How to Act Like an American (Part I)

Ten days ago, I wrote to the Federal Transit Administration’s Office of Civil Rights because they weren’t replying to phone calls.  My neighbor is in awe of me because, he says, he’s never known anyone who called Washington.  More’s the pity.  If we all called Washington more often maybe “our” government would learn to treat “us”—the citizens—with more respect.

I delivered my message via email, and here’s what I said:

To: Ms Linda Ford, director, Office of Civil Rights
Fr: Anne C Woodlen, complainant
Dt: July 7, 2011
Re: Compliance Review, Central New York Regional Transportation Authority (CENTRO)

CENTRO is not in compliance with the OCR review, finalized March 2008. In the past three years, not once has anyone in your office been able to figure out who the compliance officer is on the Centro case. I am the original complainant who precipitated the OCR’s compliance review, and you have denied me appropriate follow-up.

If you are not listening to the paratransit rider, then how can you possibly know if the bus company is doing what it’s telling you it’s doing? If you do not listen to the end-point user, then how can you know? Do you actually accept the word of a bus company whose paratransit service has been substandard since its inception?

Because of your office’s failure to accept phone calls, return phone calls, establish a working relationship with bus riders, and address on-going issues of substandard service, I am now working with all three of my congressional offices to get you investigated. Never underestimate the power of a truly pissed off citizen.

The management of the OCR has been grossly incompetent. If you would rather work with me than with Congress, please call.

Anne C Woodlen

So the next day, July 8, I get two emails.  One is a “Customer Satisfaction Survey – FTA Contact Us Tool.”  When I click on the link, I get “Unable to Locate Requested Webpage.”   In other words, the Federal Transit Administration wants to know if I’m satisfied—but not really.  They don’t maintain the link because they really don’t care what I think.  And please note that I am referred to as a customer, not a citizen.  They think they have something to sell me when, in fact, I own them.  The FTA should be asking themselves whether they are serving me.

The other message to me from the FTA on July 8 starts out “DO NOT REPLY TO THIS MESSAGE. This is an automatically generated email from FTA’s Contact Us Tool.”

Since the email goes on to say “The Office of Civil Rights has spoken with you . . .” clearly it is an individually crafted message to me; it is not an “automatically generated email.”  In other words, a particular person in the Federal Transit Administration in Washington is creating a message that is individual and specific to me, but is sending it in such a way that I cannot reply.  “My government” is talking to me but will not listen—will not enter into a dialogue.

Further on, the message includes the statement:  “Unless otherwise specified, this message is being sent by an individual employee in an effort to provide a rapid response to an email inquiry and may not represent official FTA or DOT policy.”  Say what?  In other words, ‘We’re having any old body reply to your message just so we can say we did it quickly.  But it doesn’t mean anything.’  So why is the FTA letting someone reply who can’t tell me what is real and true?  I could ask my question of the panhandler on the corner if I wanted a fast answer that wouldn’t mean anything either.

Additionally, please note that the message is not signed.  There are only two kinds of people who write messages but don’t sign them:  cowards and liars.  I have reason to believe that this message was written by Susan Clark, compliance officer on the Centro bus company compliance review.  Why don’t we go ask her if she wrote it, then have a little chat with her about being a stand-up woman who takes responsibility for her words?  After all, the automated part of the message says it was “being sent by an individual employee”:  why isn’t that individual taking responsibility for her words?

The message goes on to say “Contact information is located at the end of this message. Thank you for your Contact Us Submission on the FTA website. The following is FTA’s response to your question. . . The staff of the FTA Office of Civil Rights informs us of the following. . .”  So what is going on here?  Who is the “us” who is replying to me?  The message went from the Office of Civil Rights to whom?

Now we get to the meat of the message:  “The Office of Civil Rights has spoken with you numerous times over the course of the past several years concerning various allegations you have made against CENTRO, most recently on July 5, 2011.”  This is not a true statement in that I did not make any “allegation” against Centro on July 5.  (To be continued)


About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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