Is it Service or a System that keeps citizens away from their elected officials.

News 100 yellowBy Pepper Parr

April 22, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

When you walk into city hall there are two sort of reception areas – one with the word “Security” in large large letters in the front. To the west side of the atrium there is another counter with a copy of people toiling away.

The word “Service” is blazoned along the front.

The people at the service desk are decent; they do their best to answer your questions.

We were delivering an envelope addressed to the Interim City Manager – the clerks didn’t know what to do with it. We didn’t hear back from the Interim City Manager – maybe he didn’t get the envelope?

As for the Security Guard – someone wants to explain just what a smile can do.

The city is shifting to a new approach to communicating with its citizens. They are using what is known as CRM – Customer Relations Management.

They want to apparently change the way you the citizen communicate with the elected officials – we don’t know if this system is going to go any further than that.

Lisa Kearns Brock Park

If you don’t get a response to the email – look for her in a park.

A resident explained to us that city hall wants people to use ward2@burlington.ca if you want to communicate with ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns. They want to persuade you to stop using lisa.kearns@burlington.ca

Don’t write marianne.meedward@burlington.ca – write to Mayor@burlington.ca

Meed ward election night 1

Email her – just be careful which email address you use.

According to a resident who has experienced this new approach when you send something to Mayor or Ward 2 you get an email from the City giving you a case number and the gist of the email and then told where this email is being directed – for example to the Mayor’s Office.

What that means is that someone is reading your email and deciding where it should go.

The woman who stood on your door step and told you she would be transparent and available now has a gate keeper who decides how your issue will be handled. This will be tough news for some of those people in Aldershot who write out long repetitive emails to their Councillor and copy every name they can come up with.

The system has been in the works for a number of years – it was an agenda item when Kim Phillips was a General Manager.

Council members do get swamped with email – this is what the current council said it wanted – “we need to hear from you” was the refrain.

Our citizen reported that days can go by before there is a response. Or the email reaches the appropriate person.
The citizen would like to know who reads these emails, who decides where they go, do they keep these on file and more importantly can they target certain residents or organizations that they want to keep an eye on????

Good questions.

gordon_krantz_mayorIt doesn’t have to be this way.

Gord Krantz, Mayor of Milton sits in an office at the street level looking out over the public park.

When you walk into the Milton Town Hall you walk by the Mayor’s office – where the door is usually open if he is at his desk.

You walk past the Mayor’s office to get to a staff member.

Krantz wants people to see him and be able to reach him. That might be why he has been the Mayor of Milton since 1980 – has been an elected official since 1965

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7 comments to Is it Service or a System that keeps citizens away from their elected officials.

  • Brian Jones

    Is it service or a system? Appears both are lost currently. Councilor’s need transparency and not an intermediary as shown failed herein. Experience indicates many concerns could be bypassed by a CRM system. Let’s face it, governments do prefer not to fully inform. It is up to council to refine and improve.
    Our Mayor has always followed all concerns. It is unlikely this personal touch will be ignored by our councilors.This move to generic mail contacts is certainly not in the cities’ interests
    If a true customer Relations System is desirable, then streamline so that the first Gazette report is not repeated

  • Steve W

    It will get much better when we become the City of Halton.

  • Penny Hersh

    I doubt very much if the Mayor or Council had been asked for input in either the dismantling of the Reception Desk or the way the new CRM system is being managed. Most had no idea these were actually happening when they did.

    Once again I have to ask just how much communication exists between the Mayor, Council and Staff. If staff, the mayor and council don’t communicated what chance is there for the residents to be properly engaged.

    To an outsider looking in it seems that “the tail continues to wag the dog”. Residents did what they could – they voted in a new mayor and council, now its up to them to make the necessary changes. Last time I looked taxpayer dollars paid for staff.

  • Blair Smith

    There is nothing inherently wrong in a Customer Relations Management System (CRM) but it needs to be coupled with a customer service philosophy that permeates through the organization and gives staff energy and focus. CRM can make operations more efficient if used properly but it can never replace personal contact and commitment; it was never intended to be a replacement. The City of Burlington needs to ‘open up’. It needs clear and understandable program descriptions with accountable staff identified and contact information clearly displayed. Accountability and visibility go hand in hand. It needs performance dashboards with metrics that are measurable to report on commitments and progress against plan. It needs transparent citizen engagement instruments so that the public actually contributes to decision-making and can see how operational and strategic directions evolved. And to ensure that the process is not merely cosmetic, it needs a comprehensive customer service program with an executive lead and compensable performance metrics that are in every staff contract and commitment. There are established and successful models for true Customer Service Management in operation in other municipalities and levels of government. Seek them out, adapt and adopt them.

  • Lynn Crosby

    Somehow I’m betting this is a system created by staff and was not something the new council or Mayor created. You do mention this has been in the works for a long time. This would beg the question of why staff members might want to vet emails that come in and also begs the question of whether all emails that come in are actually forwarded to the appropriate person, and if so, are they forwarded in a timely manner – i.e., same day – or not.

    I agree that the big Security desk that greets visitors to city hall isn’t exactly welcoming … I’ve been in Oakville’s Town Hall recently and it is very welcoming to visitors. I think it’s early days with the new council and there’s lots of work to be done on making changes to how the city communicates with the citizens and what the tone is, etc. It can be done. Let’s hope it is and looking at this system should be a priority because transparency and ease of communicating with the mayor, council and staff members should be easy to implement. As others have mentioned before, for example: where is the staff directory naming all individuals in key positions with clear contact information?

  • Penny Hersh

    In your article you mention that this was an agenda item when Kim Phillips was General Manager. The implementation of this system has nothing to do with the new Mayor and Council.

    Editor’s note:
    The point we wanted to make is that the idea for a CRM is not knew – actually implementing something is now proving to be the issue. CRM’s don’t have to be this limiting. It is a technology that has a lot of flexibility – the rigidness is probably coming out of the minds of the Clerk’s office which never has been very keen on real citizen engagement. \The people in the IT department just give you what you ask for.

    Direction comes from council – if they want something different – all they have to do is issue a staff direction. Wait for that other show to drop.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Pepper, April fools day was 26 days ago, ha ha. Sorry, this isn’t what I voted for and if my elected representative(s) can’t take the time to personally answer my e-mail on a matter I feel is important, they can expect the same courtesy at election time. And here I thought the return buttons had been removed from their computers. WoW, I must have missed that important change in non communication at the last town hall.

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