Tell me these are not tax dollars at work . . .
Tuesday, May 13, 2014 10:00 PM
This is how our government operates.
On Friday, I was given an e-mail from a company that sent us a "news story" about a supposed increase in food stamps usage in Montgomery County since 2007. The piece cited various statistics and referred to the Family and Social Services Administration. In an attempt to verify or debunk the piece, I tried to contact the local FSSA office by phone but could not find the local number. Eventually, I did reach a web site and a telephone number that promised to help callers find their local office. I called it and was given the address, but no phone number. I drove to the address and entered the office.
There were several women and a few children present, so I waited patiently for about 20 minutes until the woman at the receptionist's table completed her business. I stepped forward and was told by a woman behind me, "Excuse me, but this woman is ahead of you."
"Oh, I'm not here for services," I said. "I'm with The Paper and I have a question."
"You have to fill out a sign-in form," said the receptionist, who later identified herself as Vanessa Homsher.
"I just have a question."
"Everyone who comes in here has to fill out the form," Homsher said.
"Really? I'm a reporter and I have a simple question."
"You have to fill out a form."
"You know what, this is not worth it," I said. "Don't be surprised if you find yourself in an editorial."
"Welcome to our world," said one of the clients as I walked out.
An hour later I returned to the FSSA office.
"Let's try this again," I said.
Again, I was told to fill out a form.
I pulled out my camera and took her photo. "What's your name, please?" I asked.
"What is this?" she asked.
A woman came out of the cubicle a few feet behind Homsher. She said her name was Louann Harmon.
"I don't appreciate this!" Homsher said. "If I came to your office I wouldn't do this!"
"If you came to our office, we would listen to your question and then direct you to the person who could most likely help you," I said.
"We can't talk to the media," Harmon said. "This is a state office. We have rules!"
Eventually, Harmon gave me the name of a person who could answer my questions about food stamps usage and said she would send an e-mail on my behalf.
"Now, was that so difficult?" I asked.
"What do you mean?" Harmon said.
"I have been here twice today to get that one sentence answer."
I called Sen. Phil Boots who in turn called Marni Lemons, deputy director of communications for the Family and Social Services Administration. Lemons listened to my story, told me who to contact and apologized for the way I was treated. She also took the names of the people in the local FSSA office and said she would look into it "to see if better training is needed." Boots also apologized.
Isn't it amazing that with many sensitive, caring public servants out there who seek to help their constituents a few of another kind pretty well ruin the reputation of them all?