35 Comments

  1. “Better politicians” hahaha. That’s an oxymoron! Better checks and balances please and hope for the best!

    Mr AE’s story is hilarious but it’s sadly not atypical and not just political entities. I’ve seen this with public school board administrators and staff too. The school board decides what to do and the parents can protest but it’s just not possible to get anything done.

    Most urban school board have too much power and functions just like a corrupt mini government. *Cough* DPS (Detroit Public Schools.) If you haven’t watched it, it’s on YouTube and it’ll get your blood boiling.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Lily. I think most people have a sense that government is really messed up. But very rarely is that confirmed by an insider. Most government employees stick to the party line and proclaim how hard-working and essential they are. So it’s nice to hear someone break ranks and expose the nonsense that goes on. Thank you, Chris! I worked for a municipality for 21 years and I rarely worked hard. And I was one of the rock star employees in the Highway Division. So sad.

    • If you want to be a rockstar employee while doing little work I can send ya the information for my hometown. The biggest downfall of being the rock star in a union……you don’ get paid any more than the laziest guy on the team.

      And yes, checks and balances to fight corruption and waste would be ideal.

  2. Another experience with union shop is that when there is a problem, you got several guys coming to “assess” the problem for 15 minutes to 1/2 hour then they all leave without any solution, oh wait, they will tell you that you need to call another department or another “trade” to work on this. So the same thing happens again when another trade workers, 2-5 of them show up, doing their eyeballing of the situation, then tell you again that some other trade people need to be the one doing the fixing. I usually sit on the sideline to see how much time these people can waste my time, often time, I just fix things myself in the office if something that duct tape can manage.
    Once in a while I get lucky to have one of the workers just wants to get things done – but for the most part, it’s like soap opera rerun…

    • Mr. Groovy

      Haha! So true, Tiffany. I don’t know if you’re old enough, but do you remember the movie Splash with Tom Hanks and Daryl Hannah? Eugene Levy was a scientist trying to verify the existence of mermaids. Anyway, he sneaked in as a waiter to a banquet that Hanks and Hannah were attending. But get this, his right arm was mangled and in a cast. Obviously, performing the waiter duties with only one functioning arm was going to be difficult. But when the kitchen manager looked at him in dismay, Levy only had to mutter these four words to fend off any objections: “The Union sent me.” It was hilarious. I’ll never forget that line. Thanks for stopping by, Tiffany. I really appreciate your contribution to our conversation.

      • Splash had its truth-telling moments;-)

        Take it to the next level, one episode in “South Park” where they hire EEOC based healthcare workers in the ER. So a vision-impaired doctor can treat critical patients and a nurse in a wheel chair can run the ambulance rescue…I guess my point is, no matter what company / organization you work, public or private, you run into work force competency issues compounded with regulatory allowance, you are courting disasters on many fronts. I have worked for both private and public healthcare systems, while the private sector has higher productivity than the public one, I see the same lazy characters at play in both – if the public sectors hire enough self-respect and disciplined individuals who are not easily corrupted, you can get good results as well.

        • Mr. Groovy

          LOL! I’ll have to YouTube that episode of South Park. And I hear you about the public sector not having a monopoly on sloth and incompetence. Mrs. Groovy dealt with a co-worker who was incompetent that she dubbed this co-worker “The Monkey.”

          • By the time I retired I had everyone referring to her as “The Monkey”. We were supposed to provide personal service in our email responses to our internal “customers” but she wanted a 1-click-fits-all response for every single communication. So easy, even a monkey can do it.

            But as with most dead weight in non-profits, she “had” something on the organization. They weren’t keeping her around out of the goodness of their hearts. My boss even admitted she’d be lucky if she could get half a day’s work out of her.

  3. Okay, I can see that maintenance is probably a good candidate for privatization. But not everything is…

    Do I want fire protection privatized? Hell, no. Police protection? Nope. Military? Nope. Universal education? No, most private schools (even charters) skim the students off the top for better performance, leaving the more resource-intensive students with fewer resources. Prisons? Yeesh, no.

    Not every function of government is about efficiency. And where safety of the public at large or of vulnerable populations is at risk, the private sector tends to get very problematic.

