Beware of Bumlvers. Trolls and License Jerkers
(News Item #0266, Published: 06/29/95, Stehekin Choice)
Until recently, I had virtually no contact with that exotic breed the "Bureaucratus arroganto". Mostly I went along with no need or pressure from any of our revered branches of government. They went their way and I went ... their way. "Let a sleeping dog lie" I thought.
So I was flabbergasted when I unknowing became a criminal. Here is the fishy story.
Employed as a Business Broker (akin to a Real Estate Agent) I help people buy and sell businesses. It’s a wonderfully rewarding process. The seller gets to retire wealthy. The buyer gets to pursue the American dream of challenge and growth.
My state requires Business Brokers have a Real Estate license. I can't figure out why, but I do it. Every other year agents take 30 clock hours of continuing education on subjects like managing a residential real estate brokerage and how to finance houses. The subjects are not germane to my practice but I acquiesce rather than argue. Why should I waste time learning about mortgages when real estate agents can't tell an income statement from a balance sheet?
After years of compliance, I was delighted to hear non pre-approved classes could be submitted for licensing. Having taken hundreds of hours of classes and conferences from the International Association which governs our industry (I am also an instructor nationally)I promptly dashed off a letter notifying the state I intended to use them.
Three months before renewal, another Broker revealed his hours from our esteemed association had been accepted by the state. "Hallelujah", I said, "I'll send them in and not take another irrelevant class." I did just that. They issued my license by mail.
Five months later, a post card from the state informed me the hours were not acceptable and I must take 30 more Real Estate hours immediately. I did so the next week. Turned them in and gave a sigh of relief.
Then the ambush. Four months later, a rotund red-faced Bumbler from the state announced I was "under investigation for operating without a license". According to him, "they'll probably just give you a little fine". "But you accepted those hours for another broker", said I. "Impossible", said he.
To paraphrase a wise man, I was ready to "give unto the state that which is the state's." But they said, you'll have to "Drive on down to the capital (60 miles), have a little conference and settle this”. So I went ...And took a lawyer.
There we had the bad luck to meet a strange little Troll with a whiny voice, weepy eyes and creepy demeanor. His opening "settlement" remarks were "Before we start let me tell you how severely I punished the last three people who didn't do things my way". He also stated that he pretty much knows "a licensee is guilty if they bring an attorney." So much for the right to representation.
He rejected explanations that the department had accepted the hours for others. "Impossible", said he. "Please check it", said the lawyer. "Impossible", said he again. The troll explained his intractability by saying, "Once a scotch drinker, always a scotch drinker". I didn't understand it either.
Plus "your broker swore in a form that you HAD NOT engaged in Real Estate activities and you clearly were" said the strange Troll, "He's in big trouble also." After twenty minutes of prying, the Bumbler admitted he had filled out the form and forged the broker's signature. "Just an honest mistake" pooh-poohed the troll.
At last he turned to settlement, "How about we suspend your license for six months but stay
the suspension for three years providing you keep your nose clean?". "You have to be kidding", responded the lawyer. "Your department started this by accepting the clock hours, and now you want to punish us?". I agreed, my nose was already clean. The bumbler’s lies and the troll’s arrogance offended me like no foul mouth hoodlum could.
The meeting ended, and months of back and forth banter began. Every conversation, every letter and every fax ended with the troll's pronouncement "Do it my way, or we are going to a hearing and the examiner will punish you much harder than a nice little ogre like me". And who is the examiner I asked? Another state employee, he smirked.
Eventually we proved I had written the state six months in advance. "So what" shrilled the troll, "by statute we are not obligated to answer our mail." We produced a letter from the state to the other broker wherein they apologized profusely for accepting the hours and begged the broker to take replacement clock hours eventually.
"Aren't you estopped from acting inconsistently with your actions?" said I, "Just like in a commercial transaction?". "Oh no", smirked the greasy little man, "Governments are generally not subject to estoppel rules."
I could not stop the "church lady" voice in the back of my mind whispering "Isn't that convenient".
Strangely, the self pressure was intense. Most of us pay driving citations. If we're late on a payment we pay the late fee. If you have a dead beat customer, often it’s just not worth going to court to collect. But, when they assaulted my integrity, I had no choice but to hold my ground. I decided to go to hearing. I decided to tell my story. I decided to ask the examiner to exercise a little common sense.
My conclusion was simple. They made an honest mistake in accepting the clock hours. I made an honest mistake in relying on their actions. Nothing worse. If they insist on punishing me, they must punish themselves too. And isn't that just plain silly?
The troll grimaced, and puffed, rattled his weapons. I dropped into the Attorney General's office and had a face-to-face with a wet earned attorney who whispered he could not control bureaucrats even if "they are known to be obnoxious little weasels."
And then it happened. After 18 months of holding our ground. After simply stating the simple truth. The troll settled. Pay a small fine and the problem is settled. I agreed. That is, after all where we started. The Troll has retreated back under the bridge. The Bumbler is out there spilling lies and forging documents. And I am back at work. But at what cost? To my time, my energy and most of all to my integrity.
I do feel better though. My father used to say "If you don't stand up for something, you'll fall for everything."
THE MORAL OF THE STORY. When you deal with government, remember that George Orwell was right.
Ten Tips to dealing with Bumblers and Trolls:
- Follow the rules even if they are stupid.
- Be nice to Bureaucrats even if they are weird.
- Write everything down, even if it’s trivial.
- Send all correspondence certified and regular mail.
- There are good people in government, but you won't find them.
- Don't expect justice.
- Keep a low profile.
- Get a lawyer if you are being crucified.
- Be prepared to lose even if you are clearly right.
- Never give in.