August 25, 2010 (North Potomac, MD) – A petition by the Montgomery County Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association will not be on the ballot in November’s election. This is not because the initiative does not have merit, nor is it because it was not submitted by the August 4 deadline; no, it’s because it didn’t dot all the “I’s” or cross all the “‘T’s” that are bureaucratically required in order for a petition to make it to the ballot. Sign a petition and forget to sign exactly the same way you signed when you registered to vote, and the petition is consigned to the ash can as invalid. That the bureaucracy would expect one to remember exactly how a voter’s registration was signed several years ago doesn’t seem to factor into the requirement.
The initiative in question, fees for ambulance rides in Montgomery County, is not a life or death issue that will have an immediate or significant impact on the lives of the county’s residents; but it does expose a disease that infects the entire Washington, DC area – ‘bureaucratitis.’ The proliferation and application of often mindless bureaucratic requirements is, in this area, of epidemic – nay, I would say, pandemic, proportions.
When I read this item in the August 24 edition of the Washington Post, I first skipped over it; but it kept nagging at my mind, so I went back and read it carefully. I don’t really care whether or not fees are charged for ambulance rides – it makes sense in the area’s wealthiest jurisdiction that we pay for the services we receive – but the application of bureaucratic requirements that are so restrictive and inflexible, reminds me of the bureaucratic battles I’ve had to fight since moving to this area 28 years ago.
One of my first bureaucratic battles was with my Homeowners’ Association. I had a near neighbor who hit golf balls from his front yard. An errant ball one day pierced a front window screen of my house, fortunately, not breaking the glass or hitting anyone. When I approached the Association about this and asked that they talk to the neighbor about this dangerous practice, I was informed that the charter of the association said nothing about regulation of sports activities. They could slam him if he painted his garage the wrong color, or let his grass grow an inch too long, but not if he beaned someone with a golf ball.
It wouldn’t be anything to make a fuss about if it was just confined to Homeowners’ Associations, but’ bureaucratitis’ is a disease that, like head lice in grade school, spreads rapidly; is hard to cure, and irritates the heck out of everyone it touches.
Imagine my surprise and chagrin, for instance, when I found my phones not working one day, and discovered that my neighbor’s phone was working. The reason, I quickly discovered, was that despite the mere 20-feet that separated our houses, we were on different telephone exchanges, and quite often, one or the other of them would be down. No amount of calling the phone company for an explanation got me an answer; “That’s just the way it is,” is what the sweet voice on the other end of the line would always say. I finally gave up, and when mobile phones became more reliable – and by this, I mean more reliable than land lines, but that’s another horror story – I had them remove the wires and we are now a mobile phone only family. Take that you pernicious and obnoxious communications monopoly.
The Washington, DC area, awash in bureaucratic structures, an area that produces little in the way of products that people can usefully consume, is not a place of residence for the faint of heart. In order to live here and not suffer hypertension or a blown gasket, one must have the patience of Job, and the sense of humor of Will Rogers. But hey, it’s home.