Special Mention: Columbus, Ohio
Services: Transportation (including road maintenance/construction and snow removal), fleet management, and refuse collection
Budget: $222 million
City population: 730,000
Fun fact: Half of the U.S. population lives within a 500-mile radius of Columbus.
A phone call away: Columbus, Ohio's 311 Call Center offers one-stop service.
Wouldn't it be great if we could dial one simple number or visit a Web site to find answers to all our problems? The Columbus, Ohio, residents can, thanks to the city's 311 Call Center.
The most notable addition to Columbus's 2006 communications strategy, this one-stop customer service center—housed in and managed by the Public Service Department—places the government at citizens' fingertips. “Now residents don't have to go through 200-plus numbers in the phone book blue pages and figure out who to call,” says director of public service Henry Guzmán.
Instead, constituents can dial 311 or visit www.311.columbus.gov to get answers to all their city-related questions, including street cleaning and repairs, refuse and trash collection, birth and death certificates, recycling drop-off locations, and hours of operation for public buildings.
With one phone call—or a few clicks of a mouse—residents can report graffiti, dead animals, potholes, and abandoned vehicles; schedule bulk trash pickups; or request that a restaurant be inspected.
“I was impressed with the high level of commitment the Public Services Department has made to the 311 system,” says Bryan Patterson, Department of the Year judge. “They have gone the extra step of publicizing the service in English, Spanish, and Somali.”
The call center, which was initiated by mayor Michael Coleman, also is a management tool that helps departments effectively handle citizen requests and concerns. The city's Department of Technology created custom software that routes information and service requests to responsible city agencies—while also tracking the progress of those requests. Because the software is integrated with the 311 Web site, residents can check on their service requests in real time via assigned tracking numbers. This allows the call center to provide a level of accountability not available in many cities. Plus, city managers can evaluate response times and analyze and display call data via the city's geographic information system.
By providing a non-emergency call center, 311 also clears 911 operators for real emergencies. Operators can transfer non-emergency calls to the 311 system.
The call center is open Monday through Saturday. Its 25 representatives have handled more than 208,000 calls and more than 138,000 service requests since its January debut.
— Victoria K. Sicaras