The Most Important Graph in the World

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"We'll give you something to cry about now, buddy"

So, some interesting responses after a post about Salem's bizarre system of mailing expensive printed-on-expensive-paper and expensively mailed (at nearly 7/9ths full first-class postage) non-bills to those of us who are paying our water and sewer bills via auto-debit every month.

First, the day after that post, LOVESalem HQ got another bill, for seemingly the very same ending date but stretching back into April -- no reason given for a second bill, the overlap, the different amounts on each, or even a note to say that I will not be getting charged twice. Nothing but "here, we'll be taking this." Naturally it also came with another wasted #10 reply envelope to throw away, along with the waste envelope it came in and the bill itself.

Maybe I'll get one for $70 after this post . . .

And then there's this from the assistant city manager, Sean O'Day, who is a very nice guy but who seems to have been listening to the IT Dept. whinge about "It's too haaaaaaaaaaard" for too long:
Thanks for sharing your views. By law we are required to provide a billing statement (even for those with automatic payment) and I understand your point to be that we should do so electronically. We agree, and this is something that staff has been working towards. Although electronic billing sounds easy, it is not as simple as it might seem given our current billing infrastructure. Nonetheless, we continue to work towards electronic billing because the City is indeed committed to both sustainable practices as well as keeping our operating costs as low as we possibly can for our residents.
Sorry, Sean, not good enough. Governments all over the world have been singing that song about why this and that stupid thing has to remain stupid because fixing it would require a massive overhaul of the computer system forever, and it doesn't fly any more.

In this day of Mac Minis more powerful than the mainframes of yore, telling me your computer is too stupid to print a bill to a pdf file and email that to a citizen's email address is the same as telling me that you have way too much deadwood in the IT dept and you need to clean house there and hire some high-schoolers.

If necessary, hold a contest to get it done. Go to Borderlands, tell the first five geeks you see that winner gets a case of beer, a case of Twinkies, and three decks of "Magic" cards for the first one to write an app that would allow any Salem citizen to manage the format of all their city communications using their cell phones. The law says you have to provide a billing statement. The law does not say you have to waste my money to do it.