Stick it to them

July 17, 2003

Not long ago, a group of Illinois Department of Transportation employees heard taps. Life as a state construction worker was over.

Not long ago, a group of Illinois Department of Transportation employees heard taps. Life as a state construction worker was over.

IDOT Secretary Tim Martin was new on the job and anxious to do the meet-and-greet. But Martin did not want to handle introductions over some punch and cookies. He wanted to throw on his new reflective duds and experience the day with his comrades on the other side of the guardrail. Unfortunately, a small IDOT crew had a dream or two to work on. Martin approached the vehicle, noticed the inactivity and tapped on the glass--and broke a couple of sleep patterns. The group was fired on the spot.

Martin, however, used the incident for the kindle of his new crusade--24-hour worker watch. In early June he unveiled a new initiative to prevent employee abuse of state time and vehicles. Blue-and-orange bumper stickers are now clinging to the bumpers of IDOT cars, vans and trucks. They basically ask the age-old "How am I performing" question and tell motorists to dial a 24-hour communications center phone number if they notice any suspicious activity. An operator will ask the callers a number of questions and will fill out a report that will then be forwarded to the appropriate office within the department for investigation.

"In any department with more than 6,000 employees there are bound to be some who will try to take advantage of the freedom they have been given to do their jobs," Martin said at a press conference. "These bumper stickers clearly identify which cars and trucks are IDOT's and include a phone number for people to call if they suspect an employee is abusing the public trust.

"Each complaint will be investigated fully and if there is no basis for a complaint no action will be taken. But if there is a basis for complaint and it can be substantiated, discipline will be swift and as severe as possible. At the same time, I would also encourage anyone who sees an IDOT employee going out of their way to help someone or goes above and beyond what their normal duties are to call in and let us know. Many times the good works of our employees go unnoticed by supervisors, and this may give us an opportunity to acknowledge good work we may have not noticed."

Is there anything more degrading than the "How am I performing?" monitor? Those belong on buses and taxis, not the backside of state employees who put their life on the line every single business day so that others can conduct their business at home or at work. The people Martin caught making fools of themselves represent about .0001% of the devoted men and women of the IDOT. I truly believe this was an isolated incident, one that happens in every state. To place the fate of thousands under the trusting microscope of the general public is like lining them up and offering one last cigarette.

I can hear it all from the trashed backseat of some guy named "Dude" now:

"Hey man, there's a number we could call. We could bust 'em."

"Dude, should we call it?"

"Man, that would be so funny. Let's do it as a joke and see what happens."

IDOT admits that not all calls will be legit, but how can you really separate the real complaints from the "Hey, Dude" pranks? I'll tell you how. You launch a petty investigation, track the accused employee and ask them a lot of questions. In other words, nine times out of 10 there is a waste of state funds.

Don't get me wrong, there are decent, good souls out there. But I really don't think IDOT will be running out of motorist-nominated merit certificates anytime soon. People only speak when they want to stab.

And who do you really trust? It's your employee's word against a motorist's gripe. Hmmm, it's too bad there isn't a toll-free number you can call for a judge.

Maybe Mr. Martin will come across one while driving on one of Illinois' informative interstates.

About The Author: Bill Wilson is editor of Roads & Bridges. He can be reached at [email protected].

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