    • Tara

      I agree with your comment and would also add mail delivery to your list. While people can try to argue that UPS or FedEx would “save tons of money” to deliver our mail, they forget that a federalized mail delivery exists so that Joe Six-Pack in the boonies can have his mail delivered to his home along with 1% Mary Jane in Manhattan, all for the same price. You privatize mail service, and a good 2/3 of the country (geographically) would cease mail delivery (because it loses money!). While that might only be 10-15% of the US population, it’s still an unfair burden for those who live in rural areas and can’t afford to move or don’t have the means to drive 1-2 hours to the largest nearby city to get mail (and a lot of documents HAVE to come via mail, especially for social services, tax purposes, legal reasons, etc.). Companies who enter into the private sector to contract with municipal/state/federal government, their sole purpose is to make money (not break even). When school districts privatize their bus service for example, the employee driving the bus loses the excellent benefits and pay that they received as a school employee. Yes, it might save the taxpayers money, but it’s doing so at the expense of the bus driver employee (and their family). And for all those who argue, “get a better job!”, someone will always have to drive a bus–so do you want someone qualified or someone who is the “best the district can get” carrying around your kids?

      • Mr. Groovy

        Agreed, Tara. Like, Emily, you make excellent points. Privatization is just a tool in our tool box. It’s good for some jobs, but not others. It works for food stamps, for instance. It makes little sense for the government to satisfy the nutritional requirements of poor people by opening government-run supermarkets. The government is far better off issuing food stamps to poor people who can then redeem them at privately-run supermarkets. Would privatization work for the post office? I don’t see how. Like you pointed out, mail service delivery in large swaths of the country is unprofitable. Thanks for stopping by, Tara. I appreciate your perspective.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Excellent points, Emily. Not every government service is suited to privatization. Garbage collection? Yes. Street sweeping? Yes. Policing? Nah. I don’t want to contract out to private firms investigations that butt up against such things as Miranda Rights and the Fourth Amendment.

    • I think there are pockets in the government that attract more passionate and motivated individuals, Teachers, Fire and Police Men/Women come to mind. There are more of that actually care about people and want to see their students succeed and their cities/states safe.

      I agree that not every aspect of the gov should be privatized, my experience was mostly with the maintenance side of the equation.

      Thank you for the comment!

    • I agree here. There is a lot of waste in government. You know what I have to pay for? People to get a mortgage interest tax break on their homes and their SECOND homes, when I can’t even afford to own one. Us renters get nada. None of it is fair. But for better and for worse, I still believe in government. Because there are are certain things only government can do for the greater good. I wish it could do them better. But sometimes, something is better than nothing. When it comes to the most vulnerable in our society, when it comes to clean air and water, when it comes to our safety, we have to believe in making government better, not simply stopping it from attempting to do anything.

  4. So I have debated government back and forth in these comments for a while and have said that I work for the government. What I haven’t noted is that I am actually a procurement attorney, so I work with the bidding process that you mentioned and the resulting contracts all day every day.

    Sometimes bidding out work rather than doing it in house works really well and goes smoothly. There are lots of jobs that lend themselves to this type of process. Your landscaping example is probably a good candidate for a lot of governments.

    Often, though, it ends up costing more to bid the work out. When the work is less mechanical or less predictable, then bidders often unintentionally underbid the contract and either sue the government for more money when they go over budget or they don’t finish the work and the government needs to hire a whole new contractor.

    There are other scenarios where a contractor will intentionally underbid the work so that they get the contract and then will demand change orders to add more money to the contract once their work is underway.

    Plus, as Emily noted in her comment, there are a lot of places where you don’t want a profit-driven company making the decisions. Her example of public safety duties are a good one. Do we really want a company that is worried about cutting costs and maximizing profits in charge of saving lives or regulating safety standards?

    So contracting out work makes sense in a lot of situations, but it is not the panacea that it is often portrayed as.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Couldn’t agree more, Matt. Here’s one for you. When I worked for a municipality, we contracted out our concrete work. One year, the contractor who won the bid had really low prices for every contract item except residential sidewalk. For residential sidewalk, his bid price was $16/sf–a ridiculously high price. Replacing a 4×4 slab of sidewalk would cost our municipality $256. But for some reason, the contractor got a lot of work orders to replace sidewalk. Could it be the contractor made the right amount of donations to our elected officials? I have no proof that this was the case. But if you were running a municipality and the contractor who won the concrete contract was charging $0.01 per linear foot of curbing, wouldn’t you issue a lot of work orders for curb replacement? Even with privatization and contracting out you got to be on your toes. There is much larceny–and ingenuity–in man’s heart.

