First Lady: get the calls off my line

Columnist : Albert Paschall

The phones were really busy last week in my day job. The chamber of commerce is often the last refuge for the wronged and maligned or at least for those that know how to call directory assistance.

First it was the woman whose nephew was building a storage shed in her back yard. Her neighbor complained that she was violating the zoning code and her question was obvious: “what’s my zone?” I started out to explain local land use to her but instead suggested she contact the township manager’s office. “Where’s that?” she asked. I asked where she lived. “The same place for the last 12 years” she beamed. It turns out her house is just 3 blocks from the township building or as she said: “oh the one with the big sign on it.”

Then a young man called and took 25 complicated minutes to tell me about some shoddy repair work that was allegedly done on his car. Says he lost $2000. He wanted quick action so I suggested he go his local district justice’s office and file for a judgment against the mechanic. “What’s a district justice?” he asks. While I am versed in the history of Pennsylvania’s local judiciary I decided to spare him my wealth of knowledge. “It’s the local Judge Judy” I told him figuring he’d be better off with the famed TV judge than the poor judge who is going to have to hear this case.

I pick up the phone the other day and it’s the manager of the local branch of a national chain. He says that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation won’t fix a pothole in front of his business. I asked him if had talked to PennDOT. He said they were ignoring him. Turns out the pothole is in the guy’s parking lot. He claims that vibrations from the traffic on the busy interstate where the store is situated caused the pothole and that’s why the state had to fix it. I ask him if he’s called his State Representative. “Who’s that?” he asked. My only hope is that he doesn’t tell the State Rep’s staff that I was the one who gave him the number.

By the end of the week I had had enough. The caller was incensed because she called the Congressman’s office that used to represent her. His staff explained that due to the 2000 national Congressional redistricting he no longer represented her and politely gave her the correct phone number to call. But she was mad and demanded Governor Rendell’s phone number to find out why she hadn’t been consulted about this change. But I had a better number for her: 202-456-1414. “What’s that?” she asked. “Sort of a national help line” I replied, hoping that late on a Friday afternoon somebody at the White House would love to explain Congressional redistricting to her.

Pennsylvania’s First Lady Marjorie Rendell has proposed that school districts all over the state adopt a program she’s sponsoring called PennCORD. That’s Pennsylvania’s Coalition for Representative Democracy. Its purpose is to rekindle civics classes in our schools. It would be a good idea within the curriculums of science fiction writing and movie making techniques that are offered in high schools today if we were to squeeze in just a few classes on the mechanics of the government institutions that dominate our lives. I hope she succeeds. Someday it might get some of these calls off of my line.

Albert Paschall
Senior Commentator
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.

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