Monday, August 3, 2009

Dispatches from a Recovering Bleeding Heart: More City Bureaucracy

Because I know you are following this saga with bated breath, I'm sure you'll remember that on June 24, I sent a letter to my friends at L&I (Licenses and Inspections), along with an application for a license to own two vacant lots, on which I grow vegetables for my family.  I also sent a check for $100.00 ($50 per lot; I'm not sure if this is a one-time or an annual fee).  I noticed last week when doing bills and balancing the checkbook that the check had not been cashed, and gave some thought to calling L&I, but knew that completing such a call was likely to be unsuccessful, and that even if I did finally reach a real, live human being, it could take hours of waiting on hold.  So, I hadn't gotten around to it yet.  

Then on Friday, I received an envelope from L&I, and assumed that my licenses had arrived. Silly me, when will I ever learn?  Instead, this is what was inside the envelope:  my cover letter, my application, and my check, all stapled together, and a self-addressed (but not stamped, of course) envelope, with "ATTN: Mildred Brooks" hand-written at the bottom.  The rest of the address? THE SAME FREAKIN' ADDRESS I ORIGINALLY SENT IT TO.  You know, the address that was on the application? The one that I was directed to mail or return the application to when completed?  And to top it off, no note, not even a sticky, with an explanation.

What the hell am I supposed to do with this?  Did someone really send the entire application back to me, just so I could send it back to them, but this time directed specifically to Mildred? Don't they have inter-office mail at L&I? Someone actually took the time to put this in the freakin mail to me, but couldn't just freakin drop it off on Mildred's desk?  (In real life, by the way, I am not faux-swearing.  In real life, I'm mad as hell and swearing like a sailor about this. But my father-in-law reads my blog [I used to worry about my pastor too, but the new guy? I don't think he'd care] so I'm trying to keep this as family-friendly as possible.  You, however, may use your imagination and fill in with more colorful language.)

So this morning, as I was getting out ingredients for bread (I'm making stout bread and Straun; you should come over this afternoon because it's going to be non-stop carbo-goodness around here), I steeled myself for a long wait, and called the number on the vacant lot license application, the one that says "for further information, call."  I was automatically transferred to 311, which, I now know, because Mike Nutter told me himself, over and over and over again, "is your connection to City Hall!"  He also very helpfully reminded me (over and over and over) that I should "remember, 911 is still the number to call for emergencies, but now I have a number to report non-emergencies -- and get results!"

While I waited, chatting with Mike (we're tight now, let me tell you), I started wondering if maybe this was an emergency, and that perhaps I should give 911 a try.  But finally a 311 operator answered, after assuring me that the call may be recorded for quality control and training  purposes ... only to transfer me to, you guessed it, L&I.  Except she transferred me before I could get a direct number from her, so as I listened to the phone at L&I ring and ring and ring and ring (no kidding, like probably 40 or 50 times; they don't have voice mail or even muzak over there poor kids), I resigned myself to going through this whole loop all over again. But finally someone answered; not, however, someone at L&I.  It was Steve, a 311 supervisor who, you guessed it, put me on hold.  

BUT!  To Steve's credit, he did pick up again in a reasonable amount of time, and apologized for putting me on hold, and listened to the whole story, took notes, and said he would research the situation and get back to me.

And you know what?  I hate city bureaucracy, but I LOVE Steve, because he really did call me back!  Like half an hour later.  And he did not have any answers, but he really had looked into it, and he's making a report, and sending it to L&I to research further, and gave me a tracking number.  And he agreed with me that the whole situation is absurd, even suggesting that I should think about bringing a criminal complaint against the Meadowlands, because it is, after all, my PRIVATE FREAKIN' PROPERTY and they should stop freakin' harassing me.  Steve didn't put it in exactly those words -- he was very professional -- but that was the gist of it, and a whole lotta good it will do me to have Steve on my side, but still, it was gratifying, if nothing else.

(And to my friends at Old First:  Yes, I am thinking of Michael's sermon, and that nice cop who tried to help him, but really:  this is a whole lot of freakin' falling down, you know?  I'm just not sure what God's point could possibly be in this seemingly endless, surreal tumble.  I love Steve -- he's my new BFF -- but even Steve is not helping me make any sense of all this.  Sigh.)

Anyway, I'll keep you posted.

And if you are a new kid on this block, and wonder what the hell this is all about, here are some links to some related posts that should fill in the gaps:


Kate Haas said...

Yay, Steve! And you're right, I *have* been waiting with baited breath for the next developments. Because while most accounts of tangling with governmental beaurocracy are about as arid as the memoirs of S'su-Ma-Chen, *yours* make for a Thrilling Saga more along the lines of The House of Mirth.

Julie Steiner said...

O, Kate Haas, we ARE the house of mirth, let me assure you! (albeit a somewhat psychotic, rocking back and forth mirth, but edgy mirth, nonetheless.)

Rebecca said...

"Did someone really send the entire application back to me, just so I could send it back to them, but this time directed specifically to Mildred?" Oh, Marta, Marta, Marta. Of course they did! That's why it's called bureaucracy. But seriously, reading this saga is like watching a train wreck. I know I shouldn't want to know more, but I do. It raises all sorts of emotions and questions about human nature. Persevere! I'm counting on someone on the side of good to win.

Patrick said...

AAAAAAHHH! This stuff drives me bananas (now I'm trying to keep my language clean too, in this venue at least)! Yes, someone somewhere thought it was EASIER to mail the application back to you rather than walk the two feet to Mildred's desk. I've had encounters with people like Steve before, and it is gratifying, even if they can't do anything more than confirm your suspicions that this all ridiculous.
My breath is most definitely bated regarding all this. Do keep us posted. Part of me hopes you DO sue the Meadowlands, but of course I wouldn't be doing any of the work involved.

Sara said...

Yep, I've been waiting for the next installment, and Nope, I never would have imagined this particular version.