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Did I try to bribe this person?

Zoning Goddess

Cyburbian
Messages
13,852
Points
39
In discussing with a state employee the applicability of a rule governing eligibility for a grant program that she administers, I sent an email asking if the rule had any "flexibility" and, at my boss's direction, outlined the unique circumstances of our project.

Today I received an outraged email from said state employee, reaming me out for my "unconscionable act" in "attempting to coerce" her into "ignoring a state rule" and doing "illegal and unethical" stuff.

Huh? To add insult to injury, she copied her email to everybody higher up in her division and her whole department. My boss told me to take the high road, just reply that she read it wrong, I was only asking for her opinion because she's the expert.

In 15 years in zoning/land use, a day didn't go by when I didn't have to tell someone "no" and they asked if there was anything they could do, like apply for a waiver, talk to someone higher up, have it re-evaluated based on circumstances, etc. I never took that to mean that I was being asked to break the law on their behalf.

I think the woman is a freaking nutcase, but she's damaging my reputation and that of my department. I was so floored when I opened that email that I was shaking, I don't think I've ever been so angry about a work issue.

Anybody have any suggestions on this one?
 

JNL

Cyburbian
Messages
2,449
Points
25
Sounds like you're on fairly solid ground. You were following your boss's directive. You could point out that by putting your original enquiry in an email you were keeping things open, rather than doing anything untraceable or underhand.

If you are planning an email reply back, wait a little on it, until the shakes of rage have passed :). And get your bosses approval for the draft response, and CC it to her as well. Show that you are not afraid to be open about what happened because there is nothing to hide!

You might want to include your paragraph about your experience in zoning/land use to explain your intentions. You make a good case.

Keep smiling :)
 

Big Easy King

Cyburbian
Messages
1,361
Points
23
IMO, you did absolutely nothing wrong by inquiring about possible flexibility with the rule. She could've simply replied, "no," but she chose to flip out. What a jackass!

I would reply diplomatically to that nutcase while also challenging her disrespectfulness. Now, handle business!
 

H

Cyburbian
Messages
2,850
Points
24
I agree with exactly what your boss said, but you might want to "reply all" when you send it, that way you are covered.
 

Gedunker

Moderating
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
11,487
Points
41
(I'm being a little coy here, not wanting to insert any names.) ;-)

A certain housing agency with the state -- involved in finance -- is the most anal-retentive group of employees I have ever encountered. ZG if you are corresponding with a group like that, I wish you luck because they are the epitomy of "our way or no way". Problem is, not every activity is clearly defined and you have to ask state folks whether something is eligible.

I think the posters previous to me pretty much have it right on.
 

Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
I just wrote a very cool letter for you, but the computer lost it...

Basically, she disseminated to others false accusations. Unless she can show your illegal and unethical behavior, it's libel. I would ask for an apology, and it be cc'd to everyone on the first list. If not forthcoming, call her supervisor.

It's actionable, I'm sure.
 

Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
If you want, I'll retype it tomorrow... if nothing else, it'll make you feel better.
 

Wulf9

Member
Messages
923
Points
22
You could ask your boss to write a nice letter saying that he had requested you to find out if there were exceptions to the process and that he/she regrets that the receiving party misinterpreted the request.

Copy everyone who go the original accusing letter.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Mastiff is right BUT I would hold that in reserve for now and refer to that possibility in a more circumspect way. Say something like:

"I am sure this is just a terrible misunderstanding. As everyone knows, electronic communication is made more inherently difficult by the lack of facial expressions, voice tone, and body language (in face-to-face communication, only a small percentage of meaning is conveyed by the wording). I am so sure that it must be a misunderstanding because my gut reaction is that I am being subjected to libel. Since we are both professionals, I am sure we can straighten out this small matter without things getting blown all out of proportion." etc.

