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How To Get What You Want And Need From The Bureaucracy

by Bob Alman, San Francisco Croquet Club

Armed with patience, persistence, and this catalog of tips, you'll be virtually unstoppable.

Enmeshed with the folklore of government in America is the theme of the ineluctable evil of the public bureaucracy and the laziness, corruption, and contempt for individuals always displayed by the "fat bureaucrat."

If you believe that, you probably won't get very far in your search to enlist support for finding turf for your croquet group on public land.

Bureaucracies are purposely organized to resist change, to move slowly and deliberately. Anyone proposing a change in the established order or, even worse, something entirely new, must make an irresistible case for that change. Otherwise, the bureaucracy will block the change. Ultimately, this is what we want our public bureaucracies to do - to everybody but us. We want consistency and fairness in public programs and policies in our cities and counties. We don't want to promote special and private interests at the expense of the public treasury.

When changes are made, it is only after extensive investigation and conditioning by the staff, who present recommendations to subcommittees of public commissions which, if passed, may go to the stage of public hearings and formal rulings by a politically appointed commission or publicly elected board. City commissioners or county supervisors will usually have the final say on whether your petition to use a piece of public land for croquet is to be granted. But before you get to the stage of formally petitioning the official granting body, you need to do some homework.

First, Enlist a Champion Within the System

Seek out the manager or staff member of the public entity's park department to whom the commission will go for guidance on granting your request. In looking for this person, start at the top, because in most public bureaucracies, those at the top are the only ones in the entire vast machinery of government who have any real power to instigate something new or to change the established order in the minutest degree.

When you have located this Key Bureaucrat, go to him or her and present a convincing case.

  • You will cite, of course, the phenomenal growth of croquet in this country as a serious sport.
  • You will identify potential sites in the parks with under-utilized putting greens or bowling lawns.
  • If the object of your desire is a bowling lawn, you will point out that croquet causes no damage to bowling lawns and is much less wearing on the turf than lawn bowling. The bowlers will, of course, express concern about the wicket holes, because that's the only potential negative aspect of "lawn damage" which can be cited. It's important to know that this is a false issue. In practice, the holes do not diminish the quality of bowling. But you can't prove that until the shared-use arrangement is already under way. So you may find it expedient to make a commitment to buy and use "star" wickets on the lawn, which make much smaller holes than the traditional "carrot" type. If pressed, you might have to promise to use winter wickets (or "Foxy" wickets) at first, which have an even smaller diameter. Recognizing the bowlers' distress over being asked to share what has been exclusively theirs, you will go out of your way to accommodate all possible objections..
  • If your priority target is a putting green, you will point out the dozens, if not hundreds, of public and private places in the immediate area are reserved for golf, with not a single site this side of Timbuctoo set aside for the serious sport of 6-Wicket Tournament Croquet. You will further note that 6-Wicket Tournament Croquet requires less than one tenth the territory per player that golf requires, on average.
  • Mindful that most people still associate croquet with the toy game on shaggy grass, you will display pictures from CROQUET IN AMERICA and other croquet publications to press your demand for good turf. A USCA video would be excellent for this purpose.
  • Most important, you will demonstrate that a substantial demand for croquet already exists among the influential, upstanding citizenry (or the "salt-of-the-earth" working types, as the local case may be) represented in his office and prepared to go en masse before The Commission. Be subtle about this; don't overplay your hand. Nobody likes to be pressured. Just make the point.
  • You will try to find out what the Key Bureaucrat wants and needs, and try to accommodate it. For example, there may be an existing under-utilized lawn for which only an increased public demand (by croquet players) could justify expenditure of tax money for maintenance. Your croquet group could provide the Park Department with a solution to this problem.
  • Finally, you will resolve to BE PERSISTENT. The machinery of the public bureaucracy is never proactive, always reactive. If one avenue dead ends, go down another. Persistence is a quality and a tactic that works with EVERYONE in the bureaucracy - from the gifted and creative manager to the unionized custodial staff. Your persistence in the face of obstacles will help to convince the Key Bureaucrat of your trustworthiness. He (or she) will not want to take a stand for a whimp. For the people you will encounter lower down in the bureaucracy - whose dearest wish may be to avoid dealing with the possibility of change - the only way they can get rid of you is to give you what you want.
  • Make it easy for the Key Bureaucrat to support your cause by giving him or her all the answers and options needed to comfortably endorse your proposal before The Commission (or The Board, or whatever it is). Anticipate all the objections, obstacles, and choices; handle them, and present a proposal which is completely actionable because it does not require the staff or commission to make difficult or arbitrary choices.

