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OPINION: State park officials could teach the private sector a thing or two

OPINION
Last Sunday, RVtravel.com published a news story I had written about a Colorado audit of its state parks. The audit confirmed what many RVers already knew: that park RV sites were sitting empty despite growing demand, that the state was losing millions of dollars in lost campground fees, and that reservation software that could prevent some of these problems was being misused and even disabled. The causes of these problems, the audit concluded, included lack of training and lack of oversight, as well as inconsistent policy enforcement.

Good news, right? State officials had recognized a problem, authorized an inquiry and turned up sufficient data to prescribe a series of fixes. Best of all, the state had made all this information public. It had said, in effect, “We’ve been screwing up. This is what we’ve done wrong, and this is what we’re going to do about it.”

Reader response

The response from too many RVtravel readers? “Proof” yet again that government is inherently inefficient at best, corrupt at worst. For one, the audit was a “shining example [of the state] managing parks for their convenience and campers be damned.” For another, the audit exposed a cynical ploy in which “the workload for the park staff is cut in half if half the sites are unoccupied.” According to a third, “You could probably have reported that the parks system is run by a state or federal government entity and that would say it all! I can’t think of a single thing run by our elected officials that is managed properly.”

And those are only the least vituperative of the anti-government comments that came in, with RV Travel staff expunging the very worst.

Hold itself accountable

Here’s the thing, though: Inefficiency—and even corruption—are hardwired into the species. We all mess up on occasion, we all are tempted by things we shouldn’t contemplate, we all tend toward taking the easy road. There’s nothing unique about civil servants that elevates them above the human condition. What’s remarkable is not that government workers are as susceptible to such failings as anyone else, but that government—good government—will hold itself publicly accountable for its blunders. It will be transparent. It will authorize audits and publish the results and explain what it will do about them.

When’s the last time you saw private business do that?

When’s the last time you saw a corporation, without a prior government investigation, disclose that it had cut corners to produce an airplane that under certain circumstances would override its pilots and dive into the ground? When is the last time you saw a company come clean, on its own, about bribing doctors and pharmacies to dispense an addictive narcotic that would produce an epidemic of American overdose deaths? When’s the last time you saw a Wall Street player confess that packaging subprime mortgages and selling them as investment vehicles was a rip-off—before that or some other financial “product” plunged the nation into a financial crisis?

Why do you suppose we have government agencies inspecting meat-packing plants and nuclear facilities, monitoring mining waste and smokestack emissions, sampling drinking water and farm produce? Because history and experience have shown that a system whose highest goal is to make money can’t be left unsupervised—that the private sector has little incentive to identify its own shortcomings, to share them with the public, or to fix what’s wrong if doing so cuts into profits. And that’s where government comes in, however imperfectly.


Avoid confrontation

Here’s something else I took away from Colorado’s audit—something that the vitriolic commenters inadvertently underscored: Some significant number of problems uncovered were due to state employees trying to avoid confrontation. Penalizing no-shows by re-booking their sites, for example, risks unpleasantness if the campers then show up and their sites are no longer available—so avoid the hassle by leaving the sites empty, sometimes for days on end.

Or consider campers who show up a day or more before their reservation, or who insist on staying past their departure date, or who move themselves to a different site because it’s unoccupied and they don’t like the site they have. Telling such people they can’t do what they want runs the risk of full-blown, in-your-face, spittle-spewing venom. Have that experience a few times and you, too, will be tempted to set aside a supply of closed back-up sites.

Not all campers are like that, of course, just as not all RV Travel readers respond with knee-jerk contempt for any limits on their “sovereignty,” some imagined and some simply necessary for us to coexist with each other. But even a relatively small number of these brittle reactionaries can have a long-term corrosive effect on the body politic, chipping away at the mutual respect we need to function as a society, undermining the confidence of those on whom we rely to protect our common interests, poisoning discourse and discouraging those who actually have something thoughtful to contribute.



Colorado’s state parks audit is worthy of praise

By most accounts, moreover, that “relatively small number” of angry, entitled campers is growing, even as respect (never mind appreciation!) for institutions of all kinds is dissolving. We are an increasingly brutish people, as reflected in the cascading headlines about mass shootings and threats against public officials and the airy dismissal of actual violence as merely passionate discourse. All of that makes the Colorado audit of its state parks all the more remarkable and worthy of praise for being conducted at all, when it would have been so much easier not to.

