Arthritis in the Body Politic – An irregular recording of the people who keep reporters from talking to the people who really know what they’re talking about.
Let’s put this in everyday terms so you know the hurdles some state officials and some state agencies put in the way of reporters who need an answer from someone who knows the issue at hand.
You call your lawyer. The secretary answers the phone.
“May I speak to Mr. Barrister?” you ask.
“I can help you,” says the secretary.
“But I need to talk to Mr. Barrister. He knows about the issue I need help with.”
“I’ve been designated his spokesman,” says the secretary, “I can answer any questions you have or I can get the answers from him if I don’t know.”
“Why not let me speak directly to him, then, because he’ll know all of the answers,” you say.
“I’m his spokesman,” says the secretary.
“is he too busy, or is he in a meeting?” you ask.
“No, he’s just doing his regular stuff. But I’m speaking for him.”
“Okaaaay,” you say, realizing bureaucracy has replaced logical thinking. “My neighbor is threatening to sue me because a tree in my yard might fall onto his porch someday. Can he really sue me? What are my rights?”
“I’m not sure about that,” says the spokesman. “Let me check with Mr. Barrister and call you back.”
“I can’t just ask him, get the answer, and be on my way?” you ask.
“I’ll find out for you and call you back,” she says as if your question is irrelevant.
So you wait. your urgency is immaterial to the person who is ignorant but in the way of your getting the information you need. As you wait, the spokesman might get or make a few more calls before going to see Mr. Barrister. She comes back and call you about twenty minutes later.
“Mr. Barrister says you cannot be sued in anticipation of an uncertain event,” she tells you.
“Should I buy some insurance just in case?” you ask.
“Ummmm.. Let me check with Mr. Barrister and get back to you.”
“Well,” you say once again, “It would sure save me a lot of time if I could ask these questions directly to Mr. Barrister.”
“I’m the official spokesman.”
This really does happen in state government and happens increasingly so as spokesmen have become the bureaucracy’s arthritis — they keep the joint from working as well as it could.
The other day we wanted to talk to the state elections directors in the Secretary of State’s office about the end of candidate filing. Had we been in the Elections Office just 15 hours earlier when filing concluded we could have talked to the real people who have the real answers. But we were stuck in the legislature waiting for an important decision or two to be made, so we didn’t get to talk to the people the spokesman wouldn’t let us talk to on the telephone the next morning.
You think we’re kidding?
Here’s our conversation with Secretary of State spokesman Laura Egerdal. At the end you’ll hear her call-back. We should tell you she is a nice person. But she is a spokesman.