keeps booming, Arsate said he plans to open up another Bikini Car Wash, possibly on the North Side.


Make Three Copies

I have a client with a multi-million dollar project requiring a building permit be issued before a specific date. Three months before that date, the client asked for the amount of the fees so that they could get a check cut by their out-of-area corporate headquarters. The fee would be in the mid-five figures. The client has a credit card with no credit limit for this type of expenditure. The jurisdiction does not accept credit cards. The jurisdiction has reviewed the plans and the permit is ready to issue. There is no extension possible. The agency says they cannot calculate the fee until they receive a form from the State's environmental resource office concerning a dust control plan. The dust control plan is issued over the Internet. It is a one-page ministerial form. The client was unable to complete the form because it requires the construction window, and due to weather conditions, it was not feasible to accurately project the starting date until recently.

The County has no jurisdiction, control, or ability to change, review, or approve the permit from the state. All they do is attach a copy of the form--with an original signature to the plans. We asked the jurisdiction if they would accept a faxed copy of the form in order to calculate the fees with the knowledge that the original is being sent via overnight mail. No, this was not acceptable. When asked why, we were told that they had to have the form to determine how much time was involved in processing the form to add to the fee. We asked whether there was anything they needed to review, since all the form contains is owner, contractor, addresses, phone numbers, construction dates, emergency contacts, and the ADEQ filing number. We were told that the couldn't estimate how long it would take to process the form -- that is, make 3 copies and staple them to the 3 sets of plans. After a long pause, we asked if they could take the fax we send, and time how long it takes to make 3 copies and staple the copies to the plans and then use that as a guide. No, this would mean that they would be doing the same task twice, and would have to charge for both the rehearsal and the actual. We agreed to pay for both, but were told they couldn't charge for both because it would violate a policy. It's been over a week, and we're still waiting for the County to calculate fees.

Signed,
Utterly perplexed.

Dear Utterly Perplexed,

This and similar problems we find in planning and building departments is why my business is thriving. It reminds me of a great story I just read in a neat new book, It's Called Work for a Reason. The author was checking into a hotel that offers a great home-baked cookie at check in. The person in front of him said he didn't want the cookie. So, the author said he would like to have the cookie for the person in front of him in addition to the one he would get. The clerk said that he could only have one cookie. The person in front said, so give me the cookie and I will give it to him. The clerk's reply — "you already turned down the cookie so I can't do that."

Good eating and good stapling.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses

The clerk at the hotel was negligent in not informing the customers of the "Cookie Recipient Reinstatement" process whereby a customer who inadvertently or for whatever reason turns down the offer of a cookie may fill out the cookie recipient reinstatement application form and appear before the Hotel Cookie Board to have his status as a cookie recipient reinstated. It is a simple process with a registration fee of $25.

Wayne E. Neumann, AICP
City of Missouri City, Texas


Here is a good quote to capture this.

The perfect bureaucrat everywhere is the man who manages to make no decisions and escape all responsibility. Brooks Atkinson
For this case, these folks seem to be perfect bureaucrats.

Ben Orsbon


Wrong Number

One time in my career I was having trouble with a Mayor. When I finally did something he liked, he looked up my name in the phone book and gave me a congratulatory phone call. Unfortunately, he reached another Paul Zucker. When the press found out, they loved the story. However, the Mayor never did call me.

I was thinking about this when another story crossed my desk. A planner from an un-named city left a message on the answering machine for the developer whose project he was processing that had been appealed. He said, not to worry, it will be approved. Unfortunately he accidentally left the message on the answering machine of the opponent to the project.


The Private Sector Can Be Dumb Also

Planners, don't get thrown off by the private sectors' examples. You can learn something from these!

The Management Doctor

A number of years ago, our company was rapidly expanding in response to the needs of its largest client, a telecommunications giant that served many states in the Rocky Mountain region. Large, multi-million dollar deals had been signed, and, with the money pouring in, we were sparing no effort or expense to meet the client's every whim, need, and desire. We were falling all over ourselves to comply with every demand, even though we were not fully prepared to handle the volume and pace of the business that was being sent our way. As often happens in the private sector, our sales team was promising the moon, and the customer service and warehousing teams were jumping through fiery hoops trying to live up to the promises that were being made. It was soon apparent that our existing warehouse would not be large enough to handle the demand, and so in keeping with our "do whatever it takes" attitude, we opened a new warehouse facility that would be dedicated solely to the needs of our main client. This new warehouse is where the "Dumb Management Story" comes into play.