    • That is good information, Matt, I never heard of people being able to get more than the established bid unless there were change orders (which were usually added on at the bid price – the sidewalk example Mr. Groovy lays out is a good one, if they add linear feet they got the original bid price unless there was a material difference.)

      Definitely agree that not all jobs/functions are prime candidates, but maintenance is one of them in my mind.

      Thanks for the comment and I’m sure you have some pretty awesome stories in that line of work

  5. Ahhh, but it is not as easy as “The lowest bid wins the contract”. Why? Because there are additional laws to be followed, a couple I am aware of are:

    1. Affirmative action – A portion of jobs must go to minority own companies. Which sounds good but not all minority owned companies do good work. If they are the only minority owned company to bid they get the job if there is a quota that must be met, low bid is thrown out. If no minority owned companies bid, you have to go solicit one and give them the job.

    2. The government has minimum wage requirements that are higher than the industry
    standards. For example, I worked for a landscaping business as a general worker when I was a teenager. If we did a job for the Federal government I got paid twice as much as normal because Federal law says so. Apparently the government doesn’t believe in free trade and supply and demand. Ironically, sometimes those wages were higher than what the government pays their employees for the same job.

    In short, there is nothing simple about how government works, they can/will find a way to complicate things and cost tax payers money.

    • Mr. Groovy

      So true, Troy. I think at the federal level, the Davis-Bacon Act mandates “prevailing wages” for all employees working on government contracts. I don’t know how they determine what the “prevailing wage” is for, say, a landscaper or a truck driver, but it always seems to be very high. As you so succinctly put it, “thee is nothing simple about how government works….” Truer words have never been spoken, my friend.

    • We bid on some federal jobs when I was working concrete and had to work in Davis-Bacon wages, it was a PITA especially when every worker would come into the office and pitch why they should be working on that project……..

      Yes sir, never simple.

  6. Awesome post. I was at an event this weekend and saw the government workers who were there to clean were apparently just there to eat and BS.

    I pretty much think the government sucks at everything. Imagine if Amazon was allowed to compete with the DMV?

    • Mr. Groovy

      Haha! I love it, Grant. When I worked for government and was single, I dreaded the inevitable “what do you do” from a potential mate. I dreaded it because the municipality I worked for had an abysmal reputation. And deservedly so. Most everybody employed by my municipality was damaged mentally, physically, or financially. So by identifying my employer, I was basically admitting to being a loser. Meh. Those were tough years.

    • Haha, the DMV is where innovation goes to die, I feel bad for the employees and their mandatory enforcement of some policies, a thankless job on both sides.

      Imagine how clean and nice our parks could be if we were getting the full brunt of someone’s effort. Could get more done with 2/3 of the employees

  7. I like to think that I’m pro-government (liberal minded Canadian here), but as soon as my tax bill comes due I quickly realize that I may be socially liberal I am most definitely fiscally conservative. The tediousness that is government is so frustrating, but the simple fact that it isn’t run as a business means that nothing will change.
    An example, I got a parking ticket last month for entering one digit wrong on my license plate on the electronic system. If it were with one of the private parking companies I would have called in, explained the ticket and likely had the ticket waived right that second. Instead, I had to call the city, get transferred to three different people, explain the situation, get told they would review my case at the next committee meeting and I would receive a letter in 6-8 weeks in the mail with the verdict. What the what! My ticket was waived but such a simple issue should not take a committee and 8 weeks to resolve. How many did my tax dollars employ in that system…too many.
    I’m in favour of many social services but government needs to be held responsible for wasted costs.

    • Bureaucracy can make the easiest of requests an absolute nightmare, they don’t need to keep you as a “customer” so they can do whatever they want…..

