Hackworth

I have great sympathy for businesses and government agencies that have had to cut back their workforce during this pandemic. It’s tough when revenue has been depleted and you have so few customers that you just can’t operate normally.

Those who have been laid off know the pain and anxiety of “when will I get to work again” and even more so if they are forced to navigate Florida’s inept unemployment benefit system.

Still, all that said, I am really frustrated with all the phone calls to check online orders and to find answers to governmental problems and getting a recording that says: “Due to the recent pandemic we are not able to answer your call in person. Please go to our website ...” Or, a similar recording that basically says don’t bother to hold on, our staff has been decimated and we’re not going to answer the phone.

My frustrations, I found, are shared by many.

One of those most frustrated was a reader named Ernie Lijoi.

Ernie shared with me he’s “almost 80” and he got a parking ticket at the airport in Tampa back on Dec. 10, 2019. He felt it was unjustified and went to Pinellas County court to fight it.

He won.

The ticket was dismissed.

So, imagine his surprise when he went to register his car here in Charlotte County and was told he could not because he had an outstanding ticket.

He immediately began trying to reach someone to straighten things out. But he got the same runaround that so many get. “Sorry, because of the pandemic ...”

“I called the Pinellas County Clerk of Courts and a recording said ‘We have cut our workforce by 46% and we have 80 fewer employees to answer your call ... then they sent me to a website,” Ernie told me.

After many calls, he did get someone on the line who told him the notice the ticket was dismissed was sent to the Department of Motor Vehicles in Tallahassee.

So, he called them.

No way he could get anyone on the phone. He was directed to another website.


Finally, he called the Sun. I just happened to answer the phone.

I felt bad for Ernie. I have been in the same situation before.

I said I would do what I could.

But I kept running into the same problems.

Calling Tallahassee is useless. They don’t even ask you to leave a message or hold on. They tell you all employees are busy. Go to the website. And then the call disconnects.

Ernie and I had the same thought — how many people does this happen to every day?

Ernie, who worked as an undercover detective with the FBI and DEA, probably had more success putting drug lords behind bars than he had getting a DMV person on the phone.

Finally, I called Rep. Michael Grant’s office. He had his legislative aide, Cynthia Beckett, call me to see what the problem was.

I don’t think Cynthia had time to do much, and I’m not sure any of the messages I left did any good. But, the next day Ernie called and said someone from Pinellas County had sent him a copy of the ticket’s dismissal and he was on his way to the DMV office in Port Charlotte to register his car.

He gave me credit that I don’t think I deserve.

But I’m glad it all worked out.

• • •

If you don’t see my column the next few weeks, chalk it up to the 2020 elections. As we prepare to make our recommendations and interview candidates — and I take a short vacation — I plan to take a break from the regular Monday column. I hope you miss me. I’ll be back after the dust settles — unless, of course, there is something I feel an urgent need to write about.

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