A Lesson from Lee
As a recovering Social Services (also known as the "SS") professional, I am not afraid of federal money. I am not afraid of a massive bureaucracy which produces almost nothing, but which, in painful, niggling, arbitrary steps doles out the shriveling surplus of society to those in need. I understand that, like the body, a bureaucracy meters its energy, with the bulk going to the stomach, brain and heart of the agency, and somewhat less going to the limbs which actually provide service.
I thought Lee Adams was quaint with his resistance to yet more health and human services money, founding it on concerns for liberty, community, and thrift. Good Old Fashioned values, but not useful in the modern reality where the counties give their various wealth to the state and feds, and in return are sucklings, taking what largess the state will provide. In an instance like that, like the hungry little piggy you are, you take all you can get when you get a chance at the teat.*
I had a discussion with Mr. Adams the other day, something I never turn down the opportunity for. I chided him gently for his resistance to taking federal money, which we all know is manna from heaven for those of us deprived of a livelihood or wealth. The board of supervisors won’t sell pot, or encourage the citizens to sell pot by zoning and permitting for it, so what choice to we have? It’s either federal money or prostitution at this point.
Chiding Lee Adams is poking a 35 foot python to see if it’s hungry. There was no flash of energy; he began slowly, logically, patiently, to turn me in to lunch.
Lee’s point: Thrift
First was thrift. He pointed out that while planning and building, law enforcement, the assessors office and others had all lost staff over the last decade, health and human services has gone from 7 to almost fifty.
Ha ha, Lee! That’s great news, it means almost fifty people bringing federal money into the community. If they weren’t working for HHS they’d either be on the dole themselves or have to move. Let’s hope some of them have kids.
As for other money, why not? Teen center? How can that be a waste of money? Will it keep kids off drugs or save the life of a teen? I’m mildly dubious, but so what? It puts money into the community, and at least no study has ever shown teen centers encourage drugs or violence. Spend the money, hire the staff.
But, what are they doing?
Mostly, nothing! Filling in paperwork, making phone calls, sharing baby pictures on email, maybe a little internet gambling or porn, some scrapbooking, maybe. Lots of coffee and potty breaks, maybe occasional brisk walks to hold back the secretary’s spread. But, if they stop filling in the paperwork, the money won't flow, no services will be provided. Besides, a handful of staff work like bees, not everyone gets to skate.
That’s a waste of public money, Lee insisted.
Ha ha! Don’t you get it? This is money stolen by the government, dribbled back to us now. These people are heavily indoctrinated and given strange powers by Welfare and Institution code; last thing you want is for all them to be doing something. We want them to bring money in, go to meetings and write reports, and mostly leave us alone. If they want to provide some light services to kids and moms, so much the better, but the very last thing we want is an efficient standing army of state controlled bureaucrats.
I’m not kidding, either. No matter what else they do in their career, every sociologist ends up studying two things: social stratification and social control. The whole point of having a platoon of social workers, therapists, behavioral trainers and so on is the control of the population. The prisons simply aren’t working, they are over crowded and expensive. It’s much cheaper to catch people while they’re kids and make sure they get the point of going along by getting along in society. Social services is about helping sick people, sort of, and keeping people from dying of hunger, largely, but mostly it is about keeping the population on track.
We don’t want people who are into that kind of behavior. Frankly, if you care enough to apply for the job you should probably be denied, but at the very least we should hire people who like busy work, but don’t so much care for messing with the cousins. Agoraphobia should probably be considered a plus in an applicant.
Lee stood firm: people playing video games and going to pointless meetings is a waste of taxpayer dollars.people playing video games and going to pointless meetings is a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Yeah, I said, but you can’t have them doing too much, they become a problem.
He shifted gears to liberty. You can’t have that many people in the county reporting on each other, picking into each other’s lives. It isn’t good for the community to have government officials constantly gathering data on citizens.. You can’t have that many people in the county reporting on each other, picking into each other’s lives. It isn’t good for the community to have government officials constantly gathering data on citizens.
There is no doubt that is true. Personally, I believe child welfare services in the state and certainly in the county is out of control. It is too easy for parents to be ruined by the system, far too easy to stigmatize a family for CWS involvement. The Constitution says nothing about the government guaranteeing safety for anyone, it only promises us the right to live our lives as best we can. Even in terms of the "welfare of the child" CWS has a dismal record, since involvement is as likely to bring turmoil and misery to the family as it is "welfare."
