My first job out of college was working for the AFL-CIO in the international headquarters across from Layfette Park in Washington, D.C. I was tasked with compiling a manual explaining the new Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1971 and managed speakers at ten workshops nationwide. I had a lot of time on my hands and was tasked with the federal register monitoring on the Act.
I learned how to read government regulations. This became my skill. I can do things others can't because I know when something is tacitly allowed. It is a good skill to have, and it helped me get money for projects and do things like hose down the street in the morning when I was in charge of South Street in Philly. During that time, I identified leaked garbage truck waste as toxic and had at least one truck seized. It was registered to a vacant lot … but that is another story.
In a way, it is like a government superpower to do things for the public good through technical rules and regulations. If you do it right, there will never be a zero-sum outcome … where everyone wins. I always thought the public good wins, and that should be enough.
I never operated with a narrative or in a self-motivated manner. I am an environmentalist, but I also believe there are people. People are the ones who, at times, affect actions or, many times, are affected by environmental actions.
If one operates with a narrative, sometimes staying within the bounds of action on a particular item affects different areas of interest. The ones who work on making the narrative apply across jurisdictions are technical people and have acquired status as technical elites. This is where some political stuff does not make sense because the narrative on one item may run cross-purpose to what is good in another interpretation.
People get into positions of authority and can conspire to slant reality to their benefit. This is where it gets cumbersome, as some individuals are not up to understanding the public good. The effort to help could start something that initially was a good idea, but when things became difficult, the cursory interpretation of the regulations on what-you can and what-you can’t do gets murky.
It comes back to “Trust the Science,” and all those papers proved to be propaganda rather than science. But it does not stop there. I liken it to when I lived in Baltimore and had a nice position in the Baltimore County Executive’s office. You meet many people, and one person I met said she would let me and my friends into the Colts game for free. She was at the gate and would wave us through. I'm not proud I did that, but this is for the illustration process only.
So, I walked through, my friend Mike walked through, and my cousin Bob was stopped because he had beers in his pocket. They took the beers and let him in; it was not questioned that he did not have a ticket. This is what is happening now in government. It distracts you with a side issue and moves forward with the narrative.
Let me also denote that the people who are the technical elite many times double as the administrative elite. In many cases, the government is run by appointed officials who come to the table with a political agenda. They also could come as a code enforcement guy who is too literal in interpretation to someone who takes a broad view of their work and tramples on other disciplines for the sake of their narrative.
During my attempt to establish a transportation project, I had a high-ranking administrative person laugh in my face based on their limited understanding. It was one of those cases when you start to say something and know you are wasting your breath. I was also on my best behavior and had checked “take no prisoners” at the door.
And what I have concluded … It is all like that anymore. You cannot trust much in the public sector, and maybe I have the energy to fight, but for what purpose? To say I am right? It does not matter any longer if there is an objective truth; if it conflicts with the narrative, it must be silenced.
People in administrative positions have acquired power, the political narrative’s power. In some cases, it is the power of self-interest. It is where these mix that there becomes a real problem. If you or my gate-crashing cousin Bob will benefit personally from something, there is a moral obligation, a standard of integrity that must be followed. That is no longer the case on a national or local level. The headlines may be national, but the part that makes your life more difficult is on the local level.
It is time to question authority locally and see the response. If it is overwhelming denunciation, try to make you look like a fool, and the question is so outrageous no one should get behind you, or they will be labeled as horrible … then you know you are right.
Fooling around with all of the flood stuff in Downingtown has been confusing. I believe I have found one of those instances. I don’t particularly appreciate how some locals were put in a basket of deplorables when they voiced concerns. I believe I am going to follow up just for my own satisfaction.
Barry Cassidy is a freelance grant and economic development consultant. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.