In 2005, a community betterment committee appointed by Mayor Willie Adams recommended that the Albany City Commission implement a citizen service center to provide the public with direct telephone access to city hall 24 hours a day.
In what arguably could have been the city government’s most significant accomplishment during the tenures of Adams and City Manager Alfred Lott, a citizen call center was unveiled this month. Indeed, the call center has the same convenient, easy-to-dial phone number – 3-1-1 – suggested by the betterment committee 4½ years ago.
But the city’s new creation barely scrapes the surface in terms of its purpose.
By definition, dialing 3-1-1 should allow citizens to obtain important non-emergency services quickly and effectively. Some examples of 3-1-1 calls, as opposed to emergency 9-1-1 calls, are: potholes, noise complaints, debris in roadway, dead animal removal, and reporting non-working streetlamps.
Curiously, though, Lott did not heed the betterment committee’s core recommendation that it be accessible around the clock. Rather, the center is open only during city business hours, when the public’s questions already can be answered by calling the city manager’s office or city clerk’s office. Sure, it’s great to be able to call 311, but under Lott’s program, evening and early morning calls to the center are to be retrieved and serviced during weekday business hours, rather than having operators take calls 24-7. What’s the point?
Meanwhile, the city announced this month that through its call center, citizens can contact city hall online any time of the day or night. Guess what? That’s been the case since 1999.
If a Phase 2 of the citizen service center is implemented, Albany’s new citizen service center won’t be a waste. Rather, it can serve as a foundation for using the same staffers and same computer software to answer citizen inquiries after hours. That would truly be great – and new – service for the citizenry.