The Five Worst Types of Government Workers

Plus: Fees for Special Treatment, Sin-Tax Errors, And More
June 10, 2010 AT 3:00 AM
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Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is

GovLoop, a social network for the government community, recently featured a list of the "The 5 Worst Types of Co-Workers." We found the idea intriguing. So we thought we'd share GovLoop's blog post and ask you for any additional categories that come to mind. We've recreated the major groups exactly as shown on GovLoop and paraphrased the descriptions a bit:

1) Slacker — People who never do their part and then go to others for help at deadline

2) Star — Individuals who nab all the best assignments and take all the credit for the work you do together

3) Inviter — Folks who simply want to do everything with you from eating lunch or gossiping when there's work to be done

4) Complainer — These are the people who are always unhappy, and chronically complaining about everything

5) Full of Smoke — These are the men and women who seem terrific, but ultimately don't know what they're talking about

Have any contributions to the list? Just write us.

Fees, fees, fees. It seems almost inevitable that as states, cities and counties scramble for cash, there's going to be an ever-growing reliance on fees. One of the problems with fees is that they can be regressive, requiring people in lower income brackets to pay a higher percentage of their income, relatively speaking, for vital services. But recently, we've noticed a different twist: Governments are using fees for extra or luxury services.

Here's an example from the Kansas City Star: As of early May, residents who want bulky items — like couches and dishwashers — dragged away are able to pay a fee and schedule a pickup at their convenience ($50 for up to five items on a regular trash collection day). What if you can't afford it? The city will continue "its free service for residents who schedule a bulky pickup of up to 15 items, but waits can be a month or longer," reported the Star.

Residents of all income groups still get a free service from the city. But if someone can afford deluxe treatment, they can get better service for a price. How does this approach sound to you?

Governments looking to raise money through sin taxes might find this study worthwhile: Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago examined a sample of littered cigarette packs. It turned out that three out of four had brought no tax revenue to the city — that's equal to about $10 million per month, according to David Merriman, a professor of public administration and head of UIC's economics department.

And while we're thinking about litter... Is your city or town having troubles keeping the parks and sidewalks clean? Take a look at this video for one clever solution.

Pay-for-performance is a topic that can stimulate heated debate in many areas. We don't have strong opinions on the topic. But our long-held observation has been that the devil is in the details and paying people for performance can certainly be helpful — if it's done well. So we present the following not to make a point, but to point out a hazard:

According to a study done at Canada's Ryerson University and University of Guelph, giving people cash incentives to do well runs the risk of serving as an incentive to fudge data.

"The dark side of behavior can be affected by pay-for-performance schemes," said Fei Song, co-author of the study and a business professor at Ryerson's Ted Rogers School of Management. "Faced with certain types of incentives, some people are tempted to make up or misrepresent their performance numbers, which can cause companies to lose revenue."

The study, Are You Paying Your Employees to Cheat? An Experimental Investigation, was conducted in the private sector. But we see no reason why the same risk wouldn't be present in the public sector as well.

Speeding tickets were designed, we always thought, to make the roads safer (except in some infamous rural areas known as "speed traps"). Of course, all communities appreciated the extra cash, even if that wasn't the primary goal. But conditions being as they are, it appears that some cities are now looking at the tickets as fundamentally a revenue raiser. According to MSN Money, Canton, Ohio, handed out some "4,505 citations for moving violations in the first quarter of 2010 — a 221 percent increase over the 1,405 tickets issued in last year's first quarter."

"You could say that it was born out of the deteriorating economy," Police Chief Dean McKimm was reported as saying about the accentuated enforcement of driving laws in the face of potential layoffs.

We get this. But we have a question: Does this mean that there were thousands of speeders who were going uncaught in prior years? And if that's the case, why?

We don't want to make other bloggers jealous. There are lots of really good ones out there, but we think our favorite may be The Thicket, from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Regular readers of the B&G Report will likely know this, based on the frequency with which we pass along items we've found there. Most recently, we came across a very helpful post giving lots of examples of state legislatures using social media.

Of course, some legislatures have videos on YouTube or YouTube channels (listed here) that can be viewed on mobile devices, and some states are optimizing other kinds of legislative content for handhelds.  Kentucky provides an iPhone friendly site, and other legislative sites are optimized for the BlackBerry or other devices, including the Pennsylvania House Democrats website, and websites for the Texas Legislature, the South Carolina Legislature and the Washington Legislature.

Also, TVW, which is like the C-SPAN of Washington state, has a new iPhone application that brings viewers archived TVW webcasts and live streaming television. "Simply visit with an iPhone browser and the website will automatically be optimized for the iPhone," the Thicket advises.

The hoppers are coming. Apparently, a number of states in the Northwest are going to be dealing with a big grasshopper problem pretty soon.

"In some areas ... there will be big masses of grasshoppers," said Richard Zack, an associate professor of entomology at Washington State University. "Not biblical proportions, but big masses of grasshoppers moving through areas."

That's bad for agriculture, which is bad for the revenue streams of afflicted states. And although grasshoppers may seem like a minimal problem, managers in a handful of states would be well-served to start preparing for the onslaught.

Actually, we bring up grasshoppers as a backdoor way of providing you with a powerful demonstration of something we've been talking about for a long time: The utility of maps — even very simple ones — to clarify an issue and help managers do their jobs well. In this case, take a look at a grasshopper map put together by the USDA.

Mark Twain is the source for our favorite quote of the last couple of weeks: "Facts are stubborn, but statistics are more pliable."

Public Civility Corner. Here's some advice we received from a Florida city councilwoman that seemed like a good approach to dealing with citizens who go into attack mode: "I learned quickly that the only thing I can control in these situations is myself. I remind myself that these citizens would be yelling at whoever was sitting in the seat. I also believe that if they met me standing in line at the grocery store, they would think I was a nice lady. I listen, repeat their concerns back to them to make sure I have a complete understanding of the situation. I then work hard to 'promise little and deliver big.' Many times just letting citizens 'dump their bucket' towards me gets the stress off of them. If I am able to get the situation resolved to their satisfaction, then and only then do I say something that they should call me in the future before it gets so stressful. There have been times I haven't been able to resolve it to their satisfaction, due to city policy or cost. I have had citizens angry that I couldn't do what they wanted and they left angry. Just like sports, you can't win them all."