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Why do Bureaucrats Insist they Can’t be Wrong?

On September 2nd, the Washington Post had a news story about the mother of a two-year old toddler receiving from the District’s public works department (DPW) a $75 ticket, dubbed Notice of Violation, for “allegedly littering at the end of the alley by her home, on 9th Street NE.” Apparently, the evidence was an envelope addressed to the toddler found in a trash bag abandoned at the end of the alley some distance from the rear of the home.

As the article went on to report, since the city’s trash trucks are too large to drive into the alley, the routine is that one of the DPW workers first pulls everyone’s trash bags from their bins and brings them down to where the alley meets the street to await the truck’s arrival, usually within a few minutes. Clearly, the toddler did not do this; nor is it conceivable that the parents would do so, given how the DPW crews take care of things — something which should have been known by that area inspector (who obviously is out of touch with the basic responsibilities of the job).

But this known fact apparently didn’t matter to the inspector who mailed the ticket — the envelope that flagged the toddler as a litterbug menace was found and therefore, ipso facto, it made no difference: it was obviously proof that the kid dragged the trash bag to where it was found and that was that. Period. Case closed. Pay up or forever be labeled a scofflaw and neighborhood (even citywide) pariah!

One person interviewed offered this delicious indictment of the total stupidity revealed by that obstinate bureaucrat:

“This is idiotic. What this is basically saying is that if a USPS worker accidentally dropped or purposely threw your mail on the ground, you are responsible for littering. Or if a thief stole a package and threw the packaging on the ground, or if the trash truck driver dropped some trash containing something with your name on it.”

And, that’s the point well-stated. No doubt that in the pile of trash bags waiting to be tossed into the truck which, as all homeowners know from observing how things are done, those DPW crews don’t dilly-doddle, they keep moving on as quickly as they can and often the trucks barely slow down; stuff sometimes gets left behind — we’ve seen it happen.

The inspector should know this; a good inspector would have immediately cancelled the ticket and scrubbed any record of presumed violation. By giving the homeowners such a completely unwarranted hard time is just another black mark and the kind of action that sours the taxpayers on DC government and further contributes to the unfavorable view held by so many  that DC government is incompetent, whether justified or not. Frankly, we think it is sad that because of bureaucrats like the one singled out here and those singled out in our editorial last month, all the truly dedicated and conscientious government worker bees get tarred with the same brush.

We should note that this kind of treatment of a law-abiding resident is not something new with this administration. We can trace it all the way back to even before home rule when the District was run by mostly long-time (and largely white) entrenched (and mostly men) petty martinets who felt no responsibility to the disenfranchised residents. I know; I was one of those residents. Unfortunately, much of this culture didn’t magically go away after home rule, even as the bureaucracy’s color became more representative of the citizenry.

Even way back during the Sharon Pratt Kelly administration I had a similar experience to that reported here. One day I received a citation for using a metal trash can without a cover. When I called the inspector on the phone (his direct number was shown on the ticket) and explained that this could not have been me since I was using only the city-issued plastic containers and they all had tops and I requested that he come by and take a look for himself, which he said he would do. However, he never did make the effort and when I called to follow up all he offered was to cancel the ticket (which was a good thing), but rather than actually dismissing the action, he offered only to abate — meaning only to make or become less in amount, intensity, degree (not a good thing). He just couldn’t go all the way to admit that he was wrong in issuing the ticket in the first place!