Community Columns

Government workers help those who help themselves

One of the favorite activities of Americans is to criticize "guvment" workers. On a recent Monday, I had two very pleasant experiences.

The first stemmed from a not-so-pleasant sensation -- realizing I had misplaced my wallet. It didn't turn up in any of the normal places -- the workbench in the garage or the freezer of our refrigerator.

Without an appointment, I proceeded to the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Turlock to get a duplicate driver's license. I went prepared for the visit -- meaning I had taken my official identification (passport) and an employee badge that has both my picture and my address on it. I, of course, took a novel with me so that I could while away the hours.

I assume my previous driver's license picture showed up on her screen, because I didn't need any identification.

From the time I parked my pickup until the time I pulled out of the parking lot, it was right at a half hour.

After I got home, our daughter, Michelle, handed me an envelope from the Internal Revenue Service with a snide comment, "These are instructions on where you are supposed to turn yourself in."

The subject line was "Closing Notice" and the first two sentences were very important: "Thank you for providing us with additional information about the issue we recently wrote to you about. We are pleased to tell you that, with your help, we are able to clear up the differences between your records and your payers' records."

There was a question about settling a part of my dad's living trust and I was being billed for almost $1,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties for unreported income for the 2005 tax year.

I pay my taxes, but I don't want to pay more than my share. I responded to the initial letter with copies of my dad's last tax return, copies of my tax return and a copy of the IRS instructions with a paragraph on trusts highlighted in yellow.

The IRS officials read what I submitted and saw the issue my way.

Most public servants are hard workers who really want to serve the public, and there are two ways to get better service from them. The first thing is to prepare properly -- making sure you have what is required for the specific agency. If you forget a shot record, it is not the attendance clerk's fault your child cannot register for kindergarten. If you do not pay your water bill, it is not the city's fault your water was shut off. If you do not have all the legal papers, it is not the DMV clerk's fault you cannot register your car. If you miss a doctor's appointment, it is not the clinic's fault you are not treated.

The second thing is to remember the person you are dealing with is probably not clairvoyant. If your request is not clear and you are asked for clarification, it is because the person wants to serve you better.

Contrary to most jokes, government employees are hardworking people who know how to do their jobs.

Belarmino, a Turlock resident, works at the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency and is a chaplain with the Assemblies of God Disaster Response Task Force. E-mail him at