Bureaucracy is Hurricane-Proof

My parents live in a rural area of Texas to the north of Houston, an area hard-hit by the fallout of Ike but not in spectacular and showy ways that rate media or government attention.

Residents of several neighboring towns are without power because the company that supplied them with service was wiped out by the hurricane. They will be without electricity for weeks, probably longer. Local residents are trying to feed their families without refrigeration, and the stores don’t have it either so there’s nowhere to buy food. Local businesses that depend on electricity to survive are dark and deserted. There is no dramatic mass destruction to entice cameras into the area, so the media isn’t interested. FEMA is too busy to help. There are no relief workers, no emergency supplies, no outside help whatsoever. They’re on their own, with nowhere to turn.

My parents are fortunate; their electricity is supplied by Bluebonnet Electric Coop, which was outside the area hit by Ike. Their friends in several nearby communities like Caldwell, however, are not so lucky.

Bluebonnet has reportedly stepped forward and offered to supply power to Caldwell, but the city government is refusing the help that would allow its own residents to live, feed their children unspoiled food and clean drinking water, have medical care, survive the elements, and earn livelihoods. Why? Because, they say, they are bound by state law to their contract with the other electric company, the one ravaged by hurricane damage that may not be able to restore their power for weeks, or possibly even months.

Since when is a contract binding if one party cannot provide the contracted service? And in times of disaster, how can state law and useless contracts possibly take precedence over human lives they are doing nothing to protect? And what kind of city officials could possibly be so incredibly, incomprehensibly irresponsible as to turn down the only possible solution to a problem that threatens the lives, health, and livelihoods of their citizens because “it’s against the rules”?

Here’s a hint: They are the kind of city officials who are so caught up in their “good old boy” network that they would give the title of “disaster preparedness officer” to a guy whose day job is bagging groceries at the local food store, someone who, no matter how well-meaning, couldn’t possibly have the expertise to foresee possible disaster scenarios or figure out how to avert them. Even if he had, I doubt they actually gave him any real authority to act. As a result, the town doesn’t have a single emergency generator on hand, or even any way to keep the sewer system flowing while the power is out.

Texans pride themselves in being tough, strong, and independent. Texans stick together when things get rough, and always look out for their neighbors. Bluebonnet is showing true Texas neighborliness, stepping up to the plate when things are bad and offering the one thing that is most desperately needed.

The situation is nothing short of ludicrous. The city officials of Caldwell have, through their own ineptitude and irresponsibility, put the lives of their thousands of citizens in peril. Incredibly, even though these are their friends, relatives, and neighbors, they apparently place more importance on bureaucracy than on protecting the citizens they supposedly serve. They do not deserve to call themselves Texans.

This transplanted Texas girl would like to suggest a few good old Texas punishments for them, but I’m too much of a lady to put them in print. I’m sure you can think up plenty of your own, however.

UPDATE #1 (9/16/08)

Thanks to the intervention of Senator Steve Ogden, Caldwell is getting electricity today. Details are sketchy, but at last report the traffic lights were working, and power is expected to be fully restored by tomorrow at the latest. Hopefully the citizens will fix this problem permanently in their next election of local officials, but for now, at least, life can go back to something resembling normalcy in the little town of Caldwell.

UPDATE #2 (9/16/08)

Although the mayor of Caldwell has admitted to refusing Bluebonnet’s offer of power, Bluebonnet officials are denying having made any such offer. Regardless, Senator Ogden’s intervention has apparently spurred Entergy, the usual provider of electricity for the area, into action and they are working to get power restored to their customers in the area. Senator Ogden has already gotten Governor Rick Perry to temporarily rescind laws that were hampering the ability for another provider to bring power into the area, so if Entergy can’t get it restored by tomorrow, another provider will be allowed to step in. Area news mentioned Bryan Public Utilities as a possibility. Meanwhile, for the first time since the power went out 4 days ago, the City of Caldwell began serving lunch and supper in a local park for any area residents who need food.

I like happy endings.

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