The Price of Bureaucracy

I’m not one for “leaning in” Sheryl Sandberg style. I’m not even one for volunteering beyond one-off opportunities. I don’t like long-term commitments because they usually mean I can’t just walk away when I want to spend a day reading a book instead. But I recently got involved with a city project, and I’m remembering why I hate helping.

Because politics, especially local politics, are the worst.

The city project is a local dog park. Last year, the small southern Indiana town of Batesville, Indiana put in a temporary dog park, with the understanding that if users followed the rules and extra funding could be raised, it would become permanent the following year. Last fall, when all the temporary fencing was removed, the dog park was deemed a success. People loved it and wanted it back after begging for the opportunity for five years.  (The mayor insists that it was put in because a little Girl Scout asked about it last year. This is untrue. Or at least, it’s not the whole truth.)

This spring, it was suggested that the dog park be made permanent, and the council agreed. They asked for volunteers to form a committee and start making plans. The owner of the boarding facility I frequent and the trainer who works there (who is lovely) headed up the committee, and they asked me to join after I showed up to a city council meeting in order to support their efforts. I eventually became the secretary.

At the first city council meeting, we requested $5,000 for double gates that help keep animals safe by not allowing them to run out. They were going to be expensive gates, but we wanted them to match the overall aesthetic of the park and to last for a long time. We were told to get more quotes and that we could have $1,500 for fundraising and to put in the drainage pipes that the area they were willing to let us use so desperately needed.

Two days later, the local paper ran an article about the projected dog park in which they mentioned that the local funding grant. This grant, which allows city projects like this to happen, has about $60,000to be used this year.

So we found new price quotes. Three quotes for all the basics: Fencing, doggie bag stations, gates, a bench or two, and signs for the rules, as well as a few other miscellaneous items. We made fundraising plans to show what we thought we could raise this year alone, if we could just get started. We brainstormed, planned, and when we thought we had a great proposal, we asked for the moon, hoping to land amongst the stars: $15,000.

We got $5,000. Earmarked just for fencing. And a lecture about how the project seems rushed. And debate about whether the dog park would disturb the players on the tennis courts. (As a rule, the tennis courts are barely used, and we have offered to use the funds to put up a wind screen.) We were also asked why we were expecting this to happen “on a whim,” as if they had no notice that this plan was even a possibility. We have tried to explain that without some kind of structure, it will be hard to raise money since no one will be able to enjoy what they’re paying for.

All of this has fallen on mostly deaf ears. Apparently if you’re not a little girl scout, it’s impossible to get anything done in local politics. I feel your pain right now, Leslie Knope.

Gif of Leslie Knope texting, captioned "Dear congress, it's Leslie again..."

It’s infuriating that when there’s a good story involved, politicians will do anything for a baby-kissing moment, but as soon as there’s nothing to be personally gained, bureaucracy takes over and nothing can be done, regardless of the money available. And if this is the local level, it’s no wonder that nothing can be done at the state or, heaven forbid, national level.

The only good thing about this problem is that it forces citizens to come together and demand what they want while also showing that they’re willing to work for it. Hopefully, we can coax more cash out of the fund and make some good money over the next couple weeks.

Has anyone else ever worked on a project like this? I know PMaggers are used to fundraising for their own causes, so what advice do you have? I’m taking all kinds of tidbits, and would love to know techniques that others have used when dealing with local politicians!

Dog Park Flyer
Just because it’s kind of an absurdly cute flyer.

By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

11 replies on “The Price of Bureaucracy”

One dog park in our area was allowed because media-friendly stories about the benefits were circulated. For example, a senior citizen on disability couldn’t take his golden retriever on walks, but because he took his dog to the dog park every day, he was able to have a dog and some companionship. Do you have a website for this project? I see you have a FB page, but a website would allow you to place information more strategically (e.g., a section of testimonials).

See, that’s one of the problems we’re having. It’s technically still a “city project” so there are serious limits about what/where/how we can advertise. The Facebook page is linked to the city parks page, and the city isn’t interested in maintaining a more developed web presence.

But I like the “media-friendly story” idea. I’m going to brainstorm more on that!

Out here, on road projects that are taxpayer funded, they place a sign that says “It’s your nickel, watch it work” and with information about cost, expected completion date, etc. Someone wrote a Letter to the Editor claiming that the signs were inappropriate as they constituted state-sponsored lobbying (or some bullshit like that).

Are there any Eagle Scouts/Girl Scout Level Equivalent in the area? This seems like a GREAT Eagle Scout project. And it provides the appropriate Kiss a Baby moment. What heartless bastard would prevent a kid from earning such a stupendous honor! That being said, I’ve no idea how one would find an aspiring Eagle Scout.

You might also be able to find resources or people willing to provide guidance here: It’s a citizen coalition dedicated to building and maintaining Seattle’s off-leash areas…and we do have some nice ones!

I’ve been all over Seattle’s stuff. So many great ideas! I think part of the difference is a culture thing. Here, dogs are outdoor farm animals, even though there are no off leash animals allowed in the county. This means that, for the people here, off leash areas are unnecessary, because let’s never should be indoors anyway. It’s infuriating.

Oh, wurgh. I’ve never done any fund raising, but the If It’s Not A Baby Kiss moment truth sounds very familiar. Once I did a story about a local fund raising, the mayor showed up to approve it and so on. After checking in after three weeks I heard that the local authorities had “lost interest” but hey, everyone got their money back!

It’s soo stupid.

In Eureka, CA, we keep fund raising and still are far from starting anything. When we raised the money for the leveling of the area, we were told we needed a fence. So we raised a total of $10,000 for the fence and were told that we had to have plans for ADA access before we could start building. It’s been a continual struggle just trying to get started and we’ve been working at this for 5 years.

I admire your ability to stick with this. I’m very much the kind who doesn’t get involved in this type of thing; I’ll donate to the cause, spread the word, but can’t bring myself to get involved to the extent you are. Looks like you’re trying to achieve something brilliant, though – hope things improve for you and the dogs (and other dog people, of course!).

I hate sticking with things. I am, in my soul, a quitter, but then I hear my mother’s voice about not letting anyone down, and my aunt’s voice about using our talents to improve our communities, and my grandmother’s voice about the importance of local politics and community involvement and I am guilted and shamed into working.

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