Government Employees–Beyond Improvement?


It is 7:27 a.m. and the sun is rising over Syracuse. Chimney smoke flows flat across the city: the temperature is -4. Why does the smoke flow flat when it’s icy cold? I’ve been watching it for years and when it is only somewhat cold then the chimney smoke rises; when it’s terribly cold then the smoke lies flat. Maybe one of my more scientific readers can explain that. Please do. There is no snow plow under my window this morning because there was no snow last night—praise be to Allah, and apologies to my friend who lives to ski.

With the thermometer in my apartment turned up full to 85 degrees, the temperature by my bed is 68. The temperature at the windowsill is too low to register. That hasn’t changed, nor will it in the foreseeable future. Last week I met with Betty Perry, who manages 32 properties from Long Island to Buffalo. She works for Related Companies, which is based in New York City and owns our apartment building. Go to http://www.related.com/ and scroll all the way down the page to see their luxury condos. Related is loaded with money and they don’t spend any on us poor folk.

The Related web site doesn’t show McCarthy Manor or Parkside Commons, low income high-rise apartment buildings that they own in Syracuse, but if you go to http://www.apartmentfinder.com/New-York/Syracuse-Apartments/Parkside-Commons-Apartments you’ll find a lovely layout about how nice it is to live at Parkside, a 400-plus-unit apartment building. No pricing or floor plans are available, but “Features & Amenities” include hot water. Oh, wow. And video monitoring. Another site reports 24-hour security. What’s up with that? Go to Syracuse.com, the on-line Post-Standard newspaper, and you will find that Parkside has had three shootings in the past six years. And how’s your neighborhood doing?

So I’ve been filing complaints up the wazoo—not to mention up the hierarchy. The McCarthy Manor manager’s supervisor has an office at Parkside. The Parkside supervisor’s supervisor has been sending me unappealing emails, so I called Related’s designated senior vice president. Then I got a call-back from the supervisor’s supervisor.

Note to activists: the way to get the attention of upper management is to go over their head to the top guy. He will send a terse message to his chief assistant saying, “Fix this.” When a person hears it from her supervisor instead of her client, then she fixes it. If your HUD project manager is not moving on the problem then reach out to his boss.

They never see it coming. Every government employee sees himself as the absolute boss of every citizen. This is true from the minimum-wage call-taker at Medicaid transportation up to—lemme tell you a story.

One day I called Washington and talked to a government lawyer about something I needed. I don’t remember what it was, but it was urgent. The lawyer was an arrogant gold-plated ass who was condescending and rude, and told me he might get around to my problem in about three months.

I hung up, re-called the department, asked for the director and said I wanted to file a complaint against an employee. Always use that “complaint against an employee” phrase because the boss has to deal with that. Say anything else and the boss will route your call to some hireling. In this case, the boss was a woman; I don’t know whether or not that’s relevant, but she listened to what I had to say.

Ten minutes later the gold-plated ass called me back, apologized, and said he’d take care of the problem in three days. These people who think they can push the citizens around—which is pretty much every government employee—think they are the be-all and end-all (i.e., “a person or thing considered to be beyond improvement”) and they never see it coming. They never, ever think you will call their boss and hold them accountable for mistreating a citizen.

You are the boss: you are the citizen for whom the government works. You pay their salary. Always hold them accountable! The biggest problem with our government is that citizens won’t hold individual employees accountable for their actions. Where this all ends, of course, is with a person holding an elected office. He/she knows that if enough citizens get pissed off then he/she/it will be voted out of office. The elected official either will send a message through his part of government that the citizen is to be accommodated or he will get un-elected.

So Betty Perry, at the behest of the senior vice president of a really, really rich company, called and offered me a 30-minute meeting. I am the functional head of the Tenants Action Council; the Tenants Association got two hours of face-time with her assistant. Unfair or not, I took the offer of a meeting.

Ostensibly, the meeting was between the state supervisor and me, but I am old, experienced, and know how to read the signs. She would bring herself, the local supervisor, and the building manager. No one in the hierarchy ever travels alone; they have to have a couple other people with them, even if only to meet with an old, poor, sick broad in a wheelchair. So I got a couple more old sick broads in wheelchairs to go with me. We wheeled into the meeting and the local supervisor’s eyes widened in surprise and she said, “Oh, there are others with you!”

Note to activists: never go alone to a meeting with the power people. They plan a gang rape, which is never any fun for the rapee.

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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