If you want to forward both your original e-mail to me and her e-mail, I would be happy to help you rebutt her comments in a way that does not douse the fire with gasoline. :) I have lots of practice with such things but when I get really mad, I usually run my first draft past my sister, who has a degree in journalism and isn't as hot-headed as I am. :) Besides, almost anyone else will do -- even a hot-head -- because they have more objectivity than you will.

Naturally, like others have said, cc everyone she wrote to or hit "reply all".
 

Chet

Cyburbian Emeritus
Messages
10,623
Points
34
I wouldnt lose sleep over it either ZG. You (and your boss) knows no malice was intended. Besides I HAVE seen some programatic flexibility offered from time to time, as long as its documented. By putting it in an email rather than making the inquiry verbally, you covered that base. Why on earth would this person think you would put an admonishable act in writing in the first place? The only thing I can think is that email, by its impersonal nature, often results in a loss on tone or inflaction that would not have occurred in spoken word.

As the others said, give it a a chance to blow over, and explain what you really were trying to convey that got lost to this twit (notice I did not say 'apologize' ! )
 

Trail Nazi

Cyburbian
Messages
2,779
Points
24
I agree with H, I would hit the "reply all" button when straightening that woman out. I would definitely write a good response back that politely points out that she has misinterpretted your email and then call her boss b/c this could make things very bad for the County in terms of future grants if you have to apply for another with them. Then I would ask if the employee meant to send that email to a particular state leader in office. He must have cut their salaries again.
 

Cardinal

Cyburbian
Messages
10,080
Points
34
This sounds like an unthinking bureaucrat. I have dealt with a number of grant programs where I have seen issues in need of clarification, or opportunities to be flexible in the rules to the benefit of everyone. The wonderful people administering the programs at the State of Wisconsin have listened with an open mind, thought through the reasoning I offered, and changed the program or rules to meet a legitimate need. Remarkable. I am incredibly impressed by the competence and initiative of these people. I do not think I offered them any sort of bribe or that they did anything wrong. Their superiors agree, as do the many grant applicants.

The person you dealt with is a jackass. You do need to reply to this. You need to clarify the intent of your letter and state that it was misinterpreted. I wouldn't be apologetic, or hostile, but I would indicate that you are offended that this person would think you are asking them to do anything inappropriate. The (hard copy) letter should be distributed to everyone on the e-mail distribution list, and it would not hurt to have a short note from your boss accompany it. Your reputation and that of your department is on the line, and so is your liklihood of obtaining this grant or others in the future.
 

Doitnow

Cyburbian
Messages
496
Points
16
Well Well!
In anycase you didn't offer anything. You were only asking.

Just yesterday I called up the senior planner and 'The Zoning Regulator' to ask him about a rule according to which in case of row housing for a specified plot size you have to leave a space of 6m for every eight houses.
The rule is very clear. But I still called him up and asked him on the phone whether that rule was flexible and if we really had to leave a gap of 6m and lose precious saleable land. ( This is for a private sector project where the bottom line is... you know what)
HE just laughed and said, "Yes of course, it's flexible. You can leave more than 6m. Ha Ha Ha!."
He didn't mind as he knows that I was asking if there were any exception.( Thank God I know this guy well ;-) )

This is not bribing. No Sir/Ma'am
 

PlannerGirl

Cyburbian Plus
Messages
6,377
Points
29
ZG dont fret over it, she is a nut job and as others have said CC everyone on your reply and as they say kill em with kindness.
 

michaelskis

Cyburbian
Messages
20,175
Points
51
Now it gets “personal”

[kidding] Track her down, find her in a dark alley, put her up against a wall, with a few of “the boy’s” standing behind you, and tell her that she will drop the charges, give you the grant, and send you a bag of skittles candy… [/kidding]

COME ON… this woman sounds like she is starving for some attention, and you just happen to be a victim. If you did all this bad stuff, then I am sure we are all guilty. I know that I am guilty then every time I buy something from a sales person. Does that make me a bad person? (don’t answer that)
 

SGB

Cyburbian
Messages
3,388
Points
26
[speculation]Is this woman related to Queen B's new boss, by any chance?[/speculation]

