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Brooksville dress code: Trivial pursuits knot a city's knickers

If you were a soldier or even just an Army brat like me, you're probably familiar with what I'll call chickenstuff.

That's a euphemism, of course, but the real thing plays such a major and unwelcome role in military life that it occupied an entire chapter of Paul Fussell's classic history of World War II, Wartime:

"Chicken(stuff) refers to … petty harassment of the weak by the strong,'' Fussell wrote. "It is so called — instead of horse- or bull- or elephant(stuff) — because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously.''

Takes the trivial seriously. Perfect. For what better description could there be of the city of Brooksville's new dress code, the one that covers workers' use of deodorant and wearing of undergarments?

Not that I have a problem with dress codes. I'm a grumpy father now, one who hopes his sons will have enough sense not to get their tongues pierced or cover their soon-to-be hairy calves with tattoos of naked women. I mutter in disgust when I see that stuff. I don't want it in city offices.

I also remember when City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha was the county's human resource director, which makes her an expert on regulating such matters.

And, yes, Vice Mayor Lara Bradburn is right when she says our newspaper is partly to blame for all the fuss.

The city wouldn't have been besieged by reporters this week if not for the cleverly written story by my colleague Joel Anderson and its attention-getting headline — "City: Please put on undies.''

The readers of our online publication probably wouldn't be assuming this is something we in Hernando need to be told. "I hear banjo music,'' wrote Missy from St. Pete, one of more than 100 readers to post comments about the story on tampabay.com .

And MSNBC's Keith Olbermann certainly would not have singled the city out for the nightly insult he usually reserves for the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

"The Brooksville City Council,'' Olbermann intoned on his Monday program, "today's WORST PERSONS IN THE WORLD!''

But neither would have any of this happened if the city hadn't written phrases such as "a visible lack of undergarments'' into city policy.

It conjures up images of supervisors peering under desks to check for infractions, of sniffing armpits to make sure staffers "observe strict personal hygiene practices to include the use of deodorants.'' You almost expect the next sentence to mandate either stick or roll-on. It's pure chickenstuff.

Because when it comes to rules, detail is good only up to a point. The right amount takes away subjectivity. Too much, and you insult workers and bosses by assuming they have no sense.

Bradburn, in her (good-natured) defense of the dress code, said the county and school district already have them. Yes, but the county gives its work force credit for knowing what it takes to "maintain a personal appearance that is clean and appropriate.''

Bradburn made one other point: A lot of ink was being spilled on a side matter — a routine update of personnel policy — when the city is trying to balance its budget and rewrite its zoning laws.

"We have much loftier issues to deal with,'' she said.

Which is exactly the point, Fussell wrote: "Chicken(stuff) can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war."

Brooksville dress code: Trivial pursuits knot a city's knickers 06/17/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 17, 2009 9:42pm]
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