It's often suggested that we should run government like a business. But such a notion isn't just a pipe dream; it's a crack-pipe dream. The problem is that government is run by bureaucrats who simply don't think or act like businessmen. A case in point.
When I go on vacation, I call the Nevada Appeal, a private business, and ask them to suspend my home-delivery service. The paper is only too happy to credit my subscription for the week I don't use their service. Not so over at the Carson City Department of Parks & Recreation.
Parks & Wreck offers an after-school "latch-key" program of supervised activities for kids at local elementary schools. Parents pay a $33-per-week user fee for this service. However, if parents don't pay for a given week due to their child being out sick or on vacation, the kid gets kicked out and their slot is given to another kid on the waiting list. On the other hand, if latch-key is closed for a holiday, parents still have to pay the full weekly fee. There's no credit for the day the government doesn't provide the service.
In defense, the bureaucrats argue that some private child-care centers also charge parents for days kids are out sick or on vacation. But that's exactly the point. The latch-key program is NOT a private operation. It's a government-subsidized program. A private child-care provider has to pay for rent, utilities, maintenance, upkeep, equipment and other overhead. The latch-key program, however, is provided all of that at taxpayer expense.
And about those waiting lists. At my neighborhood latch-key site the waiting list is 26 kids long. And that, to a businessman, would mean opportunity. But to the bureaucrat, it's a problem. And rather than find a way to provide service to the 26 kids on the waiting list, the bureaucrat looks for a way to kick kids out of the existing program to make room for those on the waiting list. Of course, this doesn't fix the waiting list "problem"; it just means the kid who was kicked out now goes to the end of the waiting list - which is still 26 kids long. So all the bureaucrat has done is rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.
Recall that earlier this year Parks & Wreck sought millions of taxpayer dollars to build a Taj Mahal super-rec center that would compete directly with existing privately-owned fitness centers. Then yesterday the department announced it was closing its indoor swimming pool on Sundays - the day most Carson City residents are off from work and school - for the duration of the coming winter. And these are the same folks who can't figure out how to provide after-school recreation activities for all of our community's kids.
No, government truly doesn't think or act like a business. However, watch this page for the Parks & Wreck letter-to-the-editor response next week rationalizing all of this. It'll be a doozy. If there's one thing bureaucrats are better at than private businessmen, it's covering their butts.
• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit http://www.muthstruths.com