Denice Delarosa put the ten year old Chevy work truck into gear as she called Dino. Dino had been her first mentor back before they used the word mentor.
She had been an Ag Economics Ph.D fresh out of Purdue and he was a grizzled, old-school ag extension agent. He showed her how the world really worked.
Denice was, by anybody’s standards, a homely woman. As a young woman it would have been charitable to call her plain. The years had not improved her looks. Nobody ever accused her of sleeping her way to the top of the Cali “Department of Food Security” which was new-speak for the old Agriculture department.
Prime Minister Bona-Brown had called an emergency meeting in the aftermath of the Los Angeles warehouse catastrophe. Six hours after the event it was already known that the casualty count would be in the thousands. The entire San Diego-Los Angeles megalopolis was on lock-down.
The event was attributed to a rogue element in the military. An entire chain of command from private-to-senior officer was disarmed and placed into detention while they were being debriefed.
The big news for Denice was that the department head who oversaw SD-LA had experienced a stroke while being debriefed. Denice suspected that the debriefing had been “pharmaceutically enhanced”. Regardless, Cindy Barbilla was not going to be capable of performing her job.
Bona-Brown had appointed Denice as the department head for SD-LA, starting immediately.
Even in the best of times Bona-Brown’s cabinet was a tumultuous echo-chamber. Bona-Brown believed, like FDR, Stalin and Hussein, that chaos was easier to manage than a calcified bureaucracy. Chaos was also a convenient smoke-screen for destroying potential rivals.
It is a long drive from Sacramento to LA and she was going to need to eat. She might as well eat with Dino. She was going to need advice.
They ate on the front porch. Dino was one generation removed from the islands between Greece and Turkey. Except for the lack of good soil, those islands were an agricultural paradise. They had also been stepping stones for conquest between Europe-and-Asia, in both directions, for three thousand years. Dino’s cynicism ran to the very marrow of his bones.
They were eating pita bread, hummas, cucumbers and figs. The olive oil, lemons, cucumbers and figs were from Dino’s yard.
Outside Dino’s porch a band of shrieking youngsters were playing soccer with a nearly empty, plastic jug. To give it weight, one of the kids had put about a handful of damp sand into it. The game was more interesting than if they had a standard ball. The trajectory of the jug was nearly impossible to predict. Kids were kicking at the jug, missing and either falling on their butts or kicking their opponents. Few of the players seemed to have mastered the art of kicking the jug.
Denice quickly outlined her concerns. She had no connections in SD-LA. The situation was in chaos. Bona-Brown’s Cali Bureau of Investigation was extremely political and all information they shared was highly suspect.
Dino seemed to want to go down memory lane. He asked, “Do you remember the first thing I told you to do when you started at the department?”
“Yah, you had me buy donuts.” Denice said. “What does that have to do with anything?” she asked.
“Where did I have you take them?” Dino continued.
Denise thought for a second, “You had me take them to the building maintenance crib. Why?”
Dino said, “There was a reason I told you to take the donuts there. What do you think it was.”
Denise said…”Well, I guess it was because electricians and plumbers don’t play political games. They just tell you what is on their mind. It is a way of getting information.”
Dino said, “That is almost right. Never make the mistake of thinking people don’t play political games. It is part of being the human animal. Electricians and plumbers will tell you what is on their mind if they trust you more than anybody else in the hierarchy. The other point is that the maintenance crib was an information node. Skilled trades are the elite of the building support. Custodians will think well of you when the electrician fixing the fan in their work-space vouches for you.”
“What happens to a plant in a hot-house when it cannot get sun?” Dino asked.
“It gets tall and spindly. Sometimes it falls over and dies. It certainly dies when you transplant it into the sun.” Denice said.
“Exactly!” Dino said. “Think of organizations as being ecosystems but instead of energy flows there are information flows. If you don’t develop your own sources all of your information will be fifth hand and won’t be worth a shit. The problem of the hot-house flower, you starting at the department and you starting at SD-LA are the same. The only thing that is different is scale.”
“So where am I going to find the maintenance crib for SD-LA?” Denice asked.
Dino said, “You are a smart girl. I could guess and they would probably be damned good guesses but it will work better for you if they are your own guesses, even if you make a few bad guesses.”
“You know,” Dino said, “I had one more thought. All of your administrators will belong to Bona-Brown. You need your own ‘cabinet’. So you might want to think about finding five or six personal assistants who will be loyal to you. Remember, it is all about the information flow.”
Denice decided to keep the truck. It was plain, white work truck with a 60 gallon auxiliary fuel tank in back of the cab. The ‘Department of Food Security” logo on the doors would be easy enough to paint over. Transferring the asset from one department to the other should not be a big deal. Besides, it had a V8 and air conditioning.