      If you got a fee from a bank, you could threaten to move to a new one to get the fee reversed and the person on the other line has a vested interest to keep you a customer so they bend – Gov doesn’t have that problem 🙂

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Sarah. I feel your pain. When I worked for government, the typical bureaucrat in my division worked about 3 hours a day. Other divisions in my municipality weren’t as bad. But they weren’t great either. I would say, overall, my municipality gave the taxpayers around $0.50 for every $1.00 they surrender in taxes. Pathetic. My only advice to people is to rely on government as little as possible. But most of my fellow Americans have different ideas. Sigh.

  8. I can totally relate to this post. For a few weeks one summer, I weed whipped in my local city’s cemeteries. The guy that I worked with, who worked year round for the city, showed me the optimal way to weed whip. He would basically go about one inch into the dirt so that the grass wouldn’t grow back for weeks. We could weed whip all three cemeteries in our city in 3 days. This guy would hide in the cemeteries for over a week pretending to work!

    After a few weeks, I luckily got a call back from one of the engineering internships I applied to and I left the city job..

    • haha, something about hiding in a cemetery to get out of work feels creepy and wrong. I have mowed them before and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

      Weed whipping down to the dirt, evil genius.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Here’s a story for you, TGE. When I was foreman of a road crew, we would cut the grass in the common areas once a month. Now, if I didn’t remind the crew to police the common areas before they cut the grass, I would drive by a common area later in the day and see confetti all over the place. Rather than pick up the garbage, the tremendous “public servants” in my crew would just run it over with their lawnmowers. Screw the taxpayer! If I had my druthers, I would have fired 75% of my division.

  9. Local governments are all their own Petri dish. Every one does something a bit different. My experience in local government has been very different. I do believe I’ve worked under some exceptional city managers, but I wonder if some of it is also timing. I began working in local government in 2006. Within two years, the recession would begin to change everything. Efficiencies were found and then greater cuts had to be made. Even though city coffers have recovered somewhat, there is a focus on how cities can provide services creatively to keep costs low and emphasis has been placed on continuous improvement to make better use of staff time and resources while improving services. I have had the great experience of coordinating a project where two smaller cities moved to sharing one municipal court, laying off some staff in the process by necessity, to cut costs for tax payers in both jurisdictions. I won’t say that inefficiencies don’t still exist. That wouldn’t be accurate, but I feel fortunate that perhaps I’ve come into City government work in a golden age. As federal policy makers and even states find themselves in gridlock or short on dollars, more and more responsibilities seem to be handed down to the more nimble, smaller local governments. Thanks for the thought provoking post and the hilarious opening! 😀

    • Glad to hear that you have had positive experiences, gives me some hope!

      A good leader that cares can do wonders if they aren’t scared to hold people accountable and stir the pot. I felt like our dept manager had tried to right the ship and had given up after too many battles.

      Interesting thoughts on the more work/responsibility trickling down, and I wonder how many small cities/towns could join forces (not just for building consolidations but purchasing supplies, engineers, etc).

      You are welcome – thanks for the comment!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Melanie. It’s nice to hear that there are true public servants out there. I just hope the dedication to excellence in your local government continues after the current city manager leaves. Sadly, organizations run by personalities rather than systems don’t fare well in the long run. Here’s one for you Melanie. My co-workers at my municipality weren’t nearly as civic-minded as your city manager. And they didn’t sugar-coat the truth. They used to refer to their jobs as “high-class welfare.”

  10. More awesome truths from the Groovys and AE. Now we know why the rich spend so much time sheltering their tax dollars. And who can blame them? Their hard-earned dollars will just be peed away buy some wasteful entity of the government anyway.

    • Mr. Groovy

      I think our Founding Fathers were political geniuses. One of their biggest mistakes, though, was not capping the taxing powers of federal and state governments. If I had my way, there would be a Constitutional amendment capping your tax obligation for all levels of government (federal, state, county, city, etc.) at 15%. Throwing more money at the government solves nothing. It only makes our teat-sucking bureaucrats more ravenous.

  11. Love this article. Entertaining while being mildly depressing. Not surprising though. I landscaped for a summer in college for a private company, and that work does not attract go-getters . Throw in government bureaucracy, and it’s a recipe for meh.

    We were much more efficient though. No paid lunches and we ate lunch in the truck. They really tried to save costs on labor. One paycheck they tried deducting the time driving between sites. I explained that was a non-starter.

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