rules

Counting Nickels, Dimes, and Library Fines

Rules.

Every organization has them. No bureaucrat ever lost their job for obeying the rules…no matter how absurd or stupid. Rules exist so bureaucrats and other petty functionaries never have to make a decision that could cost them their job.

Most bureaucrats don’t need to think. Everything they need to do their job is buried somewhere in a law or regulation.

So what happens to your average bureaucrat when you ask them to…GASP…think?

In most circumstances, it’s not very pretty.

Think about the U.S. and what a mess it’s in. The largest growing segment of the U.S. economy for the last 8+ years has been government. That means the U.S. has been hiring more bureaucrats than at any time in its history. In that same time, it’s promulgated 10s of thousands of new arcane regulations.

In addition, for the last 40+ years, the country has invested trillions of dollars in its education system to teach people “critical thinking” skills. More and more, these graduates with supposed “critical thinking” skills are winding up employed as bureaucrats where thinking is not required. Does anyone see a problem here?

But I digress too much.

Several absurd events happened in the past several weeks that have pointed out the silliness of some rules and not thinking through whether the consequences of them achieve the desired result. This absurdity didn’t happen at the hands of a government or corporate bureaucracy. Rather, by the rules and actions of a small local organization here at Lakeside that many hold near and dear to their hearts – The Lake Chapala Society (LCS).

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m a card-carrying member (which you must carry to participate in some of its programs). In fact, LCS membership is so guarded that, to get a membership directory, you need to be cross-referenced in two computer systems which don’t talk to each other (in 2016!), and sign over a portion of the inheritance you planned to give to your children.

That said, in jest of course, I gladly pay my dues and member discounted fees to participate in LCS activities.

So what brought me to the point of trashing a fine organization that makes a positive contribution to the community, and helps Mexicans and expats alike?

Bureaucracy!

Today I went to LCS to purchase a ticket for an event at the member-discounted price of 100 pesos (about $US5.00). That seemed like an easy enough thing to do.

After filling out the requisite and redundant paperwork, I handed the lovely woman, in her eighties, behind the desk, 100 pesos for my ticket, and my “never-leave-home-without-it” LCS membership card. She took my card, and accessed the computer screen in front of her to see if I was “legal.”

“You owe us money,” she said blankly, never taking her eyes off the screen.

“What’s it for, and how much is it?” I asked her.

Calling to a man at another computer on the other side of the room, and obviously on another computer system, she asked, “Can you find out how much this man owes?”

“He owes 4 pesos for overdue books,” came the retort.

Looking up at me she said, “You’ll have to pay that fine before I can give you a ticket.”

I smiled in incredulity and asked, “Can I pay you?”

“Oh no,” she said, “you need to pay at the library.”

I was still smiling and took in the absurdity of the situation. She was only a good little bureaucrat and doing her job. She wasn’t trained to tell me to make sure I pay my fine the next time I take out a book. Even the library in my old home town didn’t start enforcing fines until you owed $US5.00.

After visiting the library where they salivated over my 4 pesos, I returned to get my ticket, spirits intact and smiling all the way.

So, take this in: I want to give LCS 100 pesos and they won’t take it until I pay a 4 peso fine. Did it ever occur to the powers-that-be at LCS that I could have just as well said F-U and walked out with 104 pesos still in my pocket and not theirs.

I’m an LCS member, and I needed to jump through hoops to get a 50 peso discount. It took 10 minutes, and the people behind me were probably getting annoyed. I needed to fill out a paper form, have my name cross-referenced in two databases, walk to the adjoining building to pay a fine, and get back on line to be cross-referenced again.

It was almost as bad a going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles!

If I were a non member, I could have walked in, paid 150 pesos, gotten a ticket, and walked out – no questions asked. It’s a good thing I wasn’t renewing my membership at the same time. I could have spent the whole day there.

But Mexico has co-opted me to be patient with all kinds of bullshit. I just don’t expect this kind of BS from an organization that’s run, for the most part, by North Americans, and many of whom are well-aware of the changes in technology that have taken place in the last few decades.

Directories and library fines, however, aren’t the only things at LCS that keep me shaking my head. It seems that every week they devise some new silliness to confound members and stick it to non-members.

I recently went to a singles function at LCS. In their wisdom, they decided to charge non-members 20 pesos to attend. I suppose the idea was to demonstrate the benefits of having a membership: you get in free!

However, once you got in, drinks were 2-for-1. So, for 20 pesos, you could get a free drink that costed 30-50 pesos depending on your preference. Now 20 pesos (about $US1.25) isn’t going to break anyone. But it’s not going to give anyone an incentive to join the organization either.

I suggested that instead of charging an entrance fee, they only allow members to get the 2-for-1 special. I know a lot of non-members who might be enticed to join with the promise of a free drink at every LCS event.

Then there’s the silliness of the Open Games group that meets on Monday afternoon from 1-4. It’s closed to non-LCS members from 1-2. What secret things happen between 1 and 2? I know many people that participate in that group, and I’m sure that no one is checking IDs at the door. So why exclude anyone?

Then there are computer classes that require Internet access. I took one to learn how to use my new Android tablet (BTW only open to LCS members). LCS’s computer systems and Internet capabilities are so antiquated that everyone in the class couldn’t get Internet access, including the teacher, who happens to be on the Board of Directors, at one point.

This brings me to the point that the computer system there never seems to improve, causing frustration to staff and users, and inconvenience to members. LCS’s systems don’t talk with each other. I have a feeling one speaks English and the other speaks Spanish. So that simple transactions take multiple entries into multiple systems. I can’t imagine the errors that are occurring every day, especially with a volunteer workforce.

When you go to some restaurants or Walmart, you get a detailed receipt after you’ve paid… from a cash register. Not at LCS. There, in the second decade of the 21st century, most transactions are done on paper. There are separate cash boxes for everything: newspapers, membership, library fines, tickets, etc.

I’m sure the members of the board of directors have heard of cash registers. Just think how easy it would make everything to put all the cash in a $US50 cash register and, just like Walmart, itemize each transaction when entered. Then staff could run a report at the end of the day that tells them how much was sold in each category. Maybe they could spring for a slightly more expensive system that actually interfaces with their accounting system.

Ah, but, you can see the problem with that: the computer systems don’t talk with each other; how are they going to talk with a cash register? Especially when it’s probably built in Korea and speaks Korean!

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