Saturday, August 15, 2009

Responding to the taxpayers

When I send a letter or e-mail to an elected official, I nearly always receive a response of some sort. That's true whether I'm writing for myself or on behalf of an organization. And it's true whether I write to our state senator or assemblywoman, U.S. Congressional rep or senator, a local city councilmember, or even the East Bay Municipal Utility District directors.

Sometimes it takes a while to get a reply. And sometimes the replies are obvious boilerplate. But still, the officials nearly always respond in some way.

Not so with the Amador County Board of Supervisors. When I send them information or ask questions by e-mail or snail mail, they seldom even acknowledge having received the communication. And it's exceptionally rare for a supervisor to respond in a substantive way.

It's puzzling. Our supervisors like to say that decisions should be made locally, where government is closest to and most responsive to the taxpayer. But just whom are they responsive to?

I've been a county taxpayer for more than 30 years. I've done a thing or do to contribute to our county. The organization I most often represent is made up primarily of Amador County residents. But the supervisors can't even find time to say, "Thanks for your comments. I'll think about them."?

I worked in government for nearly 25 years, most of it in state service. Both state agencies I worked for had a communication policy regarding response to public comments or questions. They both required acknowledging all communication within a certain amount of time, and a full response by a specific deadline. The policies applied to everyone, from the executive director on down. And no way would the elected officials on the boards of those agencies ever consider ignoring a comment from a taxpayer, regardless of its nature or what they might think of the individual or group. Even totally crazy, off-the-wall comments received a response.

One of those agencies even required everyone -- including the executive management -- to take customer service training. While taxpayers are not customers in the conventional sense (you don't get to pick your tax agency), that did lead to a better focus on the taxpayer. Responding to correspondence is just one example of what government agencies do to serve the public.

Our elected officials, including county supervisors, work for us. All of us. They don't just work for the people they know or like or agree with -- or those who helped them get elected.

So why is it that our supervisors cannot bring themselves to even acknowledge contacts from a local taxpayer?

I'd really like to know.

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