Chattanooga 311 Call Center Reorganization: Problem Solving Or Cronyism? - And Response (2)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Yesterday, I learned (by reading Chattanoogan.com) that Chattanooga’s Mayor is thinking of improving 311 by reorganizing it and adding an administrator. This was a surprise. I wasn’t aware 311 needed reorganization of another administrator. I am puzzled about how an additional administrator or supervisor will improve 311 Service. Currently, 311 operators report to Ms. Liz Henley. Ms. Henley reports to Mr. Mark Keil, the Administrator of Information Services. Mr. Keil reports to Mr. Dan Johnson, Mr.

Johnson reports to Mayor Littlefield. Has the chain of command failed?

In 2009, I met with Mr. Keil and Ms. Henley to learn how they were organized and how they track the 311 performance. They shared their tracking system with me. It was impressive. Mr. Keil has a rather extensive statistical data base which tracks all 311 calls. From it, you can observe: The number of calls coming in, number of dropped calls, time to pick-up of call, average time of calls, call stats by operator, service breaks and so on. I asked for and have received the monthly stats ever since 2009. If there is another city system which more specifically tracks the activity of an employees and performance measures, I don’t know where it is. The stats indicate 311 operators are busy and productive.

Does 311 have a problem? Any busy Call Center can use more operators, but does a busy Call Center need another supervisor? The time to add a supervisor is when the current supervisor is ineffective. Since I am a member of City Council, I often receive calls from residents. Solving city service issues requires teamwork. I have had numerous opportunities to interact with the 311 staff and Ms. Henley, so I feel qualified to voice an opinion about the service.

Thousands of calls come into the 311 Center and many are from frustrated or angry citizens. Being a 311 Call taker is not an easy job. Ms. Henley has occupied the position of 311 Supervisor for many years. She is a cheerleader for her team. On several occasions, Ms. Henley has told me the best workers in the city are employed at 311. They are very knowledgeable about city policies and procedures and they have to thrive in a fast paced, high intensity environment. Their calls are monitored, so complaints about their behavior can be verified. While they act as the public face of city policies, they don’t write the policies. However, they do take the brunt of citizen emotions when frustrated or angry folks call about problems or policy changes.

In my City Council role, I can well relate to what the 311 staff experiences. I too receive calls from citizens frustrated about bizarre brush pick-up policies, pot holes, and missed garbage pickup. If you want to see a beehive of humans working diligently, observe 311 at work. I have. 

If I receive a call from a citizen who says they have made a service request and not received service, I call 311. Ms. Henley will track the origin of the request. If the origin of the problem lies with a 311 call taker, (which it rarely is) she accepts responsibility, takes action and she will call the citizen to apologize. The woman is knowledgeable about both 311 and the Call Center Industry. She has long been active in the professional organization that serves and recommends standards for Call Centers. Though her job is supervision, she remains in-touch with the activities of 311 staff. If you read the stats for her department (and I have), you can see her performance is also tracked when she personally answers some 311 calls.

I have no doubts that the calls to 311 have increased. The numbers show it. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that when a city institutes policy changes that confuse and enrage the public, citizens will call more to complain. Witness what happened with the insane sewer billing and brush pick-up policies.

Adding “chiefs” to improve service functions is a common government solution to almost everything. Unfortunately, it’s costly for taxpayers because “chiefs” are usually paid at premium salaries. When all else fails, city leaders demonstrate common sense. If we want to make a row boat go faster we should add another rower. If we want to decrease the wait time for 311 calls, let’s add another operator position. If we want to decrease a spike in new calls to 311, let’s also work harder to vet the procedures prior to implementation!

Let’s stop making silly city policy decisions that prompt the calls. Let’s ask ourselves why EPB is not doing the sewer billing. The City owns EPB. EPB already knows where everyone lives and they have long had a functioning billing service for electricity. Local billing has advantages. What we absolutely should not do is add another captain to the same row boat at 311.

Deborah Scott
Chattanooga City Council
District 1 Representative

* * *  

It's cronyism, Deborah Scott....but you know that as does every other city taxpayer who has been had by this mayor for the past 40 years in every position he has held in city government.  It is time to call it what it is:  Fraud against the taxpayers. 

Ask our auditor to do a complete audit of the mayor's office and help bring down the national debt.  If a 50-year employee at the Memorial Auditorium can be identified and fired because of a history of favors to his family at the expense of the taxpayers (and ignored yet again by Missy Crutchfield who is responsible for the renovations there) then it is time for the perpetrators to pay before time runs out.  We haven't forgotten the Tivoli scam yet and what has been done about that?  I call it business as usual. 

As for the sewer billing fiasco, clean it up.  Cut a deal with EPB and save the taxpayers' money.  EPB will treat us right.  So would Tennessee American if the mayor had managed to learn communication and negotiating skills rather than relying on threats. 

Thank you for representing the majority of opinions of city taxpayers.  You have covered the bases well. 

Charlotte Parton
Chattanooga 

* * * 

Well, it's finally nice to see Deborah Scott fired up about something.  During the City Council's Orange Grove fiasco and my correspondence with her, all she was concerned with was whether or not I filed my taxes on time.  

Never in my lifetime would I have thought that I would agree with anything Deborah Scott had/has to say...however, on this particular issue:  Kudos, Deborah. 

It is my hope that Ms. Ebersole will, once again, stand up and do the right thing -- remove herself from being targeted by citizens, council members, etc. for the mistakes/choices that Mr. Littlefield has caused.  I feel certain that Ms. Ebersole, nor anyone I know of, would want to lose a near $100K annual salary.  However, there are other jobs for which I'm certain that Ms. Ebersole is completely qualified --- some pay more, some pay less.  That's the way it works. 

Mr. Littlefield's "changes" are an affront to both myself and Ms. Henley.  I don't know Ms. Henley personally, but I do know that when I have needed the services of 311 -- she has it all under control.  The question is, once again, "Why fix something that's not broken?" 

It's time for Mr. Littlefield to go.  We need no more examples of cronyism, although last week we were magnanimously offered the services of current Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd to serve as a "management consultant" to the city of East Ridge for a mere $8,000 a month.

To both Mr. Littlefield and Mr. Boyd.,....thank you, but no. 

Rusty Munger
East Ridge


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