;)
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,995
Points
31
You could reply in your email that, "if you wish to act that way then Mr. Lincoln is staying in my purse." ;)

Privately threaten to sue if she sticks to her story. Let her know that you were just looking for options and that you take your reputation for integrity real seriously. Then blow it off as an hysterical overreaction by someone with issues. Mention that, "you wish her well on her road back to mental fitness" and copy your reply email to all. :)
 

BKM

Cyburbian
Messages
6,463
Points
29
el Guapo said:
You could reply in your email that, "if you wish to act that way then Mr. Lincoln is staying in my purse." ;)QUOTE]

LOL! El Guapo. You crack me up.

It might have to be Mr. Hamilton, though :)
 

GeogPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,433
Points
25
I've had e-mail exchanges like that and after a day or two, I calmly reply informing the individual that they misinterpreted me. Clearly state that you were seeking an interpretation on the rules and that you wanted to be certain that your unique situation could not be covered under the rules. I dislike inexperienced bureaucrats.
 

Rumpy Tunanator

Cyburbian
Messages
4,473
Points
25
ZG, I'm pretty flexible in making people disappear, what's the going rate again?;)

Just let me know where to park my Lincoln and we can dispose of this matter.
 

Repo Man

Cyburbian
Messages
2,549
Points
25
People have pretty much summed up what I would say. Maybe this person had been accused of taking bribes or bending the rules too much and they just wanted to show their bosses that they would never do something like that. Your inquiry provided the lady with a way to make herself seem like she is the queen of ethics. I would do as the others say and respnd and try and clarify what you were seeking.
 

Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
el Guapo said:
Privately threaten to sue if she sticks to her story. Let her know that you were just looking for options and that you take your reputation for integrity real seriously. Then blow it off as an hysterical overreaction by someone with issues. Mention that, "you wish her well on her road back to mental fitness" and copy your reply email to all. :)
I wouldn't do anything privately. In fact, the more above board you are, the more flak she'll get from above. (I wish that letter hadn't been killed, but I'm going to rewrite it just for kicks below...) The two issues are your integrity, and how it has been besmirched to several state officials, and that your department is now in a bad light. In most states, you are not covered personally if your action was malicious.... Here, check this out:


Dear ______;

I must take umbrage at your recent e-mail in response to my informational request, since they included several unfounded accusations. First, you charge that my actions were "unconscionable", when you obviously mistook my intent. When in that position, I suggest you receive clarification before drawing an incorrect conclusion. This office, and myself as author, simply wished clarification on certain rules regarding grant submissions.

Secondly, you say I attempted to coerce you. Since coersion, in this regard, requires some element of force, it is false and misleading. No one attempted to make you break rules, and certainly there was never even a hint of placing you in any position of duress.

Lastly, and most important, you disseminated an email charging illegal conduct and breach of ethics to other state employees. Madam, barring a citation of state statute and an ethical standard that have been violated, these defamatory statements constitute libel. I hold my integrity, and that of my department, in high regard. By sending this e-mail to several people at the state level, you have harmed the reputation of both. This could affect my personal future, and that of future dealings between my department and your agency. That is unaccepatable.

What I expect in this situation is a simple apology that addresses the issues above, to make clear your accusations are false. If you so choose to redress this issue, it will need to be copied to the same individuals in the first response. If this is done in a timely manner, I will consider this matter closed, and hope for a productive future working with your department.

Sincerely and without malice,

ZG


(You note there is no direct threat of a lawsuit...)
 
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Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
GeogPlanner said:
I'm glad that someone used to word "libel" in this thread.
Unless ZG is a politician or public figure, that's just what it is...
 

Zoning Goddess

Cyburbian
Messages
13,852
Points
39
Thanks, everyone for your input, and Mastiff and MZ for the extensive language you provided. It was a big help.

My boss decided since yesterday that he was very unhappy with what happened and had me draft a lengthy response, which is now on his desk for review. He assured me he will take any flak over this.

