Being a public employee in the day job has given me a new perspective on bureaucracy, and with that perspective has come a new kind of zen-tranquility approach to dealing with the kind of tiresome minutiae that our beloved municipalities often visit upon us.
Now that I have seen bureaucracy up close and personal, I know that bureaucracies exist to justify themselves. They’re self-sustaining, like those little closed-system globes Sharper Image used to sell that had shrimp and plants in them. I mean, if there weren’t hundreds of rules to enforce, what would the people whose job it is to enforce rules do all day? Huh, smart guy? There are public jobs to protect. Somebody has to answer the phone when the seniors call and complain that the music in other people’s cars is too loud. Somebody has to make up parking rules so that the police department has something to give tickets for. What else will those folks do? There are only so many cats to remove from trees, and going to schools and telling kids not to take drugs is a ship that has sailed. Gotta have rules and forms and policies; how else will you dictate other people’s behavior? What will the student council reps and hall monitors do with their God-given talents for judgmental butting-in and demanding behavior changes from people who aren’t hurting anyone if there aren’t local rules to be made and enforced?
You see how easy it used to be to get upset.
Not no more, though. Now I’m woke ’bout pissant municipality policies.
Case in point: I read the nicest story last year, I think in this very newspaper, about a middle-schooler raising money to improve Forest Park’s dog park. I sent her a few bucks, both because dog parks are centers of true and genuine happiness and because, under the village’s watchful eye, our dog park was mostly notable for being a mud pit with a fence around it. It’s lovely now. I was even invited to the grand opening via handwritten invitation/thank-you note, which, wow. She did a great job. The village can’t let me renew my parking sticker online for reasons no one has been able to explain to me in a decade of asking, which spans three cars and four license plate changes, but a kid can fix the dog park and win both $50 and my heart inside a year.
So I went to register the dogster for the Forest Park Dog Park. It took two forms, a visit to the vet, and a second, possibly fraudulent, dog license to get the job done. She’s licensed in Oak Park for reasons related to joint custody, and rather than go try to find her Oak Park dog license number I just registered her in Forest Park too. This being Cook County, I believe she’s now also entitled to vote.
The people behind the window at village hall couldn’t have been nicer or more apologetically understanding about the number of hurdles we had to clear. I think it took less time to renovate the park than to sign up to use it because we had to keep finding ends-around to the rules they were required to enforce. The thing I always remember in cases like this is that, as it is with any other American corporation, so it is with local governments: The people required to implement and enforce the rules are never the people who made up the dumb-ass rules in the first place, so you are much better off expressing empathy and ally-ship with the folks on the front line who have to keep apologizing and saying, “I’m sorry but that’s our policy” than getting shirty with them.
If I were to choose to get shirty with anyone here, it would be with the Forest Park Village Council and Commissioner Maria Maxham. (Ms. Maxham used to work for this paper, a disclosure that should accompany every single mention of her name that appears herein. Hi, Maria!)
It’s not that at Maria’s suggestion the council voted 4-1 in April to double the dog park fee, or that they doubled the fee because the park is nicer now. Twenty dollars is a perfectly reasonable fee for an annual dog park membership. What gets me is that I cannot imagine how grown adults, allegedly in charge of real and important things, could not understand that doubling the dog park fee after a child raised the money and did the work to improve the place — work the village could have done any time in the last few years but chose not to — was a bad look. Again: A middle-schooler raised money to improve the park and the Village Council’s response was “Hey, woohoo, bump up the fee.”
Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaang, the kid is sharper than you. Instead of riding her coattails and bumping up the fee, put her on the council and ask her how to help you with everything else.