Indeed, while mental health services literally make it possible for some people to function, the same services plague others. Getting government help for illness requires one to give up pretty much all confidential information. The government is building an enormous, cross-linked database on the poor. It is just a few documents and one button push away from having all tax information, criminal justice information, health information and geographic location in one handy printout.
Lee is right, but the reality is too creepy to think about, so I returned to the MONEY! Dollops of dollars from the government, right into the county.
Really? Lee rarely raises his voice; indeed, the reverse is true, when Lee speaks the most softly, he strikes the most true.Lee rarely raises his voice; indeed, the reverse is true, when Lee speaks the most softly, he strikes the most true.
Now, softly but firmly comes community.
How many of those people, particularly the higher paid people, live in the community? How many of them shop at local stores, take their kids to local doctors? How many of them aren’t really part of the community at all, but just come here to "serve" our people and then take their cash and their personal investment somewhere else?
I had an answer for that! I had recently struggled with the issue myself: if you are a professional, you can’t live here. If there is one job for you, and something happens to it, you are screwed. You have to pull up your life, uproot your kids, pay the cost of finding a job elsewhere and moving. A professional resume isn’t worth what well-rotted cow manure is, literally.
If we require professionals to live here, we couldn’t get people with the necessary credentials to do these jobs. For the county to be safely covered we have to have the right people, we can’t always hire local people.
But Lee held fast: you want to take these positions, to make this kind of money and have this kind of power over our people, you live here. You go to local events, and raise your kids with local kids. The willingness to live among us and share our fate, to rejoice with us in good times and mourn when we grieve, should be the first qualification, especially someone who makes such personal decisions about our people and their families.. You go to local events, and raise your kids with local kids. The willingness to live among us and share our fate, to rejoice with us in good times and mourn when we grieve, should be the first qualification, especially someone who makes such personal decisions about our people and their families.
I found his argument to be compelling. Personally, I think Carol Roberts is doing the job she has been educated to do, and the job the county hired her to do. I’ve seen a number of directors, deputy directors and assistant directors, and we’re lucky to have Dr. Roberts, she isn’t nearly the empire builder some are. She has largely focused her efforts in obtaining funds to provide services, spending money as possible to preserve local buildings and employ local people. Health and social services delivery are only as good as your director, who sets the tone and applies the standards of service for the agency.
I voiced that opinion to Lee, and he didn’t disagree. He expressed the concern that the Board hasn’t had a policy on the growth of social services, that maybe the community didn’t have an idea where they stood.
As an SS professional, I’ve attended meetings and trainings, all designed to indoctrinate the attendees to a way of looking at the world. I thought I didn’t drink the koolaid, I just swished it around and spit it back in the cup, but maybe I was wrong. Maybe the culture of turning federal and state dollars into lower and middle level social technologists isn’t a good idea. Maybe the social control is too good, maybe even lazy and unmotivated workers get enough done to threaten our wellbeing.
On the other hand, no thoughtful person, and certainly not Lee Adams, would suggest that we don’t need drug and alcohol services, mental health services, eligibility and TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). We do need these services in the county, we need to have them delivered professionally.
Furthermore, it simply might not be possible to opt out of all the services the state requires us to have. It might be that we have to have this program and that, and we have to have this and that professional administrator to over see it. Once again, it might literally be that, like building codes and other legal cesspools, the county has nothing to say, and can only act as a reluctant yeoman for the state.
Further yet, the discussion might become moot. Schwarzenegger is planning to eliminate a number of social programs even at the cost of losing federal dollars. The rich fount of bucks might pinch off, leaving us nothing to disagree over.
But, all of those possible conditions don’t reduce Lee Adams' discussion much. Whatever happens, he still has a point, one he made beautifully when he refused Homeland Security funds on the grounds that Sierra County doesn’t need homeland security.
Recently, Dr. Roberts requested to refill two positions. The request was sent by the Board to the Human Services Committee. It will be discussed at the next Board meeting.
Now it the time for residents to get involved. We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water; people who have benefited from mental health or drug and alcohol services make a powerful statement in favor of more social services.
But Lee Adams is asking for to gut services, and his questions are compelling, too. What, really, are the benefits of this money, what are the hidden costs, and how much of it will stay in Sierra county?
*Unfortunately, we have an audience that knows a bit about the sow, so we’ll have to clarify that each piglet has his or her own teat, there is no struggling for position; if you go to the wrong teat, you get bitten. The metaphor holds largely, though, because if you are one more piglet that teats, you die.