Untold story: City more responsive

March 07, 2003|By Martin O'Malley

WHEN MY administration first started, Baltimore's government was repeatedly criticized for not addressing illegal dumping.

Three years later, seven of eight complaints are handled in weeks, scores of people are arrested and charged, the backlog is down, response times have dropped from months to weeks -- yet, for example, no story in The Sun.

Since we began tracking calls with CitiTrack on Dec. 11, 2000, more than 597,703 customer service requests have been recorded and memorialized. Every service request is traceable and not one has been lost. In fact, more than 560,596 service requests, or 94 percent, have been closed by the responsible city agencies. All of these figures are through the end of February.

Our 311 system, created in March 2002, has responded to 656,546 calls, resulting in the creation of 221,498 customer service requests. Since Feb. 14, the 311 call center has responded to more than 50,000 snow and ice calls alone, with many of our employees working 24-hour shifts, taking naps on the floor. One of our employees even went so far as to shovel the walk of a constituent.

The number of outstanding service requests for dirty lots and alleys and illegal dumping cleanups has decreased from 2,717 to 619. The average response times for resolution decreased from 64 days to 15 days for dirty alleys, from 120 days to 94 days for dirty lots and from 31 days to 15 days for illegal dumping.

The amount of fines collected through enforcing sanitation rules more than doubled from our initial year to 14,526 citations that brought in $791,946.

Pothole complaints have decreased by 9 percent to 2,519 since the institution of a 48-hour pothole guarantee. The number of abandoned vehicles towed increased by 34 percent to 44,447, and the number of vehicles sold at auction increased by 17 percent to 10,553. So many abandoned vehicles have been towed that our impound lots are overflowing.

The number of housing inspections performed increased by 7,000. It is common knowledge among local government officials throughout the country that Baltimore is the first to have such a comprehensive capability, a fact reinforced by the overwhelming positive media coverage our efforts have received from The New York Times, The Boston Globe, the Toronto Star and Governing magazine.

CitiTrack and 311 should not be viewed as magic elixirs capable of curing Baltimore's municipal government of all its operational inefficiencies and deficiencies.

After a decade in which the city's work force was cut by more than 20 percent, the operational challenges are enormous. None of the people who abandoned the more than 14,000 properties in the city in the 1990s left behind an endowment for maintenance, boarding, grass cutting or cleaning. These CitiTrack tools do, however, provide managers, front-line employees and the public with mechanisms necessary to measure progress toward meeting goals, assess effectiveness and make more prudent decisions in the deployment of limited resources.

By issuing all callers a service request number that enables them to check the status of their requests 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is a newfound level of accountability that is beginning to permeate every level of government.

That the volume of calls to the One Call Center has risen to more than 60,000 a month is a clear indication that the public is increasingly relying on 311 to meet its city service needs. Our work is not done, but progress has been made in reducing incidences of crime, backlogs of illegal dumping complaints and response times to urban maladies such as potholes.

It is within this framework that our administration has strived to not only create but also to meet and exceed expectations for a more efficient, effective and responsive government.

So if I can play off the words of the legendary radio newscaster Paul Harvey, "And now you know the rest of the story. ... Good day."

Martin O'Malley is mayor of Baltimore.

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