Look for Coaching from Someone Who Knows the Game from the Inside

If you have made a good case before the Key Bureaucrat, he or she will coach you in the presentation you must make before The Board or The Commission — the planning or policy-making body which will give you legal footing on a piece of public turf. If you have chosen your Key Bureaucrat well, and if you have done your homework, The Commission will have such trust in the Key Bureaucrat's good judgment that they will not hesitate to endorse the Key's Bureaucrat's recommendation. They, too, are public servants. They enjoy the opportunity of bringing something new into existence, and of giving a part of their constituency what it wants.

Your main obstacle with the Key Bureaucrat and with The Commission is likely to be the rival group whose turf you intend to share - be they golfers, bowlers, or neighborhood people accustomed to using the turf you're after for their animals to empty their bowels upon. No matter how sweet-tempered and evenhanded you are, they are likely to be extremely upset over the prospect of giving up part of their territory to croquet players - or to anyone, under any circumstances. They will present many arguments, many of them spurious; and you will make the appropriate counter arguments; always keeping your cool, always listening more and speaking less, always with the utmost respect and deference shown to The Commissioners.

It's Not Fair, But You Will Always Bear the Burden of Proof

Because the machinery of the bureaucracy loves more than anything the status quo and despises change or innovation, the burden of proof will always be upon your shoulders. This is unfair, but you must be prepared to respond to outrageous and absurd "reasons" why croquet must never be allowed on putting or bowling turf, or why building a croquet lawn would destroy forever the peace and beauty of a neighborhood park. And you must be prepared to negotiate — to give the devil his due, and a little more besides.

Unless you seriously muff it, you will be able to negotiate at least limited accessibility to suitable turf. After all, you are petitioning a public entity, and you represent a responsible segment of the public, proposing an appropriately broader use of the publicly owned lawns. Other groups have used this turf for other purposes in the past, but that does not give them permanent or exclusive claim to it in the future: There is no such thing as "squatter's rights" on city park land.

Promise a Little to Get a Lot

At this early stage of negotiation, you will want to promise as little as possible to get as much as you can. But when and if necessary, you should be prepared to make some solid commitments appropriate to your use of public facilities:

