Friday, March 30, 2012

Why Are We Doing This?

Not many people ask themselves this question. Have you ever noticed? The world is awash in frantic activity, and nobody ever says, why are we doing this? This particular activity. This task. What outcome are we hoping for?

Not Lambertville, but you get the idea
Case in point. I spent three and a half hours at a local zoning board meeting tonight. The man who needed a variance had already disturbed the land around his house beyond what was allowed by the city steep slope ordinance by a factor of something like ten. Storm water was already a problem. If you live on a hill, you know what I'm talking about, gullies washing, soil eroding. But the thing was done. He needed a variance to say it was okay, so that he could get a certificate of occupancy to live in the house where he was already living, where he had been living, in fact, for two years.

I knew why I was there. I'm on the board. It's my job, among other things, to try and keep the hill from sliding down onto Route 29. The man knew why he was there; he had to show up to get his variance. His lawyer, from what I could tell, was there to talk at the board for two hours, because, of course, if you appear before the board they'll grant you a variance, right? Especially if you wave some visuals at them. And their engineer was there because the board likes you to have an engineer.

But nobody was taking care of business. The man who wanted the variance wanted to make excuses for whatever he had done to the property. The lawyer, for all his talking, said very little of substance. The engineer hadn't done much engineering on the project that we could see, at least nothing that addressed our city engineer's concerns about storm water. Yes, we understood why they had to move the sewer pipe. But what about the storm water? No plan. No drawings. So no variance for another two months, at which time we'll have to go through the whole dreary charade all over again.

This is why bureaucracy is such a drag. The bureaucrats never ask themselves why they are doing things. They just do them because it's the rule. This is why making yourself write a thousand words a day is such a drag. You need a plan. You need diagrams. Otherwise the whole muddy mess will go sliding down the hill.

Kate Gallison

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