In the world of business, competition drives companies to do more and do it better and cheaper. Businesses know that if you don’t like their service, you can likely take your money somewhere else. But not so with government bureaucracies. Don’t like how your county runs things? Well, it would be pretty tough to just pick up and choose another county to live in. So what do you do?

A Sewage Dilemma

We got a letter recently from Sharon, a local homeowner who was having real trouble with her local government. By the time she wrote to us, she has gone for 12 days without being able to use water in her home due to a sewage backup. She called a plumber to check out the problem, but the plumber explained that the problem was not on her property. The backup was along the street, which is owned by the county. He couldn’t work on the problem. She would have to contact the county.

But when Sharon contacted the county, she didn’t get the help she needed. The county sent out an inspector who confirmed that the problem was the county’s responsibility. But that was the last she heard. No one came to fix the blockage, and she still didn’t have running water in her home.

The Problem With Government

As we said in our introduction, one problem with many government services is that, unlike businesses, they have no incentive to do their jobs quickly or with a high level of customer service. You can’t fire your county water department, and they know it. So they will take as much time as they care to before dealing with your problem. Of course, that’s not a very helpful response, and it won’t get Sharon back her water. So what can you do to speed things up?

Getting the Right Person’s Attention

The best way to speed things up is to go to the part of the government you can fire, your local elected officials. Find your county councilman’s office and give them a call. Unlike the water department employees, the council members know that they have to keep their constituents happy if they want to keep their jobs. If you can contact an elected official, they are motivated to keep you happy and can often speed things up with the local bureaucracy. In some larger counties, a council member may even have staff dedicated to this sort of request.

If the council member is able to help you, contact them again and let them know you appreciate it. Having a good relationship with your elected officials is always beneficial. And if they won’t help, make some noise. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper, or post online and tag the council member. If nothing else helps, try showing up at a council meeting where you can point out your representative’s failing in the open comments period. In the end, most elected officials want to help their constituents.

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