For over a year now, I embarked on a journey to design and build a custom house. I’ve lived in 10 homes over the past 14 years, all with their own style. That experience gave me a pretty good idea of what kind of house worked for me and my family. I worked with a home designer, chose a builder, and purchased some land, and off we went.
And then…it all got delayed. The builder had great quality, but couldn’t manage a timeline to save his life. The mortgage company went out of business. Hurricane Florence and a wet summer in general delayed work. Everything seemed to push it farther and farther back, causing my family to keep extending the lease on our small apartment.
The latest issue was hooking up to city sewer. The property was listed as having access to city water and sewer, which is important, since a septic tank runs thousands of dollars more. The builder didn’t ask about this until the last minute, and suddenly we found out that nope, the sewer line doesn’t quite reach the property. After going back and forth with the engineer, the worked a deal to run a lateral line to the property. I spent a day forking over more money in the form of a check to the city.
Then…nothing. I called the city every other day to check, but the job was “stuck on the fifth floor.” Worse still, not only had the city not issued the job, but once they did, it could take up to 45 days to finish. That was a sour Christmas present to open.
I was feeling crushed when one of my friends called.
FRIEND: Dude, you should totally Facebook messenge the mayor.
ME: Riiight, like that ever actually works in real life.
FRIEND: No, seriously, I had paperwork get held up at city hall. I Fb’d the mayor, and after we chatted, he got it pushed through.
I found the mayor’s “elect me as your mayor” Facebook page and dropped him a note on Messenger that evening. The next morning, I found a reply, asking me to text his phone. So I did, also texting my wife since I can’t take my cell phone to work.
About 2 hours later, my wife calls me at work. She said the mayor texted back with a phone number to call. So I called “Bob,” who turns out to be the deputy city manager. He was busy at the time, but his secretary told me to call back at 4 pm. So I did. Bob listened to my plight, agreed that the city could do better, and said that by the time I drove home from work, there would be an email in my box with details.
I don’t know exactly what Bob did, who he called, or a lot of other details. But that next day, the city engineer called and said he had permission to proceed and issue the job. My builder called, saying that he got notification of a street closure to tie into city sewer. Even better, there were people out at the house measuring for the sewer line.
There are plenty of lessons to learn here, but I think the most important is the purpose of executives. An executive, be it a city manager, commanding officer, CEO, or whatever other title, is supposed to make the bureaucracy work, and when it doesn’t, use his or her power to fix it. When I’ve held leadership jobs in the Navy, I’ve had to work issues ranging from pay and leave to military construction money. All had a process, and sometimes the people in the process weren’t working. Just like the city, sometimes all it took was a phone call or me showing up asking hard questions to get the job done.
If you need a feel-good story for the Christmas season, know that my family won’t be starting the new year in a small apartment.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.
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