Our company policy for creating a new warehouse facility was not streamlined and could not be easily adapted to meet the pressure-filled, time-sensitive situation that had developed. Floor plans and layouts were designed at the national and regional headquarters - both several states away. Dusty old "here's-how-we've-always-done-it" manuals were called upon to establish appropriate staffing levels, operating hours, and even the numbers of forklifts and wire cutting machines that the new facility would be equipped with.  Between the time when the special client-specific new warehouse was first conceived, and the time that it was actually opened, the demand on our company had grown considerably - as had the levels and types of inventory we had been required to stock. The result was that the new facility was already undersized and obsolete on the day that it opened. Also, as is usual with high-dollar, high-profile business situations, there were politics at play - if the new warehousing operation failed, then nobody wanted to be associated with it. Naturally, everyone wanted his or her name attached to the building in the event of its success.

It did not take long for the weaknesses in the new project to become apparent. The staff was incredibly undermanned, under-trained, and inexperienced. There was a terrific lack of shelf (and other types) of storage space.  Huge shipments of material, still shrink-wrapped on the pallets it arrived on, would sit for days in the receiving area as there was simply not enough manpower to handle it in a timely fashion. These and other problems contributed to a comedy of errors that quickly led to incorrectly selected and packed orders, missing orders, and late shipments - all expressly forbidden with our very demanding client.

Harried and frustrated managers higher up the "chain of command" repeatedly asked us what the problems were. We responded by consistently listing the same issues. We even offered our solutions for the problems: Temporarily or permanently bring in experienced staff members from around the region. Get us a bigger, better-designed facility, where the available space, layout, and shelving arrangements were better suited to the products being handled. Get us the equipment that we needed. Make sure we were staffed appropriately for the workload. Consider three-shift (24-hour) staffing. The response we received was always the same - "none of what you are asking for is justified! Work smarter not harder! Get the job done! Stop whining!"

Eventually, our supervisor was removed from her position. Her six months of long twelve-and-fourteen-hour days were rewarded with a symbolic slap across the face: "You obviously can't get the job done, so we're going to replace you."  And replace her they did.  The "Dumb Management" did not stop there, however.  Within the next two months, the company, in its infinite wisdom, did everything the supervisor had asked for. They brought in seasoned warehousing professionals from other branches of the company. They hired additional staff. They brought in needed forklifts, pallet jacks, and other equipment. They authorized overtime until the situation was stabilized. Within six months, they had rented a larger building, and moved the operation into it, thus helping to alleviate most of the storage and spacing issues. Everything we - and our supervisor had repeatedly begged for had been provided - AFTER she was made the scapegoat for the initial shortcomings of the operation and sacked.

To this day, I marvel at the "Dumb Management" mistakes that were made which created a nightmarish working environment, contributed to considerable turnover, and ultimately helped us lose our exclusive contracts and become "just another supplier on the list" for the big telecommunications client. The parallels to other private-industry debacles and to similar public/governmental scenarios can easily be seen, and the many lessons are straightforward and simple:

1.)  Set realistic standards for performance. Don't expect your staff to be able to meet unattainable goals; you will be disappointed;

2.)   The "way things worked in the past" may not be the way to resolve things now or in the future;

3.)  Listen carefully, confirm your understanding of the issues, and respond quickly and appropriately;

4.)  Don't be afraid to try unorthodox approaches to solve unforeseen or unusual problems; don't be afraid to throw out "the manual;"

5.)    Support your people, trust them, and respect their judgment, they are typically closer to the problem than you are;

6.)    If you feel that you can't trust the judgment of your people, ask yourself if you truly DON'T trust them, or if your lack of trust is fueled by your resentment that they are correct, and that you, as the manager, may be wrong, or that you are otherwise feeling threatened in some manner.

Respectfully Anonymous in Denver


Dumb Interviews

Candidate is asked, "Are you comfortable with multi-tasking, and give an example of how you are able to do more than one thing at a time."

Candidate replies, "Even when I'm having sex with my girlfriend, I'm thinking about work and post-it notes that I want to leave at the office for my colleagues."

EEEEEWWWWW.  Way too much inappropriate detail.


When still going through the opening pleasantries, a candidate volunteers, "I'm sorry that I had to wear these socks that have blood stains on them but they were the only clean ones I could find."

We didn't dare ask how he came to have bloodstained socks and assumed that if he couldn't plan ahead for clothes for an interview, he probably couldn't plan very well at all.


