From our Mailbag: Zealous Public Officials Overstepping Lines?

June 2, 2015

Inside Insight

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fire extinguisher

If only these officials would apply as much energy to monitoring their own agencies as they do to monitoring you.

At The Nerve, we receive lots of tips, anecdotes, and complaints about governmental waste and abuse. We have a small staff, so unfortunately we’re not able to follow up most of them. Many of them, however, are too good not to share. Here are three that have come to us via email in just the last week.

First, a visit from a fire marshal.

We had a fire inspector at our church recently. We were told we had to install lighted exit signs over exit doors, and fire extinguishers were to be installed on the walls in several locations. Now, this may seem a minor complaint, but we were also required to install a plastic sign above each fire extinguisher. Plastic signs? What was the plastic sign to say, we asked? The plastic sign was to be a picture of a fire extinguisher. So I guess if you didn’t know what the fire extinguisher was, you could look at the plastic sign and conclude, oh, that must be a fire extinguisher.

We wondered if perhaps our correspondent could have taken a photograph of the fire extinguisher and tacked the photo above it. But sometimes it’s best just to comply.

Many South Carolinians have read the horrific stories of neglect and incompetence published in recent months about the South Carolina Department of Social Services. Contrast those stories with the agency’s fastidious inspections of clearly well-maintained child care facilities:

I work in a preschool. Every other year or so, DSS drops by for some kind of “spot check.” It’s such a waste of time. Any normal person could walk into our preschool, take one minute to look around, and conclude that the children are nurtured and extremely well taken care of. Plus we always go by the book: we never go over the state-mandated number of kids per room, we have soap and paper towels in the bathrooms – everything. But they always, I mean always, find something wrong. This year? One of our workers had her college degree on file, but not her high school diploma. We got reprimanded for that. Now it stands to reason that if you have a college degree, you must have graduated from high school. But nope, not good enough. 

And this, from a longtime reader, about another state agency known for incompetence:

A few weeks ago I was on Twitter and I discovered that the South Carolina Department of Revenue has a Twitter account. That in itself is funny – what on earth does the state revenue agency need to tweet about? How many times it’s been hacked in the last month? Oh wait, no, they keep that kind of thing secret for as long as possible. Anyway, I decided to follow the account (the account is @SCDOR). In addition to the usual stuff about “don’t forget about April 15th” and whatnot, DOR tweets about people being arrested on tax-related charges. They don’t just tweet, either. They link to full-on press releases about the arrest, posted by the agency. Many of the arrests have to do with “operating a business without a license.”

Now look, I’m not saying you should be allowed to just not pay your business license fee, especially if the state’s going to make everybody else pay it. But on a scale of crimes, operating a business without a license seems like a pretty insignificant one. I mean, its debatable why you even have to have a license at all. Yet these “criminals” have their arrests trumpeted on social media by a state agency – divulging their full names and the counties where they were arrested. What is this, some kind of shaming tactic? Is this not excessive? Are they going to go to the trouble of writing up press releases if the poor guys are acquitted? Yeah, somehow I doubt it.

If you have tips about government abuse or incompetence – or just an anecdote – write to us at news@thenerve.org.

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