Please Don't Say 'I Pay Your Salary!' – Tips For Dealing With Local Government

Local governments: we depend on them for everything from trash pickup (sometimes) to parking enforcement and providing water and sewer services, but their workings are sort of invisible. We forget that they’re there until we need them. A few weeks ago, we put out a call for readers to share things that they wish the public knew about their jobs. K., an anonymous bureaucrat from somewhere in America, stepped forward with some tips for dealing with your local government. To start: don’t demand services the government doesn’t provide while also complaining that your taxes are too high.

Take it away, K:

Okay, you asked! Here are some tips for dealing with your local government.

1. Don’t be the same person who constantly complains about how high your taxes are and then demands that your municipality/county/state do something that is actually your responsibility. If there are too many birds in the tress by your house, call a wildlife organization. If your tree falls over, YOU have to clean it up. If it falls over across the road, the local government agency might come help open the road, but dealing with the tree is still your responsibility. If your sewer pipe across your front yard breaks, that’s also your problem. Likewise water pipes. If we took care of all those things for everyone, your taxes would be even higher. (A resident actually said to me, “I just know that it’s going to cost me money, and I don’t like it.”)

2. We don’t actually know everything that’s happening unless someone tells us. If your neighbor is putting out more trash cans than permitted and the trash haulers pick them up anyway, don’t call us and accuse us of corruption and being “on the take.” We don’t follow every trash truck around to watch. Bring issues to our attention and we’ll let you know if we can help.

3. Neighbors. If their barbecue smoke drifts your way, if their dog barks under your window, if they’re parking in your favorite spot, talk to them before involving someone else. If laws are being violated, call the police. If they’re just annoying, there’s nothing we can do about it. We’re not their mommies. Work it out.

4. Don’t assume that politics dictate every decision we make. A few bad apples make it hard for the rest of us, but most municipal officials and staff are actually hard-working, underpaid, caring individuals who go out at 3 a.m. in a blinding blizzard to plow open your road while you sleep so you can go to work in the morning or pave your street in 98-degree heat while you work in air-conditioned comfort.

5. Don’t say “I pay your salary.” It’s trite and offensive. Lots of people pay our salaries (such as they are, and many elected officials in this country work for free). If you’re looking for help with a problem, know that we’ll do our best, but we are constrained by laws and budget. If the guy down the street is a hoarder, it bothers us, too, but our options are limited. We don’t live in a police state and can’t just go in and clean the place out. Those laws can be maddening, but they also protect you from an overly intrusive government.

6. The occasional “attaboy” is more treasured than you can imagine. We really want to serve our residents. We don’t go into this business for the money, trust me.

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