Dumb Invoice

An invoice was received from a subconsultant. The front page of the invoice summarized the charges and had a line that said "Total amount due and payable:" with a dollar amount. The invoice looked correct and a check was sent. A few days later, a telephone call came in stating that the expenses part had not been paid. The summary had just said "Total." After rummaging through the invoice, it was determined that expenses were listed separately on the last page in the packet. When questioning the billing coordinator from the firm, she replied that the "total amount" did not include expenses. Then she added, "We have this same problem with every one of our new clients." When asked whether the confusion warranted changing the invoice, the reply was, "people are only confused the first time, then they get it right." Customer service at its finest.

Anonymous


I have been waiting for more Dumb Stories. Maybe this one will inspire the rest of you.

The Management Doctor

Bad Bad Boss

Here is my new boss' approach to relationships with colleagues.

  1. Have the Right Mind-Set
    Tell staff their work is laughable, garbage, incompetent and unacceptable. Get up and leave one-on-one check-in meetings when you are through. Leave your subordinate sitting there knowing every move they make is a lose-lose situation.
  2. Ask the Right Question
    When asked a question to establish your preferred direction, policy choice, etc., refuse to answer or, when pressed, reply that the subordinate is a "professional" and should know the answer. That I, the boss, will recognize good work when I see it and return garbage when it shows up.
  3. Demonstrate Your Professionalism
    Bump up assignments by 45 days so that the original agreed-upon deadline is now two weeks overdue! That will really show the staff who is boss. And, caring: sit on vacation requests for 4+ weeks, even when the 4-day vacation request is submitted 8 weeks before the event. You have been told the event is a major family wedding across the country and requires detailed coordination with extended family members. No work-related events are scheduled remotely close to this activity. When you grant the request, comment "Go ahead and try to get cheap seats now."

Signed,

Looking for the Exit


Blue Ink

I am not allowed to use blue ink, or blue ink pens. Why? "Because notaries are required to use black." So I guess planners are notaries.

p.s. ó Just got through my second reading of your book. Can't wait to write mine in 25 years. I've got some doozies!

Anonymous


Planners With Guns

Larimer County, Colorado Commissioners are poised to adopt a policy allowing the county's 1,400 employees to carry guns on the job! "I'm looking at it as a violence-prevention policy, not a weapons policy," said Commissioner Glen Gibson of Loveland. "This was something that we felt was a good idea that would address violence in the workplace, so people would know violence would not be tolerated in our workplace and this would be a happy place to work."

Larimer County officials said the new policy is an administrative matter, so the Commissioners do not plan to set aside time for public comment that might influence the policy's final draft.


Reader Responses

Iím sorry you forwarded this news item. Iím afraid, with our Legislature in session that they will adopt it as law for the entire state!

Anonymous from Nevada


And I thought we were bad!

Anonymous


The Larimer County policy ended up being stricter, but still allows an employee to carry a concealed weapon with approval of the supervisor and the county board. The relevant policy language says:

"The personnel policy, unanimously approved by the three Republican commissioners, prohibits Larimer Countyís 1,400 employees from carrying guns on the job.
Exceptions may be granted for workers who feel personally threatened, have concealed weapons permits or get written permission from their bosses."

Ben Jordan


Dumbest Local Government

From Governing, Feb 2003

What is the dumbest local government in America? Hard to say, but at least until recently New Yorkís affluent suburb of Nassau County would have to be a contender. How dumb was Nassauís government? So dumb that it bought 1,200 computers a few years ago as backups for the Y2K problem, then left them in boxes for three years as employees begged for upgrades. So dumb that it paid for nearly 1,400 telephone lines that werenít used; most werenít even hooked up to phones. And more: Its records were in such disarray, it didnít know how many employees it had or how much property it owned. It even had its nights and days mixed up: Cops were paid a "night differential" for work after dark. Problem was, it kicked in at 11a.m. The new county attorney was horrified by the chaos in her department. "I donít know if itís the funniest or saddest thing," she said, "but we found a local statute which had been repealedóthen two years later was amended." Thankfully, thereís a new administration in Nassau County (the new county executive says, "It was far worse than I ever imagined.") But it could take a while to straighten out a government this dumb. Take, for instance, the elevator at the county executiveís building. When you took it to the ground floor, it told you you were at the seventh floor. Not just wrong, but dumb. The building has only five floors.


Billable Hours

I once interviewed with a consulting firm in Southern California. They informed me that they encourage comradery in the office and want to see their employees being friendly with one another. However, they said that because this is not billable time, they require a minimum of a 45 hour work week to cover the estimated 5 hours of "friendly time" wasted. I took a pass on the job!

