Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Rebuilding trust

Trust is a funny thing.

My niece came home after a recent basketball practice with the story that she didn't like playing, and she wanted to quit.  She made her case to her dad, saying that they boys would not throw the ball to her, and instead that they tried to hit her with the ball.  In the head.  Just because she was a girl.

Parker looked down at his sweet four-year-old and told her that she was just seeing it wrong.  Not that she was not telling the truth, but that her perspective made it seem that the boys were just trying to hit her in the head with the ball.  And he convinced her to stay on the team.

Later that week, while watching the team play, one of the other dads came up to Parker, and said, "That Molly is a tough girl.  She just stays after it."

Parker (I can see the smile on his face when he said it) agreed.

"Yeah, my son said that the boys wouldn't throw the ball to her because she was a girl, and that they tried to hit her in the head.  Of course, I told him that was not acceptable.  But she has toughed it out.  Good for her!"
Everybody got a trophy!

It wasn't that Parker didn't trust what his daughter said.  He just didn't trust her perspective to be accurate.  Which, as it turns out, he should have.

We all fight a similar battle with trust, every single day.

I have a very loud, quarrelsome, argumentative citizen in the area where my levee project is being built.  He has accused us of destroying his livelihood (the ramp over our levee that leads to his boat launch/landing has been replaced), and threatened me with lawsuits on multiple occasions. I have a couple of conversations a week with Pookie (not his real nickname).  And I listen, and tell him what we have authority and appropriations to do. 

And I also tell him what we do not have authority to do.

Mostly, his accusations are wild, tall tales and involving actions supposedly being taken by our contractor that are patently untrue.  Unfortunately, he also includes things that are genuine concerns, and have merit.  So in order to separate wheat from chaff, I have to listen carefully and evaluate each piece.  But the wild accusations make it hard to trust Pookie.

This week, he told me that I was responsible if cars flooded while parked in the rising floodwaters (the landing is flooded already - so what kind of idiot would park there??) At that point, my days of not taking him seriously have certainly come to a middle.

This weekend, however, I got a call from the Parish President.  He was very nice, but outlined three areas of concern that Pookie has with our levee:

1.  His parking lot is flooding because of the rising river. (We know.  The launch is on the river side of the levee.  It happens when the water is high like this.) And it is our fault, because the contractor stole gravel from his lot. (Ummmm.... not likely.)
2. His ramp is too narrow, and before we constructed our levee, he had an additional access ramp.
3. The trailers bottom out when entering the highway.

We had already started the work on fixing the ramp/highway transition (#3).  I had listened to Pookie a month earlier and decided that this was a fair request.

But I was surprised that the PP took Pookie's claim for Concern #2 seriously.  I had not seen any evidence that he had an additional ramp beforehand.  As best I remembered, there was a floodwall that extended along the top of the levee.  And there was no break in it.  So no other access road was even possible. So I told him so.

"Sir, that is not the way I remember the layout from the images I have seen.  But I will review it. We have preconstruction video, and aerial photos.  And if it shows that I am wrong, we will address it.

"We will also survey the parking lot.  If the elevations are very different from the pre-construction elevations, then we will address that, too."

But in my heart, I knew that the boys did NOT hit Pookie in the head with the basketball.  It just doesn't work that way.

And then I pulled up the aerial photos from 2010.

There was another ramp.

Not exactly how he had described it.  But I saw what he meant, for the first time. The way that the ramp had been adapted, the traffic exiting the area could see over the crown of the levee before leaving.  The current layout has changed that.

2010 aerial

What he was able to do before (2010 image) was to drive along the top of the levee and look down the road to see if vehicles were coming up the ramp.

What is going on now (2015 image) is that drivers coming from both directions have no line of sight when they crest the levee.  On a one-lane ramp.
2015 aerial

It is a safety issue.

I am now in the position of telling the PP that he was right. And that we are going to address issue #2.  And fix it.

Strangely enough, admitting the error is going to increase his trust in my agency.  Rather than making him assume that we are bureaucratic idiots who can't get it right, we are now in the position of a listening agency that responds to mis-steps.

All of this because I mistrusted Pookie. 

Trust has been an issue all along.  And every step along the way to fixing the problem, I have met resistance because nobody else trusts Pookie either.  So my job has been to explain, like the other dad did to Parker about Molly Emma.

The trust that I do not have, is improved by admitting wrong.  The trust that Pookie does not have, is only improved through an advocate - first PP, then me. 

“Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it's broken, but you can still see the crack in that mother******'s reflection.” - Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga


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