Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Constituent Service Hotline: Councilor-At-Large Candidates Respond to Questionnaire

Many of the candidates for the Boston City Councilor-At-Large seat responded to the Brighton Centered questionnaire. Here you can see all of their responses to one of those questions.

QUESTION: Have you ever used the Mayor's 24-Hour Constituent Service hotline, either the phone number or the online version? Is it an effective tool for delivering constituent services? What, if anything, would you change about it?

COUNCILOR FELIX ARROYO: I’ve never used either version personally. I do think that the Mayor’s line can act as a good central number and referral service. However, I strongly support a move to a 311 system which would provide an easily recognizable number (311!) for all non-emergency service calls. I met with the Mayor of Somerville recently about their 311 system and it also includes the advantage of immediate service by those answering that line. Callers should never be forwarded to other individuals and Boston’s service line (like Somerville’s) should include trained individuals who can either immediately solve your problem or solve it personally and then call the caller back to report “problem solved.”

JOHN CONNOLLY: The Mayor’s 24-Hour Constituent Hotline is a valuable tool for delivering constituent services. I also support the development and implementation of a 311 system whereby residents call one number (311) to acquire information, inquire about services, report problems, and track the status of issues. 311 operators are highly trained and knowledgeable about every aspect of city services and act as a one-stop resource. I also support the development and implementation of a "stat tracking" system to track the nature of the calls received and the responsiveness of the city. Keeping track of this information will help the city anticipate future needs and provide better services.

COUNCILOR MICHAEL FLAHERTY: The city has an obligation to responsibly and efficiently meet the needs of constituents. However, I am unsure that the 24-hour hotline is the appropriate tool as it lacks the ability to track constituents’ requests. That is why we need CitiStat, which is a government accountability program that I called for in 2004. CitiStat enables every request to be tracked so that the city – and its residents (by phone or internet) – can comprehend how quickly and adequately requests are addressed.

MATTHEW GEARY: I have used the hotline, and while new channels of communication are important, they are not sufficient in creating open, democratic, collective responses. Councilors are elected to respond to the people's needs and I have been a participant and organizer in past campaigns to improve city services, defend union rights and stop the "T" fare increases. By sponsoring hearings and drawing the city's attention the to needs of working people, I will go beyond the partial solution of a "hotline service" and be an tangible advocate.

MARTIN HOGAN: Yes, I have used the Mayor’s Hotline, and I can say that I feel the system is not benefiting the residents of the city. I would propose as your at large city councilor that we try to fix this system in two ways. First, I want to create local city halls in each neighborhood of the city, where our residents can access the needed city services anytime during the week and on Saturdays when many have free time from work. Secondly, I will personally, as your city councilor, have open office hours throughout the city, in each neighborhood where you will actually be able to access the council. I am running to bridge the gap between our neighborhoods and our city hall for each and every resident of our city.

COUNCILOR SAM YOON: I use the Mayor’s 24-Hour hotline frequently, and like the Article 80 process mentioned above, it is a good idea that needs improvement. Last year I had the opportunity to tour the 311 call center in Somerville and I was amazed. Unlike Boston’s hotline, in Somerville there is a state-of-the-art, centralized accountability system. Callers can track their requests from the time they are made to the time of completion using modern customer service technology developed from the private sector. All of this information is open and available to anybody with the internet. I believe that residents should have direct access to their city government, especially when it comes to concrete quality of life issues. The mayor’s hotline is not utilized nearly as much as it could, but wholesale improvements would have to be made before its potential is fully realized.

Candidate David Wyatt and Councilor Stephen Murphy did not respond to the questionnaire.

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