From: Still happy where I am...


Reader Response

I once worked for an agency where the Executive Director used to brag to potential new employees that we had so much work to do, including so many unpaid night meetings, that they would get two years of basic planning training in one! What a deal! He never understood why so many withdrew their names from consideration for the positions. Unfortunately, I also worked for him for 10 years before getting out to a position that has more reasonable expectations and comp time for night meetings!

Jennie Brockman
Lexington, Kentucky


How to P*** Off Customers

We recently received this letter:

"We are currently reviewing the credit lines of our account holders to ensure that the appropriate line of credit has been established. Recently, we've noticed that you haven't been using your full line of credit. As a result, we are decreasing your current credit line with Office Depot. Hopefully, this will free up your credit for other business needs and reduce your company's exposure to fraud. There's no need to contact us - the credit limit on your account will automatically be adjusted to the amount listed above."

Is it just us or is this a dumb way to do business?


Imaginary Work

An employee in our department was a problem employee over the last 20 years. He/she was always short of time to do work and the evidence was a stack of file boxes in his/her office labeled with pending permits. A new supervisor started to push for performance and the employee went out on stress leave. Other staff went to the file boxes to reassign the work in the employee's absence and found all boxes were empty with phony labels on them. Too bad all that creativity wasn't applied to real work.


What Your Planning Professors Forgot To Tell You About Sanitaria

Twenty plus years ago I was appearing before the governing board of the county for which I still work. I hadn't been working for the county more than three or four months at that time. As the junior planner in the department I handled most of the minor variances and special use permits. The item before the governing body was a special use permit for a package sewer plant to service a rural subdivision. During the hearing, one of the governing board members asked what the authority was to allow the sewer plant. I was absolutely flabbergasted by the question as I was not that familiar yet with our zoning code. I scrambled to find the authority and discovered that in the zoning district for which the sewer plant was proposed, that sanitaria were permitted with a special use permit. I promptly declared that this must be the authority (assuming that sanitaria was plural for sanitation) and because no one countered my declaration, I was confident that I was right! Toward the end of the hearing, the county district attorney asked to comment on the application. Imagine my horror when he stated that after consulting a dictionary, he had discovered that sanitaria was plural for sanitarium. I turned shades of red, the governing body and audience had a great laugh and I learned a valuable lesson:

"DON'T FAKE THE ANSWER UNLESS YOU ARE REASONABLY SURE THAT NO ONE KNOWS THE RIGHT ANSWER OR CAN LOOK UP THE CORRECT ANSWER."

Oh, by the way, the district attorney did identify the correct authority for me and the governing body, so at least we weren't requiring an illegal special use permit.

Michael A. Harper
Washoe County, NV


Reader Responses

The lesson that should be learned is DON'T FAKE THE ANSWER. The humorous story suggests that as long as you can get away with something, go for it. That's not the way professional planners should conduct themselves. And it probably doesn't jibe too well with the Code of Ethics. Nonetheless, it's a great narrative as to one of the reasons why you should admit when you don't know something - people are likely to find out and then doubt your credibility forever.

Carol Barrett


I have a sign on my wall that reads "No matter what happens, someone will find a way to take it too seriously."

Danny


Good, ethical advice. But have you ever heard of "male answer syndrome?!"

By the way, count me among those who NEVER ask for directions either!

db


Home Of The Whopper

"I have an MBA from MIT...Yeah, that's the ticket."

And now for the winners among this year's crop of tall tales and stretched resumes collected by Jude Werra, president of Werra & Associates, Brookfield, WI executive search firm whose annual Liar's Index salutes people who embellish their educational backgrounds.

The Defensive Liar
One candidate misrepresented a short course in senior management at MIT as an executive MBA degree from the institution. Assuming the degree was completed on a weekend class schedule similar to other executive MBA programs, Werra asked the candidate how he managed the commute from his home in the Midwest. The candidate told him he was being "too picky."

The Pathetic Liar
Another candidate claimed both undergraduate and MBA degrees, but the university in question had no record of his attendance. He initially expressed disbelief and indignation over the discrepancy, insisting that the alumni office would hear from him. After finally admitting he lied on his resume, the man requested that the firm not write to his home address because he dreaded his wife finding out.

The Invisible Liar
Werra's pick for the most outrageous lie goes to the candidate who claimed to have been living under an assumed name within the witness protection program. For his safety, his alma mater could not verify his degree. The man instead offered a private, non-university phone number at which the person who answered the phone would vouch that the candidate had a college degree.


