You call the city with a dog-license question. You don’t know who to talk to, but get your question answered anyway – without endless transfers from department to department.
City bureaucracy can be reinvented to serve citizens, say City Manager Jim Keene and a group of staff who have put together a group of projects they call “customer service initiatives.”
And best of all, said the manager in a presentation to the council Tuesday night, the multi-layered initiative will be put in place by shifting staff and using already-budgeted funds.
“We’ll restructure our existing resources,” said Budget Director Paul Navazio.
The plan merges advanced technology with a human element.
On the tech side, an advanced telephone system and computerized data tracking are to be put in place.
The citizen will call a general city number and get a live receptionist – one of three people who will serve in this function.
That person will be familiar with the top 300 kinds of requests the city gets, such as where to go for a dog license or to fight a parking ticket. The receptionist won’t simply give the caller the correct number. The staffer, trained to remain calm and polite, even in the face of an irate citizen, will stay on the line with callers to make sure the person gets transferred directly to the bureaucrat who can resolve the issue.
If the issue is not immediately resolved, the receptionist would put the request into a computerized data tracking system that would monitor it, even continuously informing a manager that a specific problem had not been resolved.
The system will have some advanced bells and whistles, such as the ability to attach a voice message to an e-mail.
Navazio says one of the advantages of the system is the establishment of a hierarchy of needs. For example, a caller who reports a broken water main, will get assurance of it being fixed within a set timeframe, probably an hour or two. A person with a less pressing matter may be told, for example, that the problem will be fixed in three weeks.
Navazio says people appreciate knowing exactly when their issue is going to be addressed, even it isn’t right away.
The other piece of the multi-layered plan is called the Neighborhood Liaison Initiative.
The idea is to break down the walls that divide city departments and get the bureaucrats working as teams to solve a problem.
Here’s a real-life example: A frantic South Berkeley woman believes there is a prostitute operating out of a health club in her neighborhood. She called the Planning Department, but believed her complaint had not been heard. Actually, the department was looking at inappropriate signage at the business. When the business switched off the illuminated health club sign, planning staff believed the problem was solved.
At the same time, other individuals had contacted the Police Department on the same matter. The two departments did not work together to solve the problem.
And the citizen who had made the complaint was in the dark. She believed nobody was addressing the problem, although the police had it on a list of problems to address.
Under the new initiative, a Neighborhood Liaison coordinator would bring together a multi-department team – in this case, the planning department and the police – to resolve the problem.
And the complaining party would be informed of what steps the city was taking to resolve the question.
Staff will include four neighborhood liaison positions, each responsible for a geographic quadrant of the city.
An internal hiring process is already under way, something that irked some councilmembers who said they had been left out of the loop.
Salary for the assistant-to-the-city manager positions will be $90,000 annually. This will likely be a salary hike for the individuals who get the job, just as it may be a raise for the three people who be transferred to the customer service “hub.” An eighth position will be a secretarial post to support the neighborhood liaisons.
Navazio says that the increased salaries may be funded by using salaries for, say, 12 positions and paying eight people. The positions would be vacant positions. There would be no layoffs, he said.
City staff gave the council its first report on the plan as part of a work session on the budget at last week’s meeting. Although the plan does not call for new expenditures – with the exception of a new “phase II” $880,00 telephone system – Navazio said it was important at this time to make the report and assure the council that the plan would not be a budget addition.
The council already approved “phase I” telephones, for half the city offices, at $768,000.
Staff underscored that the plan is still being finalized.
With the announcement of the departure of the city manager, however, questions are being raised about whether the restructuring should be put in place before Keene leaves his post, or if a new city manager ought to carry through the restructuring.