RT, I will keep your offer in mind. :)
 

Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
Zoning Goddess said:
Thanks, everyone for your input, and Mastiff and MZ for the extensive language you provided. It was a big help.

My boss decided since yesterday that he was very unhappy with what happened and had me draft a lengthy response, which is now on his desk for review. He assured me he will take any flak over this.

RT, I will keep your offer in mind. :)
Anytime... I love crafting those kind of letters.
 

Trail Nazi

Cyburbian
Messages
2,779
Points
24
Rumpy Tunanator said:
ZG, I'm pretty flexible in making people disappear, what's the going rate again?;)

Just let me know where to park my Lincoln and we can dispose of this matter.

OT - what a great photograph!! That is too hilarious. I think that ZG's office needs those as mascots for the future.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Mastiff said:
Anytime... I love crafting those kind of letters.
Ditto. Glad to be of service to ZG. Enjoying the chance to exercise my rapier wit and sharp tongue is just a Bonus. :-D
 
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Zoning Goddess

Cyburbian
Messages
13,852
Points
39
Here's an update

The witch who sent me the accusatory email was soundly reprimanded and a disciplinary notice placed in her file. Apparently this is not the first time she has exhibited paranoid behavior. Her boss, the agency director, told my boss that she was inundated with calls from her superiors when they received the nutcase's email to me, and they were all horrified. I am still waiting for a written apology, though. The agency director has been trying to reach me, but we played phone tag all day, so maybe I'll get that worked out tomorrow. Whew!
 

Mastiff

Gunfighter
Messages
7,181
Points
30
Zoning Goddess said:
The witch who sent me the accusatory email was soundly reprimanded and a disciplinary notice placed in her file. Apparently this is not the first time she has exhibited paranoid behavior. Her boss, the agency director, told my boss that she was inundated with calls from her superiors when they received the nutcase's email to me, and they were all horrified. I am still waiting for a written apology, though. The agency director has been trying to reach me, but we played phone tag all day, so maybe I'll get that worked out tomorrow. Whew!

Good for you! Sometimes things make sense... Do one thing though, and I'm sure you will, if you do get an apology from her, just drop it. If you used the text that said you would, anyway... I'm betting right now several folks at the State are wondering if you're going to file suit.

Oh, and I checked this out. If she retracts all the statements within a specified time of you notifying her of her "error", you could only receive actual damages in civil court. Otherwise, punative enters the picture. The fact that she was reprimanded just about makes it a slam dunk case. I'm betting some attorney working for the state is feverishly typing the "retraction".

Doesn't vindication feel great?
 

JNL

Cyburbian
Messages
2,449
Points
25
That's great ZG. It's good to hear that you were vindicated.
 

mike gurnee

Cyburbian
Messages
3,066
Points
31
The state agency's worst fear is that a ranking legislative member of the party not in the governor's office will find out about it. Use this information as you feel necessary. But I really do agree with Mastiff.
 

Trail Nazi

Cyburbian
Messages
2,779
Points
24
I just can't wait to find out if the woman actually does apologize. Otherwise ZG, you will have to use some of the County's trump cards.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,995
Points
31
[PLEASE DON'T REALLY DO THIS.]Now if you really want to screw with her and play into the paranoid behavior, get her alone sometime a year or two from now and tell her you really were trying to bribe her! ;) [/PLEASE DON'T REALLY DO THIS.]
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
el Guapo said:
[PLEASE DON'T REALLY DO THIS.]Now if you really want to screw with her and play into the paranoid behavior, get her alone sometime a year or two from now and tell her you really were trying to bribe her! ;) [/PLEASE DON'T REALLY DO THIS.]
just spiffing up eG's comment a little -- I didn't quite catch the "fine print" the first time or two that I read it, but maybe it's just me. :)
 

GeogPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,433
Points
25
I can't help but feel a little bit bad for that girl because she obviously has some issues to work out.
 
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