It is a day to wonder if any government can get it right.
Leaving television reports filled with today’s images of Hurricane Katrina, I drove to the Justice Center to go to traffic court. It’s not an experience that builds confidence in government’s ability to organize or plan anything.
This time it’s Shelby County Government, and as I join the throngs of people snaking down the sidewalk, I already feel a sense of frustration building in me. Clearly, I’m never going to get to court in the 15 minutes before it opens.
As citizens, we are promised swift and certain justice. I’d just settle for swift and certain in the handling of the lines out front of the Justice Center. Slowly, we inch our way up the street and into the doors of the Justice Center, where the cause of the bottleneck becomes immediately obvious. There is only one lone security guard standing sentry over the checkpoint, armed with a metal detector and one small basket for us to place our keys and change in.
It is a prescription for lost motion, lost time, and lost patience. It is a maddening example of what seems to be a basic principle of government, whether played out in a door at the Justice Center or in the water in New Orleans: it is up to us as citizens to adjust to the “one size fits all” attitude of government, which seems unable or unwilling to respond to the basic needs of the people who foot the bill for all that it does.
Whether there is a driving rainstorm or wilting heat, nothing about the process to enter the Justice Center changes. It does not factor in age or infirmity, the presence of children or elderly people on walkers. Quite simple, it is the way it is done. Period. End of sentence.
As we stand there, the African-American man behind me, reading a book by C.S. Lewis, mutters: “You just wonder what they’ll do if we have an earthquake. They can’t even figure out how to get us inside this building in a reasonable time.”
Standing in line at the Justice Center, it is simple to see two or three changes that could be made that would speed up the process, without causing any risk to the security of judges and others in the building. It just feels like there is the unspoken feeling in the halls of justice that the people who go there are undeserving of simple courtesies or efficient systems. You can’t help but wonder standing there if the lack of attention to us at the Justice Center is just a characteristic of a similar attitude in all of local government.
Affixed to the wall near the entrance of the building is the obligatory plaque covered with the names of the county officials who were in office when the building was opened. It bears a Daniel Webster quotation on the bottom: “Justice is the great interest of man on earth.” Right about now, the greatest interest of this man on earth is simply to find a government somewhere that treats us in the way we deserve — as their employers.