The bottom line for me is that the dismissive naysayers, if left unchallenged, will encourage the very dysfunction they claim to deplore. By tearing down attempts at self-corrective behavior, they increase the odds that as a society we’ll careen out of control and go over the precipice—at which point, peering at the wreckage they helped produce, they’ll pat themselves on the back for being so insightful.

Andy Zipser is the author of Renting Dirt, the story of his family’s experiences owning and operating a Virginia RV park, and of Turning Dirt, a step-by-step guide for finding, buying and operating an RV park and campground. Both books are available through bookstores or at Amazon.com.

##RVT1058

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Anne Concepcion
1 month ago

Andy, your writing and reporting are stellar. It’s so refreshing to read intelligent advice and opinions in a market where so many are writing for eyeballs and clicks. I hope the owners of RVTravel pay you well and often. 😉

Cecil
1 month ago

the state parks should quit letting rv people rent spaces at 5 different parks and then cancel 4 of them at the last minute. That would give the rest of us a chance to rent the other spaces. With computers how they are today, you’d think they could see that someone already has a state site reserved.

Sharon B
1 month ago

Since I sold my house I have been on the road for almost 3 years. It has been an educational experience quite different than just going to state parks or private RV parks for the weekend. Some parks have you sign rules and regs upon checking in and many do not. My experience tells me it is very important upfront to know the rules and the regs. Dealing with the public is no picnic either, but what is worse is when rules and regulations are not clarified at the first encounter just prior to paying the bill. Quiet times, barking dogs after designated hours , changing spots without management agreement, and excessive sloppy unrelated stuff on a campsite seems to be the biggest issues.
Very few campgrounds actually go through the rules and have customers check each one confirming understanding, responsibility and behavior while in the park.
Yes there are other issues but from what I have seen the above mentioned issues seem to be the most problematic.

Randy
1 month ago
Reply to  Sharon B

So right! We were happily set up for a two-week stay at a nice RV resort in a rural area. It was nearly 10 p.m. and we were headed to bed. The campground quiet hours start at 10 p.m. The next thing you know, we’re being awakened by engine noises, shouting, a barking dog, and bright lights. The site next to us was now being invaded. They had reservations, but were late. No check ins after 7 p.m. are allowed, but the owner “made an exception.” They would do nothing about the noise that went on until after 2 a.m. The next morning their “no refund” policy had an exception too as we cancelled the rest of our stay. Six other RV-ers left that day too. They paid out over $3300 in refunds because of their one exception.

ChildofGod
1 month ago

My family has a lot of educators in it. Some of us were talking today about how many students/parents will ask us to break the rules “just this one time” to avoid penalizing someone for not following policy. As a teacher, I usually didn’t have that authority. I signed a contract that stated I would follow the district rules. So I applied them to everyone unless they went to an administrator who had the authority to override. And that was fine with me. But other teachers wanted to be “nice,” and ignore rules, so they called me mean. In the end, though, I was the one treating everyone fairly. The same is true for almost every job. Set up rules, change the ones that don’t work, follow the policy, no exceptions except in truly unique circumstances. In the end, it’s far less stressful.

Bob Martinez
1 month ago

Vega Lake State Park is a law enforcement joke and seasonal rangers are afraid to DO their Jobs!! Management is a Total Joke. Don’t go you’ll be attacked by dogs.

Sharon B
1 month ago
Reply to  Bob Martinez

For some people that may be an invitation for a lawsuit.

bill
1 month ago

Great “Opinion” piece. Well researched and intellectually challenging.

Teresa Willis
1 month ago

Thanks for the perspective. Excellent

pursuits
1 month ago

This former work camper and government employee agrees wholeheartedly! How about those complainers try putting in their own roads, going back to septic systems and wells, homeschooling own children, hiring their own sheriff, and hosting a few jailbirds, etc.?

Government may not be perfect, but any culture — especially with the “me-me’s” of today — needs oversight and common infrastructure. And an idea of the meaning of “common good.”

Patti Panuccio
1 month ago

Well said and spot on.