When is Fast Too Fast?

When the city of Charlotte, NC ignored their faxes and phone calls, 17 neighborhood opponents of a shopping center project took Charlotte and the developer to court.

To everyone's surprise, they won. Even more stunning, at least 50 projects, from multimillion-dollar shopping center expansions to apartment buildings, are on hold in one of the fastest growing cities in America.

Superior Court Judge Ben Tennille issued the ruling this week, ordering the city to change how it makes about 80% of its zoning decisions.

The judge said Charlotte's fast track zoning process, under which approvals are made without a hearing, is illegal. He said projects must be given a trial-like hearing with City Council members serving as judges.

Paul Nowell


What's a County Planning Board? 

Up in the mountains of Montana, just south of Missoula, leaders of Ravalli County may occasionally have dispensed with administrative formalities. Sometimes, governing is still stunningly casual in small, rural places.

Nevertheless, a recent episode took even local residents by surprise. While considering a change in the structure of the Ravalli County planning board, the county commission hit a snag. The problem didn't involve disagreements over politics or procedures. Rather, nobody has been able to find proof that the planning board legally exists.

In December, county officials embarked on a fruitless search for the law that supposedly created the planning board, digging through records dating back to 1938. While it's impossible to say whether the law was simply lost or never passed in the first place, the commissioners decided not to leave anything to chance. They voted to dissolve the current board and start the process of forming a new one. "Even though the board serves only an advisory role," says county attorney Jim Mickelson, "we wanted to make sure that decisions based on the board's suggestions were not subject to legal challenge."

The planning board flap comes at a crucial time. Planning issues are increasingly important in Ravalli County, whose population increased by 40% during the 1990's to 35,000. For now, county commissioners are reviewing proposals for development themselves. When the reconstituted planning board meets again in March, it may have to grapple with writing a county-wide growth policy.

Christopher Swope 


You Forgot to Dot the "i"

We recently received the following from a 50,000 population city finance department. 

Dear Vendor:

The enclosed invoice is being returned because no Purchase Order reference appears on the invoice; therefore, it lacks City authorization for the ordering of, receipt of and payment for the merchandise/service.

In a nutshell, the City Purchasing Policy is "No Purchase Order - No Payment." If a Purchase Order has been issued, and the vendor instructions have been followed as printed on the Purchase Order, the City will make payment against the invoice in a timely manner under the terms and conditions of the Purchase Order. However, if a City employee does not complete the Purchase Order process when placing an order, that order lacks necessary approvals, and our Accounts Payable team cannot make payment for any goods or services unless they have the proper signature authority on a City Purchase Order form.

We ask that you settle this transaction directly with the person who placed the order.

In terms of customer service, isn't this a great tone to use with your customer? Wouldn't it save paper and time if finance merely called the city employee?

Email us your reaction.


The Recycled Paper Clip 

Our city manager will not let us buy any paper clips. He states that the same amount of material that goes out, will also come in—so we should be able to reuse the paper clips!!   


The Chair Caper   

Our organization has a large conference room that is used not only for staff meetings, but also for layout and collating of large reports. Some of the planners have broken desk chairs and management refuses to replace them. To get by, planners have taken chairs out of the conference room. To solve this problem, management locked the conference room so it is no longer available for layout and collating!   


The Phone Runaround 

When calling the LA passport office, you are instructed to press 9 if you wish for assistance.  When pressing 9, you hear that you have made an incorrect entry and are referred back to the main menu. Again you are instructed to press 9, which again states that you have made an incorrect entry, followed by, "Thank you for calling the passport office." and a hang up!   


No Thinking on the Job Please! 

My organization has the following policy: 

"It is the policy of our organization to encourage constructive suggestions for the improvement of operations and to recognize, when appropriate and practical, all eligible employees whose suggestions are properly submitted and accepted. Time spent in developing suggestions normally should be outside of employee working hours and will not be considered hours worked for pay purposes." 

Anonymous   


A Recent Voice Mail Transaction Went Like This... 

"Hello, You have been transferred to the voice mail system..." 

"However, the person you have called does not subscribe to this system - therefore you are being transferred to an attendant." 

"The person you have called has not designated an attendant. Therefore, leave a message on the voice mail system."   


Is Anyone Home? 

I recently went to see a planner at a large city planning department. I approached the receptionist who called for the planner over a public address system. I then waited for five or ten minutes with no response at all. So, I asked the receptionist if he could find out if the person was in. His immediate response was, "No, I don't believe he is in today." Customer service at its finest!  

Anonymous, California