July 15, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

From the Mailbag: Putting Up with Rough Treatment

broken lock


Ask almost anyone to tell you a story about being poorly treated by a government employee, and you’ll get one. That’s not to say all or even most government employees are bad people – not even close – but people remember poor treatment at the hands of bureaucrats in a way they don’t remember poor treatment in the private sector. That’s partly, at least, because you can do something about bad service at a restaurant or a hotel. Namely: Not go there anymore and tell your friends not to go there either. You can’t do much of anything when you get substandard treatment from a government official.

And if you do complain, things can get rough. Government officials often have the power to make your life difficult, not just temporarily inconvenient. That was the case with this Nerve reader.

I own a small tract in Fairfield County. Several years ago we were bird hunting on it. We were legal – it was in season, our field wasn’t illegally baited, everybody had an up-to-date license. We left the front gate of the place open, because you never know when a game warden [an enforcement official from the Department of Natural Resources] might show up to check your legal status. Well, on this occasion he showed up all right – he must have heard the shots – but I guess he felt like coming in the side entrance, not through the main gate. The side gate was locked with two padlocks, but the front gate is right around the corner. So rather than come in the front gate, he just cut the padlocks on the side entrance. After he checked us out and found out we were legal, I said to him, “Dang, why’d you have to cut my padlocks? You could’ve driven another hundred yards and gone through an open gate.” He didn’t answer, and I didn’t ask again. Game wardens will do just about anything they like on your property, and it’s well known that you’d better not cross them. If you do, they’ll harass you every time and take the whole fun out of hunting.

Sometimes people speak up, and pay a small price. Consider this reader, from Berkeley County. “My daughter lives in the Upstate,” she told us on phone.

Last year some time she went to the Post Office to send me a couple of books. We’ve all been there, right? You watch these USPS federal employees doing their jobs way, way slower than they have to, and the office itself looks like a ramshackle mess. Dirty, papers everywhere, out of date announcements on the wall. Most of us don’t say anything about it, but my daughter apparently couldn’t help it. The line was literally out the door, but the two employees at the desk were moving like molasses. So she says something like, “Seems like you guys would move a little faster, since the lines so long.” That was it. That’s all she said. My daughter paid for the package to be sent, and left. And those two books – they arrived at my house a little more than two months later.  

Sometimes, though, critics of bureaucrats have to deal with more than just a late package.

Please don’t use my name or the name of the board in this, but I thought you could use it for your “Mailbag” series. Several years ago I visited an acquaintance on the [redacted] Board of Examiners. I told him that a certain regulation is pointless and has long outlived its usefulness. . . . I won’t get too specific, because there are thousands of regulations just like this one and they serve no legitimate purpose. I was very specific to him, though, and named the exact clause in the law code. I told him he ought to push for its removal from the law. His answer kind of annoyed me. He politely explained that regs like that one are meant to “make it a little easier on the industry.” I asked him what that meant, but he wouldn’t answer. Of course I knew what he meant. So I waited and brought it up again a few months later. This time he wasn’t nice about it at all. “I’d appreciate it if you would let that one drop, [name redacted]That’s not why we’re there, you know that. Please don’t make things difficult for yourself.” I’ll let you figure out what he meant by that last comment!

Have a story about waste or incompetence or belligerence from a government official? Send it to us at news@thenerve.org.

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