The bureau of bad hair

Columnist : Albert Paschall

To those like myself that are follicle challenged, men whose hair is rapidly being replaced by new skin, a trip to the barber can be very depressing.  The measure of middle age almost comes with how much hair that comes off and in what colors, especially when more of it is white than my natural mousy brown.  It’s even worse when the barber botches the job because the goal is to make it look like there’s more hair than there really is.

     Happened to me last week.  In a hurry I didn’t bother with my regular cutter instead I ducked into one of these mall chains where there was no waiting.  I told her “just a little off the top” where there is damn little anyway, and came out needing a lot more sunblock in places on my head where I never put it before.  But in this age of blame I found out I can report the barber to the Bureau of Bad Hair: The Pennsylvania Board of Barber Examiners.

      According to the 1931 Barber License Law the state is responsible for protecting us from “incompetence, unethical or dishonest conduct and the spread of disease in barber shops.”  Obviously I have a strong case under that law.  There’s incompetence because the barber didn’t make me look like I had more hair and then she said my haircut made me look like George Clooney an obvious lie when it naturally looks more like Bert of Sesame Street fame.

      But whatever your grievance in life you’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania’s Department of State.  Within its 27 licensing agencies you can get even with any business.  Final sendoff let you down?  Dig up the bureau of funeral directors.  Got a crick in your neck that the chiropractor can’t cure? The state board of chiropractic will straighten out the situation.  Did your neutered dog get pregnant?  Get it fixed through the State Board of Veterinary Medicine.  Visit eastern Pennsylvania and rent a boat for a float down the Delaware River and get lost find your way to something called the Navigation Commission for the Delaware River and its Navigable Tributaries.

      Any of these agencies will be at your vengeful service in a flash at least according to a lawsuit filed against them last week.  It seems that what the department called performance goals according to former state auditor Don Bailey are actually revenue quotas.  Quotas that targeted independent business owners, not large chains, because the independents were likely to pay the fines rather than fight.  One barber was scalped for $150 by the inspectors for having too much hair on his floor and a lawyer hired to fight the fine would have likely charged $150 for the first hour of the shop owner’s defense.

      Representing two ex-employees Bailey’s suit against the Department of State alleges that the revenue quotas were established to fund and justify the agency’s $32 million annual budget and that lawyers working for the government knew that quotas were illegal and were disguising them as goals.  If the allegations are true that’s a bureaucracy that needs to be clipped real quick.

      On the other hand in this age of everything is somebody else’s fault the state has to take complaints and how does one measure bureaucratic performance?  In this cycle it seems that so many agencies competing for dollars are busy inventing problems in order to solve them with fines on small businesses to keep the bureaucrats in business.  It’s nothing new and that’s what makes it out dated.

      In his first term Tom Ridge jump-started job creation in what was the buckle in America’s rust belt by cutting the red tape for big business.  It was the smart money and it worked.  Environmental, work place and compensation regulations were revamped to reflect the age when manufacturing was cutting back in the state and technology was growing.  Now in his second term he’s got to do the same for small business owners, the architects, dentists, funeral directors and barbers so that someday the playing field for them will be level.

     If he puts a fine-tooth comb through the Department of State it can be trimmed to be more in fashion with the State’s Environmental Agency that has made enormous progress in better consumer and business relations without performance goals.  It’ll be politically and practically easy for Ridge because he is the one guy in Pennsylvania who doesn’t have to worry about complaining to the Bureau of Bad Hair.