Saturday, May 2, 2009

Tales of a City Planner

The Mundaneness of Government

Someone asked me recently, government life can’t be what they show on the new tv series, Parks & Recreation, can it? Well, at times it can be. There are plenty of meetings that I have to attend that I think at worst are pointless or at best non-productive. But I’m sure everyone who has a job feels the same way about some of their meetings. The thing is that if you have a series of unproductive meetings that are generally going nowhere, they usually end, right? Ha ha ha, not in government they don’t. As long as there is a semi organized group of residents willing to meet on a dedicated night, someone from government will be there.

This is where government life can become silly. Because government is representational we are almost required to be there for almost any and all community groups even if they have nothing to talk about. We also have to show up to meetings despite knowing the following:
- There is no agenda and nothing is happening in the neighborhood
- In-fighting within the group and listening to people argue
- Listening to rants and plans for personal vendettas against neighbors
- Listening to racism and class-ism disguised as NIMBY-ism
- Having meetings on the hood of your car because a public building is locked

Now again not all of my meetings are like this. In fact I tend to find that all of meetings with smaller groups are almost always productive and a time well spent for both me and the participants. However almost every pointless meeting I had to go to I knew before going in but I still had to go anyway. Rarely do I go to a pointless meeting and walk out of it feeling good that I went.

Now, I have worked in government for most of my professional career but I have worked in a private office before as a planner and an intern and because of that I can’t help but to wonder how much money per hour of tax payer money is being wasted by government workers going to public meetings. In the private sector, meetings like these would be cut off or they would make groups consolidate to eliminate per hour costs of planners going to multiple meetings. I do want to point out that there are plenty of private sector planners that go to multiple pointless meetings. The big difference is that they often charge their clients for these meetings (if they are not scouting for more work). Public sector planners on the other hand just receive “comp” time and no extra pay.

So for all you future planners out there, I hope you are studying Parks & Recreation for your future career because there will be a lot of bad meetings ahead in your future. And as young planner you get to go two types of meetings. The meetings where the office wants you to learn what goes on and the meetings that no one else wanted to go to…and there are a lot of those. Don’t become to discouraged though, it’s all apart of helping communities which you signed up to do and changing the world…through one bad meeting at a time.

Oh and one last word of advice to any young planner. Always eat something before going to a late night meeting…a power bar, fruit or something. There’s nothing worse then being bored and hungry.


Smalltimore said...

Oh, if only the meetings were the worst part of government work...I haven't seen Parks and Recreation yet, but I think they could get some real comedic mileage out of excessive oversight and procurement issues working for a government agency.

Maybe Amy Poehler's character could spend the show trying to figure out how to buy printer paper (nice nod to the Office). Even better, she could try to buy something more complicated-like a camera. She could fill out her paperwork in compliance with public procurement laws, justify her purchase to two or three oversight bodies, and then get it-3 months after she needs it.

Toure Zeigler said...

Very true...there's nothing like having multiple discussions about what types of pens you want for the office and the importance of buying that specific $.0.97 pen.