The City's Pulse Newsletter
Terrible Customer Service


Who are the customers for our local government?  We are.  We consume their services and, as taxpayers, we pay for everything they do.  So, do you think we’re getting good customer service?  Would you put up with arrogance, name-calling or absurdly high prices, if you were dealing with a regular business?

Absolutely not.  We would walk out and take our business, and our dollars, elsewhere. That’s what makes good customer service the life blood of our capitalistic system; if you don’t treat your customers well, your business will fail.  Period.

That said, let’s look at the customer service which has been offered to citizens recently:

Before the pre-trial hearing last week, the election challengers submitted a list of public documents they wished to review. The County responded first by saying it would cost $70,000 and take six months, an outrageous price they later pared down to the simply silly price of $30,000.  And at the hearing, Judge Benjamin Simpson set the bond to continue the election challenge at $40,000, giving the challengers just five working days to raise the money. All of this cost burden was piled on one citizen who is simply trying to see if the last election was on the up and up.

This was an obvious game playing maneuver by the County. They whined, in court, about the enormous difficulty of copying thousands upon thousands of documents, when the challenger’s attorney had actually requested only to view them. Not to touch them or copy them.  After the hearing, the County reduced it’s price to $5,400, but only for access to an extremely limited portion of the necessary documents, which, don’t forget, are owned by the public.
 
Why didn’t these public servants sit down with the challengers, as good business people would do?  Why didn’t they discuss customizing the requests within a feasible dollar limit, and work out the details to everyone’s satisfaction?  No, Attorney Cafferty actually went out of his way to ridicule the challengers by calling their efforts a “witch hunt”.  Then City attorney Haman stood at the hearing to call the election challenge a “circus”.  Yet the circus to which Mr. Haman referred was created and perpetuated by paid public officials!  John “Witch Hunt” Cafferty finally apologized, but not to the challenger, he apologized only to the Court, and not until his words had full opportunity to taint public opinion.

This is politically motivated, terrible customer service.  Any successful business asked to give a cost estimate, would sit down, create a list of hard costs for the job, figure the number of man hours and add overhead and contingency costs. They would submit the proposal, with an itemized explanation, and work with the client to tailor the proposal to the customer’s needs. They would not throw out ridiculous numbers like the County or pluck a preposterous number from thin air, like Judge Simpson.

This poor customer service is not only in the County court system. Last month, a public records request was made to Tony Berns at LCDC, our urban renewal agency in CdA.  Tony, by contrast to those mentioned above, is a very polite man who has never been disrespectful.  But his response to the records request still left the public out in the cold. 

As background information, you should know that there is an Attorney General’s investigation going on in Caldwell, Idaho because their urban renewal agency apparently paid for health club memberships for the mayor and several other officials. This information was gathered by a public records request in Caldwell which cost the citizen no money at all.  

So, when a local citizen here in CdA asked to see the check book records of LCDC, Tony Berns stated the cost would be $221. This amount seems remarkably high. Only $5.00 of quoted price was for copies, the rest of it was for two hours of Tony’s time at $116. and somehow Tony added in one hour of the City Finance Director’s time at $100.  Are these highly paid officials making the copies themselves? 

Yes, at least one of them is. Tony Berns, Executive Director of LCDC is that agency’s only employee. Tony makes $120,000 per year, plus handsome benefits & retirement, so his time is very expensive.  How many companies have an executive who makes more than the Governor, yet does all the computer data entry, copies records requests, answers phones and runs errands, all at big money per hour?  It has always seemed odd that LCDC does not have a part-time clerical assistant making about $25,000 and a director making about $70,000, on par with the County Commissioners. It’s poor business management to pay a high cost employee to do entry level tasks. But, hey, they’re only spending taxpayer dollars, and maybe one very highly paid employee safeguards activities and information better.

It’s hardly a wonder that citizens have an increasing mistrust of our government.  If businesses ever treated customers in these ways, they would go bankrupt.  Maybe our public servants could learn a lesson from the following business adage, which could be used as sound political advice as well: “A happy customer tells a few friends, an unhappy customer tells everyone.” 

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Here’s an update on the election challenge:  This morning’s Press reports that the challengers filed several motions yesterday, appealing last week’s rulings by Judge Simpson.  “One motion calls for disqualifying Simpson on grounds of being biased, according to court reports”, the Press reveals.  The article goes on to say the other motions “include reconsidering the order to dismiss the city of Coeur d’Alene from the suit, reconsidering the bond amount of $40,000, reconsidering the protection order on Kootenai County as well as motion for an interlocutory appeal and vacating and rescheduling trial. An interlocutory appeal is an appeal of a ruling by a court that is made before the trial itself has concluded.”  (I wondered how the judge could make those rulings in a pre-trial hearing, before the challengers have access the the documents!)  

Stay tuned...hope you have a great week  --Mary

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Mary Souza is a 22 year resident of CdA, local small business owner and former P&Z Commissioner.   Her opinions are her own.  For a free archive of past columns visit www.marysouzacda.com  Comments can be sent to marysouzacda@gmail.com.  Please visit the local issues web site www.OpenCdA.com for more discussion.

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