Friday, July 24, 2009

Working for local government

Do you know how much guff you take if you work for local government?

If Louis Henry Gates, fabled Harvard Professor, had just spoken politely to the policeman, possibly nothing would have happened. Profound apologies might have issued from both sides.

Contrary to what you might think, speaking arrogantly to a (probably underpaid) civil servant maybe isn't the best way to handle a problem.

As a library director, I had to deal frequently with an irate member of the public. In some cases their ire was quite justified, because the library staff had dropped him on his head several times before he got to me. Often, nothing of the sort had occurred. I always heard the person out, politely, apologized for the inconvenience, and said I would look into the situation, after getting the staffer's side of the story. Usually, the complainant would simmer down and be quite reasonable. He just wanted his complaint to be heard and understood.

But I've got to tell you, some statements did not make me want to rush into action. Here are some: "Who is your supervisor?" "I'm a taxpayer!" "I'm a personal friend of the mayor!" "I'll see that you lose your job!" and the ever popular "Do you know who I am?"

Yeah, I know who you are--you're a puffed up, self-important pain in the neck.

We once had a bunch of rowdy teenagers who frequented the Nice Little Library. When they got too rowdy we asked them to leave and not come back for the rest of the day. My colleague Michael was escorting one of these kids to the door when the young man turned to him and protested, "I'm a taxpayer!"

"This is July," Michael answered. "We ran out of your taxes in April."

I always said the public library was a nice place to work. All the books you wanted, the latest periodicals, and generally nice staffers. The biggest problem? The public. For some people, the air in the library made them crazy. Maybe it was the book dust.

I have to add that most of our customers were pussycats who loved the library and appreciated everything we did for them, including being there.


Insolublog said...

Take it from someone who lives in the state that sponsors both Kennedy and Kerry; Arrogance usually has it's rewards in the PC bean pot of beantown. It's a relief to finally see some blue collar rebellion.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the libraries should be taken from municipal budget and offered and turned to the private market.
Then not only paying customers, but the staff, too, become exceddingly polite and remember their function is customer' service.
Just like those Dell, Verizon and Canon people on the other end of the phoneline.

airforcewife said...

My Dad is a City Manager. Sheesh, the stories...

I have a lot of things to say about Gates, none of them nice. They're covered a lot of other places, though, so I'll refrain.

Wyatt Earp said...

The "I pay your salary" one always gets me laughing. Most of the people in North Philly don't pay taxes, yet they expect us to jump to their service because they have been "oppressed."

Yeah, that'll get me rushing to your case.

The Sanity Inspector said...

"I'm a taxpayer!"

"Wow, what a coincidence: so am I!"

I tend to get more respect from the public than my library staff do, by simple virtue of being male and head & shoulders taller than most people. It's unfair, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

Well, actually, SI, it's unfair with regards to your "I'm a taxpayer, too" retort.
Because as a government employee, you're tax spender, not payer. What you pay to IRS is what you return to the treasury from the money the taxpayers with non-government jobs gave you, And it's a very, very small part.

Anonymous said...

I also work for local government. I happen to live in the city I work for. So when someone comes in to the City Clerk's Office and tries to tell me "I'm a taxpayer," I tell them "If that were true, that would mean I pay my own salary." And if they try and say "I'm a personal friend of the Mayor!", I simply smile and say, "Really? So am I! Maybe we can all have lunch one day!" Oh, my fellow residents; how I love them!