A semi-serious take on local government, its shortcomings, and some reasoning behind them.

1) Automatic Call Answering Systems

Why we dislike them

Automatic Call Answering Systems

– The only reason I ever call a government office (or any office, for that matter) is if I can’t find certain information on their website. When I call and am read back information that “can be found on the website” for 2 minutes before being able to select an option, I want to repeatedly kick myself in the shins. Nails on a chalkboard are a sweeter sound than ten menu options.

– God help the employee I eventually speak to after I select the wrong option and have to call back.

The hard truth

– We often complain about large government employee workforces and their “inflated” salaries. Paying someone to answer the phones is usually one of the first things to go.

– City officials do not want to speak with you. You were all thinking it, I just wrote it. They’re busy! They do not care about your idea for making the city bike-friendly (unless you’ve already secured grant funding) or why you think the library should be open 24/7/365. That’s like Tim Cook reading Apple rumor forums and addressing each comment individually.

2) Government Websites

Government Websites

If Space Jam’s website can look bad…
so can your local government’s

Why we dislike them
– Admittedly, they have gotten better in recent years, but if I can’t pay for everything online in 2013 you need to step up your game. Anyone can accept credit cards with their smartphones now, you should be able to accept one on your website.

– If I am looking for information on an event you are hosting, but your site still has the details from 2009, I am not coming. Ever. I may even stage a public protest against it… My commitment is that deep!

The hard truth

– Large organizations (public and private) are quite good at putting the wrong people in charge. It’s not always a lack of ability, but often a lack of direction, creativity, or drive to produce a quality product.

– The amount of subjects a government site must cover is huge. We’re talking ‘Pacific Ocean’ huge. These sites do not have the luxury of a singular focus. This usually results in a never-ending quality vs. quantity struggle.

-Too many contributors to the site. When a site is divided into multiple, directionless users, the site suffers. Each user lives in his/her silo and does nothing but create for that particular area. This adds little value to the site as a whole, specifically from a usability and cross-promotion standpoint.

3) Printed Newsletters

Printed NewslettersWhy we dislike them

– They kill so many trees. So many… Now, before you cry ‘hippie’ on me, consider the cost savings of moving to an online newsletter.

– Often, they are poorly designed. Many look like someone took an ad for the local grocery store and merged it with a tie-dye t-shirt. Don’t yell at me if your community’s newsletter is well done! Instead, rejoice in your good fortune.

The hard truth

– They aren’t going anywhere. It is no secret that the majority of involved citizens are elderly. If you upset the seniors by changing something, even if it has been outdated for 10 years, you’re going to hear about it. Well, if they can figure out those pesky automated answering systems, that is.

– Fear of change. “How will people ever know about our events?!” said the government employee, while driving past the dumpster full of unopened newsletters at a local apartment complex.

– The shotgun approach still rules the sector. Most government units do not have a dedicated marketing person who is able to determine which advertising efforts are worth the price tag.

4) Huge Compensation Packages

4) Huge Compensation Packages

How many people believe government
employees wake up each morning

Why we dislike them

– They come at the expense of the taxpayer.

– We don’t believe a person should be paid $______________ to perform the duties of a _________________. Usually because we are jealous we don’t make that kind of coin.

– They put the burden on future generations.

The hard truth

– At some point, we indirectly paid them that much money. We voted (or didn’t vote) elected officials in who either negotiated to pay them that, or hired the person who negotiated to pay them that.

– Blame technology. Things were good for a long time in the states, mainly due to the IT boom of the 1990s and early 2000s. When times are good, people/groups grab everything they can for as long as they can. You would, too.

– Someone decided the pension system was sustainable. Not sure who that was, but I bet he retired somewhere nice.

5) The Voting Process

(not the electoral college… don’t even get me started down that road)

The Voting ProcessWhy we dislike it

– “I’ll take ’19th Century Technology’ for 1000, Alex”

– It makes printed newsletters look like the iPhone 5

– They always have it on Tuesday. People who work normal job hours get stuck during the rush and hate their lives (or skip voting, altogether).

– New technology could easily be used to prevent ballot stuffing, speed up the process, and verify user’s identity. I know CNN loves the drama of waiting an entire day for the votes to trickle in, but we have lives.

– Perhaps we’d have more voter participation in this country if it weren’t such an awful process! Use iPads on a closed network. Disable all inputs so nobody can plug something in, configure them to have one app that allows people vote, iris scan voters (1984 technology is out there, folks) to confirm identity, and then vote away. No risk of tampering, no miscounts, no ballot stuffing. You’re welcome, America.

The hard truth

– Cyber security critics will cry that the system is not safe, even though the current one relies heavily on mistake-prone and possibly dishonest human beings.

– The government does not want to make the investment on a closed network system nor teaching people to run it properly.

– Online American elections may never happen, as they are too lucrative a target for hackers.

The absolute truth

Government entities often do not receive the benefit of the doubt from citizens. It’s easy to poke fun at them, but usually there are legitimate reasons behind what they do.

During his career, Andrew Opalewski has successfully navigated both the public and private sectors. Having grown up oblivious to local government, save for the limited amount taught in schools, he enjoys shedding light on what he feels is one of our nation’s best kept secrets. An avid sports fan and lover of sarcasm, he often chooses topics that reach beyond local government’s normal realm in an attempt to engage the average citizen.

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