Cliff
1 month ago

Very well written….insightful…and IMHO correct. I am 73 and fearful that the lack of civility, empathy and human cooperation that we now witness is the beginning of the end of ” civilization ” as we knew it. Maybe we should all quietly read “Lord of the Flies” and Orwell’s ” 1984″ again!

Randy
1 month ago
Reply to  Cliff

If I ran a campground, I’d be afraid some imbecile would blow his cork and pull out a pistol after I reminded them of the rules. People are so angry for nothing and they react violently when they don’t get their way.

Dick Hime
1 month ago

Well stated, Andy. Thank you.

Bruce Williams
1 month ago

You would be shocked if you knew how often those meat plants, etc. are inspected. The number is surprisingly (or scary) low. Depending on your source of data its anywhere from once every 6 months to every 2 years for lower risk. Some data shows much longer periods due to shortage of inspectors in various industries. Plus, much food is coming from oversea areas. Don’t read this wrong, we have greater inspection than many other countries. I just wish we would start putting more resources into the good ole USA. Let’s make our gov’t services better than wasting all the money we do on giving other counties no-strings attached handouts.

Gary
1 month ago

Hats off to Colorado. Two part solution. First implement the corrections needed. Second when the demanding people who think the world belongs to them show themselves, dial 911. The state police can escort them from the campground. Problem solved.

Mac
1 month ago

Very well said and I applaud your willingness to say it. For all the anti-government talk I would like these folks to do without the services and protections provided. Think of the military, police, roads, parks and forest that we have. We have experienced smog so thick you can not safely breath and private industry did not provide the controls that limit it. To all the folks that believe they have “a right” I suggest they give up the phrase “I deserve” and play by the rules. We are all in this world together and no one is any better than the other.

Marie Beschen
1 month ago
Reply to  Mac

Totally agree, well said (both of you).

Tom H.
1 month ago

Spot on, Andy. Well written article! Glad to see the vast majority are in agreement with you. Thanks!

Dick
1 month ago

Thanks Andy for a great article. I think you hit the nail on the head.

Terry
1 month ago

I have seen it on both sides, private and public. I have also seen those who are there to serve just putting in their time and others being extremely helpful. I have found that my demeanor makes a lot of difference. Kindness , being pleasant, showing gratitude for the help you may receive goes a long way. I have found that many people will do a little extra when shown appropriate respect and kind behavior. Many times they have found a spot for me and if I needed multiple days, spots we could move to .
One last comment. I broke down and showed up a day late to a multi day reservation. I had no cell service. My campsite was waiting for me when we finally arrived. We don’t always know circumstances why things are, we only control or know our circumstances.

Randy
1 month ago
Reply to  Terry

A little bit of graciousness goes a long way. We showed up hours late and after dark to one vacation due to an accident on the highway that blocked us. We were luckily able to call ahead. The campground owners said they would hold the site, but they would not allow set up after 6 p.m. They said they had four sites near the entrance that were used for late arrivals. They wouldn’t be around when we got there, but we could take any empty site and set up for the night. They were full hookups, but we just hooked up the water for showers. The next day we were able to go to our site for the two weeks we planned to be there. They said two other campers had gone ballistic about their no late set up policy and they simply cancelled their reservations and told them to go elsewhere!

Roger Eide
1 month ago

There is so much dissatisfaction with government inefficiencies that is uninformed and misguided. Government (good government) is open and transparent. That leaves them open to criticism, which is what it is supposed to do. I worked in private industry for 40 years and I can tell you there is plenty of waste and corruption there too. It is not made public so there becomes the perception that private is more efficient. That is not the case at all. I have also been in elected government positions for a couple of decades at least and I saw no differences in the waste or inefficiencies. In fact in most cases because we had to be open and transparent, there was less waste and/or corruption than I witnessed in private business. As always the best policy is to educate yourself and not just listen to politicians who want to protect the rich business donors and reduce their taxes so they get even wealthier.

Joebob
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Eide

Good post Roger. I worked for a large corporation and the issue is based in simply being big whether private or government.

Glenn
1 month ago

I agree with the comments below. Well written article. Thanks.

Tim
1 month ago

Pretty much spot on.
I bet the same people complaining the “gubmnt” can’t run anything, are the same people who come late to their site, or don’t show up, or stay late, or decide they will take somebody else’s site because they like it better than the one they were assigned, and throw a temper tantrum when they can’t get their way. The truly “entitled” class.

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