An Offer You Must Refuse
Weird thing about working in government #746: Your negotiation skills will be put to the test in ways you never could have imagined - unless, of course, you were batshit crazy to begin with, which given your choice of vocation is perhaps not completely out of the question.
Situation: I have a fam tour coming up next week for a group of our employees. All of the events, meals, and accommodations on the tour are sponsored, donated by the participating chambers of commerce, museums, restaurants, hotels, etc. All I have to do (aside from prepare the extensive and complicated legal paperwork allowing us to accept the donations, coordinate the myriad travel arrangements of all our attendees, research and prepare educational materials on all the attractions we'll be visiting, make binders, enforce guidelines, answer questions, and forcefully wrest from the tour coordinator as many of the details as I can get him to share with me in case, oh I don't know, some emergency arises, and he has to leave early on in the tour, and I end up in the middle of nowhere with a tour bus full of information center staff, armed with nothing more potent than a few of his notes scribbled on scrap paper, JUST LIKE WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR, thankyouverymuch) is show up and enjoy the ride.
And I can't wait! I'll be bringing my laptop. I will blog. It's super fun!
But the travel arrangements get a little complicated. One of our attendees hails from a city with no nearby airport, so she has to drive; but it's too far to travel in one day, so she'll arrive the day before the tour begins on Sunday. Well and good. I asked the tour coordinator if he could get us a room for her at "state rate"* Saturday night.
He responded to me a couple of days later. "No problem!" he said. "The Sunday night host hotel will be happy to provide her a comp room for Saturday night as well."
Ah, but you see, the donation approval we received was only for the dates of the tour, beginning Sunday. If they give us a freebie on Saturday, it's a gift, and that's unethical. So I have to decline. "I expect they'll think I'm completely off my rocker," I wrote back to him, "but can they just give her the room at $85?"
"No problem!" he said; but another week later, when he sent me the confirmation number for my attendee, he once more mentioned that the hotel had comped the room.
I hesitate to call them to straighten it out, because I think our conversation will go something like this:
HOTEL CLERK: Hello and thank you for calling the Hotel Espada! How may I help you?
ME: Hi, I'm calling on behalf of Mary Ingalls, regarding confirmation number 8675309.
HOTEL CLERK (checking his computer): Yes ma'am, I have a reservation here for Ms. Ingalls checking in on Saturday and checking out on Monday, two nights, and it's our pleasure to offer the room complimentary as part of your tour group!
ME: Thank you so much! Actually, the thing is, I'm calling because actually she'll need to pay for Saturday.
HOTEL CLERK (confused): No, ma'am, I have your group down for complimentary rooms.
ME: Yes, thank you, that's right, except only that one.
HOTEL CLERK (still more confused): So, only Ms. Ingalls is paying? Isn't she part of the tour? And you are...?
ME: I'm the planner. See, the tour doesn't begin till Sunday, and we have special permission from our governing board to accept the donation of the room-nights, so...
HOTEL CLERK: She needs to pay for both nights?
ME: No, you see, she only pays for the first night. The second night, she's part of the whole comped-room tour group deal.
HOTEL CLERK (a little snippy): It's actually more work for us to do it this way. Why don't we just comp her room for both nights?
ME: I know, but we can't because we don't have directorial approval for the first night. Look, I know it doesn't make sense, but can you please just go ahead and charge her for one night?
HOTEL CLERK (annoyed): All right, then, if you say so. (Checks computer) That'll be $149 plus tax -
ME: Oh wait, sorry, no. We can't pay more than $85.
HOTEL CLERK (slightly incredulous): The government rate is $149, ma'am.
ME: I know, but our travel budget has been cut and our agency's policy doesn't allow us to spend more than $85 on lodging.
HOTEL CLERK: If you're hard up, you know, I did offer the room for free just a few minutes ago.
ME: No, you see, we're not allowed to accept free stuff without directorial approval. She absolutely has to pay for Saturday. Just not more than $85.
HOTEL CLERK: Are you allowed to pay less than $85??
ME: Of course - I mean, that's just the cap; it's the most we can pay; if some place offers a room for less then we pay less.
HOTEL CLERK: Okay. How about $0?
ME: Nonono! Look - please can you just give her the room for one night for $85, please!
HOTEL CLERK: I really don't see why this is necessary.
ME: It's policy! Without directorial approval, we can't accept anything over $25 in value!
HOTEL CLERK: Oh, really? Have you subtracted $85 from $149 lately?
ME: That's different! That's not the same! We're negotiating!! I'm a tour planner!!!
HOTEL CLERK: You certainly could have fooled me.
The thing is, I figure, after fifteen or twenty years of working in the government sector, all of this might begin to make real sense.
And at that point, I really hope somebody goes transportational and shoots me.
*Long story. Love your legislature!