Bureaucrat Beat: Bureaucratic License, Oink! Oink! and Inyo Dysfunction?

We in the Bureaucrat Beat newsroom feel passionately about the need to remain informed. How about you? Those who don’t sometimes get a nasty surprise. That’s why we scan headlines in a number of news media and read stories – to avoid sudden unpleasantness.

However, sometimes the ambush occurs before you know it. Take this quote in an L.A. Times story: “A couple of years ago, state regulators granted phone companies the freedom to price services pretty much as they pleased.” This does not create a warm, fuzzy feeling. The words “phone company” and “do as they please” in the same sentence spells trouble. Why don’t state regulators know that?

The story goes on to say that as a result of this “do as they please” policy, the phone company raised rates and systematically reduced the numbers of free 411 or information calls. They used to be limitless. Then the phone felons chopped the freebies to 3. September 1st, we will only get one free 411 call per month. The others will cost up to $2 each. Other prices have gone up 200% in Verizon and AT&T services. Nicely done state regulators.

We detest this in the bureaucracy – policies that clearly will hurt consumers, but of course we’re not the ones whining at the door of the regulators. It’s like that the guy closest to the decision makers wins.

On the public transit scene – the Eastern Sierra clearly needs a good public transit system. Lately the state has chipped away at funding for our program. Bus fares have gone up and some services have gone away. One local man noted that there seem to be a lot of spare buses sitting around at the Eastern Sierra Transit headquarters. We called ESTA Director John Helm. He verified that there are excess buses in the bone yard, so to speak. Helm said ESTA had taken delivery on some new buses and will sell some of the old ones, but he said the resale value looms low. New buses cost $60,000. Sometimes the old units only go for less than $2,000, according to Helm.

Back to the 2008 Pig Book, compiled by Citizens Against Government Waste. They delve into the Fiscal Year 2009 Homeland Security budget and find lots of pork barrel add-ons. Seems the Subcommittee that forms the budget, in the words of Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, “Made out like bandits.” Nice. We love to hear the word bandit used in association with our elected officials.

Three Senators managed to throw in $27 million for what is called the Southeast Region Research Initiative in Tennessee. The website for this program reveals no white papers or reports of their research, only project descriptions.

$22.3 million will go to the National Center for Critical Information Processing and Storage in Mississippi. What’s that?!? The definition says this center “seeks to consolidate and safely store information critical to the operations of the federal government.” Say what? We need to know a little bit more about a $22 million expenditure.

Back on the local scene – just a heads up for Inyo County officials. People are talking about you and it’s not nice! We’ve heard more than once now the behind the scenes comment that Inyo County government remains “dysfunctional.”

In fact, one insider called Inyo County government “bureaucratic welfare” – a public organization that maintains jobs just so people can have them. This all sounded somewhat harsh to us, although we are aware of some of this dysfunctionality, so we decided to call Inyo County Administrator Kevin Carunchio for his response.

Carunchio said he came out of city government as a CEO with the authority to hire and fire department heads. In Inyo County, he said, the CAO has immense resp0onsibility but little authority to compel results – department heads, he said, are either elected or appointed by the Supervisors.

With what he sees as a lack of ability “to compel results”, Carunchio says his door is always open, day and night, to talk about anything. He hopes officials are trying to accomplish things in line with county goals. Do department heads stay in touch with him? “It happens in varying degrees,” said the CAO. “Each department heads has an individual style, but,” says Carunchio, “I don’t hesitate to stick my nose under a tent.” His wish – “We’re all on the same team,” said the CAO, “and we should pull together.” To critics of Inyo County government, Carunchio invited them to talk to him directly.

Wow. What a concept.

With that, this is Benett Kessler signing off for Bureaucrat Beat where we await your word on our lives in the Eastern Sierra and beyond.

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