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Say What?

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Say What?

When it comes to road construction, a great District Engineer is not necessarily a great head of the department

When I first moved to Idaho in the mid- 1970s and got involved in politics and the like I was frequently amazed that the subject of roads was always on the ‘agenda.’ As I developed my interest in history it finally dawned on me that roads were far more important, in what had been a roadless society, than I had thought.

I was raised in Jackson County, Missouri where the Pendergast machine and Ready-Mix Concrete had managed to pave every square foot they could find. So to a city boy gravel roads that went to mud every spring were a new fact of life. And with that new awareness came the realization that after the railroad the next stage was better roads. The better roads would also eliminate the need for the many ferry crossings that had been the rule for a hundred years.

While county roads are local in that we residents get to provide the only money, argue with the Commissioners and criticize the road crews, the state highway system was something else. Both used taxpayer monies, but the state funding was something like federal money...someone else was doing the heavy lifting, we like to believe. The Idaho Transportation Department slowly but surely became the focus of my attention.

The need for major improvements was always a point of interest especially since I lived out on the Dufort Road which the county maintained but the state loved to use when it served their purpose. The few projects that came to life were usually greatly appreciated even if poorly carried out and seemingly with no accountability. (The natives should only be grateful.)

There was another complication. I have been trained to believe  there was nothing that couldn’t have been done better. As a consequence my life has been filled with ongoing internal criticism of what I do and how I do it. In my professional career it seemed to work rather well.

A consequence is that I expect a lot of myself and everyone else.

On a wall in my offices in Spokane and Denver I had a framed quotation I attributed to the great German philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “When you expect little of a man you leave him poorer than when you found him; when you expect great things of a man you leave him richer than you found him.” (If you research Goethe you may find that there is a similar quotation using the word treat.)

Anyway the point of all this is I have grown to expect much more from the ITD than I think they deliver. In my mind the examples of unexplained overruns and mismanagement indicate the organization is poorly run. One ex-Governor stopped speaking to me after I suggested that such was the case.

So the news flash the other day that the current head of the ITD had been sacked came as no real surprise after seeing her on the TV program “Dialogue.” It was apparent to me that she didn’t really have a grip on what was involved in  managing the department. Which leads me to the subject.

Criticism is a much maligned word, usually because it is a thinly disguised way to insult someone, when in reality it is the only road to improvement.

It sounds as though the powers-that-be in Boise did not have either the ability or the courage to engage in what I call constructive criticism. Anyone doing a job that is subject to evaluation deserves to be told not only what they are doing right but what they are doing that could be done better.

What usually happens is that in most jobs, the big boss doesn’t understand the job he is supervising well enough to make suggestions or simply lacks the guts to ‘tell it like it is.’

So Ms. Lowe wants to sue someone, probably doesn’t make any difference who, to get some satisfaction because she was doing the job on her own and no one ever told her she wasn’t. The big mistake was she was using her past experience as a blueprint for a whole new task for which she had no training or guidance. A great District Engineer is not necessarily a great head of the department.

These days personnel management is a huge task. Between all kinds of government regulations and the reluctance of managers to confront the truth, it is no wonder there are some confused people out there trying to do a job. All too often the new person is left to be trained by either the out-going person or the help left behind. The result is often that the help is doing what they think right or easiest but not necessarily what the boss is paying them to do.

Communication between the guy signing the pay checks and those endorsing them is crucial to the success of both parties. In the current case involving the ITD I hope all parties to the conflict can find ground for growth, personally and as an organization that uses lots of taxpayer money and does perform a  most importance function affecting all of us daily. Roads and road improvement does have a place on the agenda.

P.S. Before you get all warm and fuzzy about Obama’s stimulus money try to remember it is your money being spent to fix the Dover Bridge, not his, but ours!

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Paul Rechnitzer Paul Rechnitzer Transplanted 30 years ago, Paul is a retiree from the oil business who knows no other place he would rather live and breathe local history.

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