I scored my first post-collegiate job working in government communications for an affluent suburb of Columbus. It was a great job. While most of my friends were busy fetching coffee and frantically filing for eight hours a day, I was photographing parades, pinch hitting city council meetings and occasionally riding along with police officers. (Hel-lo uniforms!) Not a bad gig for a twenty-something.
Our department consisted of a small (but mighty) team of two. My boss and I were a dynamic duo. We managed everything from press releases to employee appreciation gigs, media requests to website management to citywide special events. We also took all the weird calls.
Let me explain what I mean by that. In a city of 30,000+ residents, we were the two people responsible for handling all the calls, issues and problems other departments couldn't -- or wouldn't. And no matter how bewildering, asinine or just-plain-insane, we had to do it with a smile.
If you've never worked in government, it's easy to dismiss this as no big deal. Like you, I assumed the worst thing I would face might be complaints about potholes or the timeliness of snow removal. Wrong. So wrong.
NBC's Parks & Rec came along at the tail end of my municipal government career, but I've been a loyal viewer since episode one. Their writers have captured the true depths of muni government insanity with such accuracy it regular blows my mind. My favorite scenes -- by far -- are the "citizen comments" moments in any given meeting episode.
I recently stumbled across a compilation of said comments, and pretty much want to fist bump whoever came up with these.
Everyone laughs, tickled by the craziness of the hyperbole. Those of us who have been through the muni government experience laugh for a different reason: it's funny 'cause it's true. It's funny because it's not really exaggerated at all. It's funny because it's our daily reality.
My single regret of the time I spent government is that I didn't write down every "WTF" call and conversation I had over the years. Rarely did a day go by that someone didn't give me a reason to wonder is this real life? But a few of the classic hits have stuck with me.
Today I share them with you:
Caller: Yes. I'd like to make a complaint. I was just driving down X Street and noticed that [new BBQ restaurant] smells too much like BBQ. What are you going to do about it?
Caller: I was just running through [park with pond] and there are geese everywhere. There's goose poop all over. It's getting stuck in the tread of my shoes. I noticed the fire station is next door. I thought you might have them spray the geese with the fire hose. Not enough to harm them, mind you. Just enough to warn them it's time to move on.
(Note: According to the internet, water exits a firehose at roughly 30 to 80 mph. I'm not mathematician, but accordingly to my calculations if a train leaves Boston at 3:45 p.m. traveling at speeds of 30-80 mph, those geese are so dead.)
Caller: I'm appalled that the city is letting [upscale boutique] promote promiscuity by selling panties. There are mannequins in their front window wearing lacy undergarments. That's just indecent!
(Note: To this day I still wonder about her logic. If people are buying underwear doesn't that mean they are wearing underwear? And really, isn't wearing underwear the exact opposite of indecent?)
Caller: What's the number to a paint store?
Caller: I'm finding feces on my lawn!! Someone is letting their dog defecate on my lawn!! I only have a small dog and this is large feces, so I know it's not my dog. I'd like the health department to DNA test the feces and tell me what breed of dog is defecating on my lawn.
Caller: Where is the ice cream man!?!??
Caller: I can hear him, but I can't see him. WHERE IS HE?
Me: Um, unfortunately we wouldn't have that information.
Caller: I know you know his route now tell me where he is!! He's not coming down our street and that's discrimination.
Me: Ma'am, I'm sorry, we only issue vendor licenses. We wouldn't have his route.
Caller: I'm calling [local news program] to report you for withholding public information.
Various callers: I need an officer sent to my house because:
- There's a bat in my house.
- There's a dragonfly in my house.
- My toddler won't listen to me.