David Rodeback's Blog

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009
Good Food, and How to Make Good Policies Look Bad

The folks at Olive Garden cared, when I went there for dinner, about the quality of my experience and the impression they made. This is the principal difference between my Grilled Shrimp Caprese and the documents American Fork City provides to residents who wish to opt out of the newly-expanded recycling program.

In my previous post, I started on point and got off track at the end. Today, in the interest of symmetry or chiasmus or something, I'll do the opposite: start off-track, then get on track.

Off the Track

I noted at the end the other day, in a post about something else entirely, that I was in for a nice dinner and some shopping for a new microwave oven. For some silly reason I think some follow-up is in order. The after-dinner shopping at Best Buy went quickly, and the new appliance is working fine, but that's not why I'm writing.

The before-shopping dinner was at American Fork's new Olive Garden. It was my first time there and also my first time in about ten years at any Olive Garden. (I wasn't avoiding it; it was just that long.) The wait for a table was only about 15 minutes, which seemed to justify our choice of Thursday evening. The service was solicitous but not overbearing. Serving sizes were ample without being absurd.

We started with the Zuppa Toscana, which was excellent: "spicy sausage, russet potatoes and cavolo greens in a creamy broth." For my entree, after some deliberation, I selected the Grilled Shrimp Caprese, "grilled marinated shrimp served over angel hair pasta with melted mozzarella, fresh basil and tomatoes in a garlic-butter sauce." It was superb. I'm not entirely sure it wasn't sublime. For her part, MFCC very much enjoyed her Stuffed Chicken Marsala. After sampling it myself -- we are married, you know -- I understood why. It was excellent.

In short, I enjoyed our local Olive Garden as much as I have enjoyed American Fork's La Vigna (not a chain) or Provo's Macaroni Grill (a chain). I don't see it being ten years before I go back to an Olive Garden. In fact, as I write this I am actively resisting the temptation to go there for lunch, instead of blogging as planned.

Now I'll get back on track by changing the subject. I tell you this so you won't mentally associate the section heading you're about to read with the delightlful food I just described.

This Looks Bad (Exhibit A)

The first several days of American Fork recycling's opt-out period are off to a bad start. I think the program itself is more or less a good thing, though possibly overpriced. But the City is making it look pretty bad to some residents.

Exhibit A: The City put the opt-out form on its Web site right away. (Here's a link to the form at the City site; here's a copy I'll keep locally, in case they update the form at the City, as I earnestly hope they will.) It does not look like the work product of professionals who care how their work and their organization are perceived by the tens of thousands of people who pay their salaries. Among several problems are these: There is nothing on the form to make it look like an official City document, and it would be poor writing even without its sprinkling of spelling, punctuation, and diction errors.

Do I expect too much? I expect someone at some level in the City administration to care enough about the image the City projects to insure that shoddy work like this doesn't reach the public. The City has been capable of this in some instances before, so we know it's possible.

Exhibit B

I had a kind e-mail note yesterday from a new reader of this blog, who found it while googling around for further information about the recycling program. He did this after receiving a letter that featured what he called "the mayor's scolding." He explained that he had sent in his recycling opt-out form and had already received a reply from the City. I have not seen the letter itself, but he reports that it is over Mayor Thompson's signature and contains this sentence: "I'm sorry you don't see that you have a role in protecting our environment." I'm assuming the quotation is accurate.

This is not just bad public relations on the City's part. I like long words, so I'll call it impolitic, arrogant, presumptuous, and condescending. If you like short words, I suggest snotty and rude.

I doubt it was Mayor Thompson who wrote the letter. Executives and other high officials often have these things written for them by trusted staff; I did some of that at the US Senate and elsewhere. Moreover, I've spent hours with Mayor Thompson, before and during his mayoral term. I don't recall a single moment when any of the aforementioned adjectives applied to him. In my firsthand experience, he has been kind, helpful, polite, intelligent, and urbane. I disagree with him often enough, but he deserves much better than to be represented to his constituents, because of bad staff work, as a puffed-up small-town hack.

On the other hand, the proverbial buck stops at the Mayor's desk.

Small potatoes, you think? Perhaps. But politics is mostly perception anyway, and ham-handed public communications (among other things) can impede and discredit even the wisest policies.

Exhibit C

. . . is coming soon to your home -- so I hear -- if you live in American Fork. Stay tuned.

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