Problem-solving a frequent, favorite task
October 23, 2019
By: Sherrie Sprenger
Probably my favorite, and certainly most frequent, request for help is problem solving for constituents.
This involves anything from city water bills that seem too high to people wanting help to expedite the release of someone in prison.
In both of these situations I have no authority or control to change the outcome.
I am well aware that occasionally I disappoint a frustrated constituent. Trust me, I get frustrated as well quite often.
So why can’t a state legislator intervene and solve a situation that seems unjust or simply doesn’t make sense? You might think with only a handful of elected positions existing in the state higher than State Representative and State Senator, that we would have more authority.
It’s not by accident that all elected officials have some degree of restraint on their power.
The framers of our U.S. Constitution knew that without checks and balances, those with power were likely to abuse power. Hence, we have three branches of government: executive, judicial, and legislative. Each branch is considered separate but equal.
Our state constitution further delineates specific roles of each of those branches and constraints within. And that would be why I have no authority in constituent requests that involve me taking action in a separate branch.
Fortunately, most of the time I am able to help a constituent navigate their way to a resolution. Often, issues arise that merely involve connecting constituents with a state agency. That, I can do.
I think we can all agree state government is convoluted and regularly defies common sense. So, connecting an individual to the right agency is where I can help.
Also, there are times when the constituent has been working with an agency and for whatever reason has failed to achieve any meaningful resolution.
Anyone who has asked me to help them with a state agency has heard my standard line explaining what I will and will not do. Almost verbatim, I tell people I will make sure a state agency follows their own policies, administrative rules, and state statutes. I will not tell an agency to make a specific determination or change a decision if state policies and laws were followed.
However, constituents have a right to expect decent customer service from the state government their tax dollars fund. That means state agencies should return phone calls in a timely manner and the constituent has the right to have the answer explained to them in a way that makes sense.
I am amazed how often this philosophy addresses the concern of the constituent.
People don’t always like the answer they receive, but I can’t think of a time when a person was unreasonably upset with this philosophy.
Once in a while, there is that person who questions why I have this approach. It’s very simple. If all 90 legislators had the ability to direct state agencies in their decision process, regardless of the law, we would have 90 different methods of governance.
It’s my belief that, by their sheer numbers, Portland-area legislators would have the majority of the sway and rural Oregon would be on the losing end.
The good news is, after more than a decade in the legislature, I have formed many respectful relationships with agency folks.
A great example is a meeting I have today with a department head.
A citizen with a very reasonable idea has been trying to connect with the right people to present a great program. She simply hasn’t been able to “get through” yet.
I’m meeting with the head of the department to see if there is any room for the program and connect her with the person who contacted me.
I won’t force the program to happen but, frankly, I just think the person hasn’t talked to the right contact yet. This is where I can help.
I love the part of my job that is simply about connecting people. It always amazes me how much can get done when we sit down and have a
conversation about what is important to us, then hear the other person.