Bureaucratic buffoonery sprouts from e-mail corn

This Just In...

April 15, 2002|By DAN RODRICKS

THIS ALL STARTED with a maudlin poem about the dangers of drunken driving, the type of prosaic thing that too frequently appears in our e-mailboxes, sent by someone who loves to strike the "forward" button and share their literary discoveries with everyone in their address book. If you get e-mail, you've probably received such poems and other efforts at the written word, introduced with exclamations such as: "This says it all!" It is a mild annoyance. But I believe it's why God and Bill Gates invented the "delete" key.

Others have a different, more overwrought response.

What follows is an exchange of richly bureaucratic e-mail - forwarded to this columnist - that took place recently among middle-level managers in a certain Maryland government agency. It regards the forwarding of the drunken-driving poem, a harmless bit of corn, by an agency employee. I've dropped last names to protect the easily humiliated.

First, a supervisor named Walter wrote a note to a colleague named Greg, and copied it to several other agency staffers: "Greg: Would you be so kind as to have a conversation with this young lady about proper use of email?"

This was followed by a note to someone named Rick from another administrator named Judith: "[The poem-forwarding employee] is an Agent I. Walter asked Greg to `have a conversation about proper use of email.' Greg is not in the proper chain of command to `counsel' her. Please ensure that the proper regional administrator looks into this matter and discusses it with you prior to `counseling' or taking other action."

Rick launched an investigation and reported: "From Region II it appears that [a secretary] and [a senior agent] received and forwarded the message from [Agent I]. Clearly, this is an inappropriate use of e-mail and department work time. Please provide me with your recommendations for corrective action. You should be prepared to discuss the current work performance of those involved when the recommendations are made."

Then someone named Anita wrote to someone named Ken: "Note the Director was also notified of this. Have your employees who fwd. the msg. submit memo of why & didn't they see memo re:inappropriate use of e-mail during work hrs. (regardless of their friends who send them non work-related info.) etc.? Have their [supervisors] indicate employee's work habits/perf. level & recom. for disciplinary sanction-in writing. On memo include an approval or concurrence line for your signature.fwd to me."

And then Ken wrote to Hattie, Angela and Gary: "Importance: High. It is now necessary that we utilize the format requested by [Anita]. Have your employees who forwarded the message submitted memo of why? If not, then have them do so. Did they see memo regarding inappropriate use of e-mail during work hours? [Memos] need to indicate the employee's work habits/performance level, and recommendation for disciplinary action in writing. Include an appropriate approval or concurrence line for my signature. Your memo is due by the close of business on Wednesday, 3/20/02. Attach a copy of the employee's memo to yours."

Talk about your inappropriate use of e-mail.

"Importance: High"? "The Director was also notified"? A "work performance" review?

Seems like a lot of hoo-ha to tell some Agent I that she shouldn't use the office e-mail to forward corny poems to co-workers. I'm guessing a firm but pleasant, "Please, stop" would have worked - especially if delivered face to face.

A gift - but not for all

"I can't speak for other priests," one from Baltimore qualified his response to a recent column on celibacy, "but to me it's been a calling, a `calling to perfection,' a calling to complete and total service to others. It's a different calling than the vocation to be a priest. Celibacy has brought me peace, joy and freedom - a freedom to serve, a creative energy that transforms my own selfish desire into a power to serve, an energy that I know is a gift from God because I know I didn't have it myself. The detachment of celibacy that St. Francis of Assisi so lived has always been my example because he mirrored Jesus Christ more than anyone. He had so much joy, peace, freedom."

Celibacy obviously has profound and clear meaning to this priest. I say good for you, Father. And good for the people of the church who have you in their service.

But while celibacy can be said to have spiritual and practical merit - and a few angry Catholics tried to "catechize" me on the subject in recent letters - it remains a strange and dubious condition that keeps the priesthood from being refreshed with new and healthy blood. Those who view the celibacy vow as "a calling to perfection" should keep it. But I don't think the church should make it a condition of service for priests. Judging from the large amount of mail generated on this subject, many Catholics share this view.

Movies, bells, fun dates

I hear Chris Rock is going to be making a movie in B-town in a month or two. Watch this space. ... Good thing Belvedere Square is going to get Strueverized. But the retail stretch farther south on York Road in Govans could use some lovin', too. It would be a good thing if the long-silent Curran bell tower, at York and Woodbourne, started chiming again. The mayor's in-laws (the Currans) have been too nice about this. Time to get on the lad to send in a 'lectrician. ... And speaking of fix: The Allfirst clock across from Belvedere Square proclaimed April 2 as "March 33."

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