  • You may be asked to guarantee public access to the croquet lawn, if you or your group is to be granted some sort of special stewardship of the lawn. This is easy to do. Ask the Commission to designate your lawn space for "Six-Wicket Tournament Croquet," which is defined as the game using heavy, rolled iron wickets, and heavy, precision engineered balls and mallets - equipment which your club is organized to provide, and which only people with a serious interest in Six-Wicket Croquet would be likely to own. If your lawn area is so designated, people who hear about the "croquet lawn" and come out to set up their $39.95 toy set can politely and legally be directed elsewhere. (Incidentally, to avoid future headaches, you may want to ask your commission to officially designate some other piece of lawn for Backyard Croquet.)
  • Although you would hate to make any big promises at this early stage of development - when you need all your funds to buy equipment - it may be necessary for you to make at least a declaration of future intent to reimburse the city for the substantial cost of maintaining your lawn. Precedents vary depending on the locale. Cities with budget problems may respond only to cash donations or pledges of future financial support for maintenance. Other municipalities may designate specialty lawn facilities for croquet without requesting any payment or pledge, so long as some form of public access is guaranteed. A few are even required by law to allocate public recreation facilities in proportion to public demand.
  • Assuming that you must have some sort of organization to have access to your turf, your group or club should be prepared to determine how and under what circumstances other people may join your group — i.e., use your club's equipment and therefore enjoy the privilege of playing on the city's publicly designated SIx-Wicket Tournament Croquet Lawn. Since you must raise money to buy and maintain equipment, if nothing else, you may as well settle on membership dues high enough to discourage people with no more than a casual interest and low enough to attract the kind and number of membership you want for your club and for the available turf. If the turf is good, your membership should be at least $100 a year, and probably more, since a portion of membership revenue should be used to pay annual USCA dues.
  • The principal avenue of access to new membership could be through publicly advertised introductory courses. These weekend courses could be promoted through the apparatus of the city or the park department itself, and would help identify croquet as an activity provided by the city, instead of by some outside "elitist" group.
  • Depending on your city's policies, you may find it necessary to propose a joint maintenance agreement. This may range from total responsibility for maintenance of the lawn (a situation which has prevailed for a number of years in Denver's Washington Park) to a much more limited arrangement in which club members periodically repair holes, trim weeds, rake leaves, and pick up trash on the lawns and in the immediate vicinity. (In a strong union town like San Francisco, the agreement would tend to be the more limited one.)
  • When insurmountable obstacles arise, there are some simple magical words you can say to surmount them. The words are "TRIAL PERIOD" and "TEMPORARY." While you are waiting two years for a hearing before the Design Review Board, you can institute a temporary solution. Since you cannot otherwise make an effective presentation of your claims, a trial period is needed to satisfy everyone's doubts. Because the bureaucracy loathes change, once you are in, you will quickly become part of the established order. The "trial period" is extended, and "temporary" becomes permanent. Once you are in, the bureaucratic machinery you once hated will become your staunch protector: resisting change, and keeping your organization in place.
  • Finally, you may find it expedient to volunteer to contribute some kind of free recreation program to the city. Senior groups are ideal for this purpose. A monthly or bimonthly midweek period could be established for "Senior Day." Or your club could invite the city's own senior recreation center staff to organize senior groups on agreed upon dates, which your club members would staff. (See Volume Three for details on these programs.)

If you Play by the Rules, Eventually, You'll Win

Public schools, colleges and universities may provide the best access to public turf in your area, and their bureaucracies function in much the same was as the city and county governments. Most of the above negotiating guidelines would also apply to educational institutions. Croquet, in most colleges and universities with facilities, has the status of a "student activity" rather than a course for credit. Athletic departments have sometimes agreed to give outside croquet groups access to college turf in exchange for providing equipment and instruction for weekly student groups. If you play by the rules of the bureaucracy, if you are patient, if you are persistent, and if you keep your end of the agreements you make, you will prevail. You are the public. And public bureaucracies are organized, ultimately, to serve your interests. When there are hundreds if not thousands of public acres devoted to golf -a sport that requires at least ten times more acreage per person than croquet — how can the public bureaucracy, in all fairness, deny your request for a paltry half acre? In all fairness, it can't.


  • ENLIST A CHAMPION for your cause within the system, and accept his/her coaching on getting your program through official channels.
  • GET ALL THE QUESTIONS before your petition going into hearings and prepare good answers. Anticipate all the potential problems, and be ready to supply specific solutions.
  • FIND OUT WHAT THEY WANT and need, and design your program to supply it (for example, amenities such as benches or fences, a recreation program for seniors, or an organized presence in a remote or neglected public park area).
  • DEMONSTRATE A PUBLIC DEMAND for croquet - for example, with letters from influential citizens, petitions, and an organized group of supporters present at public hearings.
  • SHOW PICTURES OR VIDEOS of the "real sport" of croquet to distinguish it from the toy game of Backyard Croquet.
  • SET UP DEMONSTRATIONS for the official bodies involved which will handle the issue of "lawn damage" and show that croquet is a serious sport.
  • PROPOSE A "TEMPORARY" OR "TRIAL PERIOD" agreement which the authorities would find wholly reasonable and practical, if you can't secure a "permanent" agreement up front.
  • BE PERSISTENT. Don't give up. If one avenue closes, go down another. Keep the goal in mind, and do whatever you need to do to keep moving toward it, one step at a time.

(This article was originally published, in slightly different form, in Volume One of the Croquet Foundation of America's MONOGRAPH SERIES ON CLUB-BUILDING, ORGANIZATION AND MANAGEMENT.)





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