Opinion » Shredder

Semantics, with a side of crap

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It happened at McDonald’s on an otherwise sunny, glorious Saturday. I committed a fast food faux pas. Actually, I committed the fast food faux pas. I felt especially bad because there aren’t all that many rules to ordering at a fast food joint. When you’re deliberately cramming jumbo fried everything with a side of reconstituted pig juice into your arteries, you tend not to be worried about little things like personal hygiene or how people perceive you. So when I say I’m not proud of my behavior, well, that means something. The embarrassing thing that happened occurred when I opened my mouth to order:

“One quarter-pounder cheeseburger,” I said.

I meant to say one quarter-pounder “with cheese.” Of course I was humiliated. But somehow, the employee taking orders—this minimum wage, under-respected high school junior—understood what I meant. She somehow divined that a quarter-pound cheeseburger and a quarter pounder with cheese were actually the same thing. Which might not sound like a big deal, but if you’ve had any experience dealing with small town bureaucrats like those in the Templeton Community Services District, you’d understand that’s actually a remarkable leap of logic.

Take a recent public records request for budget reports for Mid State Waste and Recycling—a simple enough request considering the fact that Mid State Waste and Recycling has a contract with the Templeton CSD. The officials waited a few days before replying that they didn’t have any budget reports. Our reporter had to point out that they’re required to collect “financial statements,” at which point the light bulb seemed to flicker to life.

“Why didn’t you just say you wanted ‘financial statements?’” they asked with a chuckle at our reporter’s ignorance.

Mind you, I don’t know what the difference between a “financial statement” and a “budget report” might be. I suspect it’s something like the difference between a quarter-pounder with cheese and a quarter-pound cheeseburger. Same thing. And if you order a quarter-pound cheeseburger off the menu, the minimum wage fast food employee is probably smart enough to decipher your fast-food cryptography. But the government employee at the Templeton CSD can’t distinguish between a “budget report” and a “financial statement.” Don’t look at me to explain this discrepancy in intellect and pay.

And I guess it doesn’t really matter anyway, because after the better part of a month and two requests—one for “budget reports” and another for “financial statements”—the Templeton CSD folks still came back with zero information and the claim that they could invoke a 14-day extension to determine whether they were required to share these documents. Which basically sounds like the steaming piles of crap the CSD contracts with Mid State Waste and Recycling to haul out.

Then, just to prove that they’re vindictive as they are useless—and about as transparent as Mitt Romney’s tax returns—they published the reporter’s interview questions in their agenda. Publishing e-mails in an agenda isn’t illegal, and it’s certainly not unusual under the right conditions. If a member of the public has a relevant issue or concern, government agencies are often in the habit of printing these e-mails in their agendas when it relates to something they’re working on.

But printing questions from a reporter to the CSD on an unrelated matter is downright unheard of. And let’s be honest, there are only two reasons you do something like that. One: to give the appearance of transparency, which is laughable considering their rather desperate attempts to conceal basic budget reports from a company they contract with using public money. Two: to try to stick it to the reporter requesting the information. Which is a favorite activity of some public servants.

Almost no one cares about the Templeton CSD outside of Templeton. Their meetings seem to be—I’ll be generous and use the word “colorful”—and populated by people who don’t know what they’re doing and no one ever calls them on it. They bully Director Greg O’Sullivan because he asks questions and doesn’t accept the status quo. Rumor has it their meetings used to be a brief 20- to 30-minute yes-yes-yes, rubberstamp kind of affair, and Greg makes them actually talk about things. Ugh. Like they’re in a relationship or making important decisions or something.

Of course, critical thinking might have been useful when they were working on their contract with Mid State Waste and Recycling, which operated trucks that oddly didn’t appear on certain inspection reports and—once discovered—oddly didn’t exactly set the high bar for maintenance and performance. The owner also happens to have a reputation, so I’ve heard, for welcoming various Templeton CSD members to meals, including pancake breakfasts at his ranch. Don’t get me wrong: I’d sell out for the right pancakes, all light and fluffy and dripping with maple syrup. But that’s why I’m not in a position of power, even one like the Templeton CSD.

There are a few positions up for election, which is always fun. Clifford Scorry Beere, Geoff English, Brenda Gray, Wayne Peterson, David LaCaro, and Daniel Migliazzo are all squaring off against incumbent Judy Dietch for three spots on a four-year term as Templeton CSD director. I don’t know if there’s going to be some kind of debate or brawl or something, but if there is, I’d like to ask them all the difference between a quarter-pounder with cheese and a quarter-pound cheeseburger. Hell, maybe I should just waddle my fat ass back to McDonald’s and beg the young woman behind the counter to throw her visor into the ring. From what I’ve seen, her customer service skills and common sense are far superior to those of the Templeton CSD. She might not want to wade into the fray, but I’ll bet a short stack of pancakes will bring her around.

Send revised acronyms for the Templeton CSD to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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