Saturday, July 15, 2006

Sheep For the Shearing?

2 Corinthians 11:16 (New Living Translation)

“Once again, don't think that I have lost my wits to talk like this. But even if you do, listen to me, as you would to a foolish person, while I also boast a little.”

I stopped by the City Manager’s office yesterday afternoon. Earlier in the week I’d requested some information on the salaries and fringe benefits for the city manager and other city department heads. I even got so bold as to ask for figures on budget versus actual expenditures for the city since the beginning of the new millennium.

When I first made the request I got that suspicious look and a bit of polite stonewalling, but since the information is supposed to be public the City Manager’s executive secretary told me that she would do her best. Yesterday was a different story. I was greeted quite warmly, almost like a long-lost relative. The minute she saw me the “exec” smiled and pulled a piece of paper from her desk. “I’ve got the salary information for you.” I returned the smile and thanked her. “I don’t have the budget information yet, but the City Manager is working on it. He said it was really complex and felt it would be best if he put it into some manageable form for you to see.” At this point I got the eerie sense that I was a bit like a sheep being readied for the shearing. There are those times in life when someone is just being too polite, too nice for comfort. Feigning innocence, I declined her generous offer. “That’s very kind,” I said. “But I don’t want to trouble the City Manager; he’s a very busy man. Just have him give me the raw data and I’ll muddle my way through it.”
“Oh, it’s no trouble at all,” she responded.
“No, that’s alright. I’ll be fine with the sani….the raw numbers.”
Hoping that she didn’t catch my almost Freudian slip and come to the conclusion that I was suspicious of getting the sanitized version, I changed the subject. “It’s really hot out there today. Why you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.”
It seemed to work. She smiled and agreed to ask for the raw data and promised she’d get it to me soon. As I turned to go she offered one last piece of good news. “I know I told you the last time you were in that you’d have to pay fifty cents a page for any of the information, but since you’re a candidate for the city commission you’ll get it for free.”
I left the office with the nagging feeling of being prepared for a good fleecing still intact.

Later in the day I went spent about two minutes browsing over the salary/fringe numbers I’d been given. One of the things that caught my eye was that the City Manager has held his position since 1979. That’s twenty-six years! About the only other person I know of who’s been in power longer than that is Fidel Castro.

Early yesterday morning I told a friend about how I became an engineer at FedEx. I was never educated in the discipline, nor had I ever done any professional engineering. But after working for eight years or so as a logistics analyst in New Jersey I decided that, from what I saw, engineering looked like it might be fun. I spent some time talking to the senior manager of the department about it and while he didn’t tell me I couldn’t apply for open engineering positions, he did tell me I’d be a real long shot. With that in mind I began the process. I applied for a position and didn’t make the cut. I applied for a second and didn’t make the cut. And so it went. Each time the hiring manager called me to let me know I didn’t make it I got as much feedback as I could. What was it that I’d missed? What more could I do to qualify myself? The process continued until, after the sixth interview, I got hired. When the manager called me to congratulate me he said that I was the most persistent man he’d ever met. “I never thought the engineering department might have room for a guy with an undergraduate degree in communications and a graduate degree in theology, but I think you’re going to prove that I was wrong.”

So, there it was. It was a classic case of “Yesterday I couldn’t spell the word engineer, and today I are one.”

On my first day of work in the department I was introduced to my mentor, a wonderful guy named Steve Lobell, who I later came to call, affectionately, “Grandfather.” I’ll never forget my first impression. He had one of those round faces that exuded the soul of a cherub. We shook hands and got right down to business. “What’s you’re background?” he asked. “Logistics,” I responded.
“Communications and theology. How about you?”
“Geology and management.”
He turned his head upward a bit, pondering. Then he nodded and smiled. “I get it,” he said. “This is how it’s gonna’ work. I’ll dig and you’ll pray. This is gonna’ be first class engineering.”

The commission election is months away. I still have plenty of time to go over the numbers, plenty of time to dig and pray. If it’s true that the devil can be found in the details, I think it’s even truer that he often meets his match when he butts heads with digging, praying fools.

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Emporia, Kansas


James Fletcher Baxter said...

The beauty of it is that Lucifer and his followers can't tell the difference between a fool and a genius. We can.

Advantage One.

Anonymous said...

All the BEST GRANDSON! Steve Lobell