June 12, 2024

The Nerve Archive

Where Government Gets Exposed

Guy Tells City ‘No,’ Guy Wins



After a recent solicitation for stories on government-run-amok, we heard from Virgil, who ran a restaurant in the Upstate for many years. We include his email in its hilarious entirety:

This is years ago, maybe in the mid-1980s. My wife and I co-owned a restaurant – basically high-end American cuisine, with an emphasis on steak. One day I got a notice from the city that they were planning to put a pump house next to our back parking lot. Now when I say “pump house,” I mean a sewage pump house. I think “lift station” is the technical term. “S***house” is the more colloquial term. 

Anyway, the letter said the city planned on putting the pump house next to our parking lot. I knew what that meant. That meant our parking lot would smell like sewage about half the time. I didn’t know what to do. I called every number I could think of at the city and asked if there was any way the decision could be reconsidered. Nobody seemed to have any power to do anything; it was a done deal.

So I went to see my best friend, who happens to be an attorney in town. I went to him to ask if I needed to mount a legal challenge. He said no, and he gave me the best possible counsel – and if I remember correctly he gave it to me for free.

Here’s what you do, he said. The guy in charge of this stuff is named Bill. Walk into Bill’s office, and say: “Bill, putting a pump house next to my restaurant would crippled my business. You know that. Well I’m here to tell you that you’re not going to do it. And if you try, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop you. Don’t say anything else,” he told me. “Just say that, and leave.”

I asked him, “What if they say they’re gong to build it anyway?”

“Just trust me,” he said. “They won’t.”

“But what if they do?” 

“I’m telling you, they won’t.”

So that’s exactly what I did. I told Bill if the city tried to build that pump house next to our parking lot, I’d do everything I could to stop it. And do you know what? They announced plans to build it about two blocks away, on an empty lot with no adjoining business. 

How about that for good advice? I’ve always been grateful to my friend for telling me that. I just think it’s a great reminder that you don’t always need to take people to court and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a case you probably won’t win. Sometimes you just need to call the other guy’s bluff. It worked that time, anyway.

Do you have a story about citizens standing up to government, or just government run amok? Send us an email at news@thenerve.org, or call us at (803) 254-4411.

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The Nerve