The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Friday, April 29, 2011

Approval Lists and Petty Tyrants

Many counties have lists of approved archaeologists. These lists dictate who is, and often who is not, allowed to perform basic compliance work on projects permitted or funded by the county, and often by cities within the county. Most of the time, being placed on the lists is a simple matter, you simply send in proof of your credentials, and your name is added. Sometimes, however, there's a kink in the system.

Several years back, I worked for a large company out of their Santa Barbara office. As San Luis Obispo County was one of our neighboring counties, it made good sense to be on their approved list. So, I contacted the county, found out what they needed, sent it in, and voila! a few weeks later, my company and my name appeared on the list. At this time, individual archaeologists were listed and shown as qualified.

A couple of years later, I moved to Santa Cruz and went to work for a different company. As there were some good business opportunities in San Luis Obispo County at that point in time, I wanted to make sure that the county approved list reflected where I was. So, I sent an email to the county employee who kept the list explaining that I had changed employers, and requesting that my listing on the approved list be changed to reflect this. I received an email in response telling me what documentation I had to turn in in order to be listed. Thinking that the fellow had simply misunderstood my request - the county had already been provided with all of the documentation he was requesting when last I applied - I wrote back explaining that I was already on the list, and I was simply seeking to have me listing modified. I again received an email telling me that I needed to turn in proof of my credentials in order to be listed.

A bit non-plussed, I called the county offices to speak with the fellow. I explained that, based on his emails, it looked as if he thought I was asking to be newly-listed, which I was not, and that I had already turned in the requested documents. I was simply asking that my contact information be changed to reflect my current employer.

The response? I was told that the county had kept poor records of what they received in the past, and therefore he didn't have my past credentials on file, and therefore if I wanted to have my contact information changed, I'd have to send them all again. Through all of this, it was never mentioned that I might be removed from the list, so as far as I could tell, the county still considered my qualified, they just didn't want to change my contact information to reflect reality.

Deciding that putting up with this nonsense wasn't worth my time, I just gathered up and sent the documentation in. I looked up the approved list a few weeks later, and found that I was not listed under my current employer, but was still listed under my previous employer.

I contacted the fellow at the county offices again and asked what was up. His response? He didn't like my employer. He claimed that they had screwed up a big project several years back, and he was considering whether or not he wanted me to be on the list at all now that I worked for "the enemy". When I went and looked up the project in question, it was not my company that performed it, but another one altogether. I contacted him to point this out, and was told that he didn't like my company anyway, so I shouldn't hold my breath on being listed.

This entire time I was still listed with my old contact information. And, again, it was individuals who were listed, not companies at that time. So, regardless of my employer, I was qualified and there was no legitimate reason to keep me off of the list*.

This was a classic "petty tyrant" as far as I could tell. The guy seemed to have very little power, and so he enjoyed exercising what little power he did have, however arbitrarily or poorly. I have run into these guys in plenty of other places - they are common in municipal and county governments, but also in most large businesses (where they can find a niche and use it to push people around - and in my experience, because they tend to be sycophantic towards a few well-placed higher-ups, they are often hard or even impossible to fire), when I worked on a military base I saw several of them there as well, and they seem to breed at universities.

After several emails, with varying degrees of "you can't push me around" attitude coming from me, and a bit of "you know, we could take legal action" coming from my employer, the fellow finally agreed to change my contact information on the list. I figured it was done. However, about a year later, a possible project came up in San Luis Obispo County, and so I checked to make sure that we were listed. I was still listed under my previous employer, but not under my new employer.

The dick hadn't actually made the changes that he had agreed - in writing I will add - to make!

I contacted the county, and discovered that this guy had been let go, much to the joy of the other county employees. It seems that I had nailed the "petty tyrant" thing, and that he had been trying to throw his weight around with everybody, until someone with actual power had enough of it and pushed him out. I explained what I needed to the new fellow in charge of the list, who was sympathetic and quickly had me placed on the list (within a week, very fast as these things go).

*The people who tended to be listed were project managers, who weild a fair amoutn of power concerning how work is done. So, even if everyone else at a company is bad at their job, a good project manager can still do things well.


Kevin said...

I had a very similar encounter with a power-obsessed peon in a government office just today. What is it about bureaucracy that makes some people into—I like your key word—irritants?

Anthroslug said...

I think it's that many of these people are trapped by the job itself, and this is often the one place that they have where they can exercise any power.

RBH said...

In an old book called Psychology in the Wry there's an essay on "petit paranoia" that exactly captures your antagonist's behavior.

Anthroslug said...

I'm going to have to check out that book. Thanks.