Last week we had 2 new additions to the city’s main web site (www.kentohio.org) that I think people will find very helpful. The first new component went on line April 1st — it’s the Citizen Action Center. This new link provides access to an ever expanding list of frequently asked questions and their answers while also providing residents a chance to enter service requests (e.g., fix a pothole) directly on-line. The second new item came complements of the new City Engineer, Jim Bowling, who really wanted a chance to put capital project information on the web site so that residents could have easy access to some basic information about what is going on where and when construction work will begin and end. Everybody talks about raising the bar on customer service but these are a couple of great examples of using technology to actually do it.
One of the things that I don’t think people realize about their city government is that there are really very few areas where we have the staff resources to send employees around town looking for things to fix. Even our Police spend less and less time actually on patrol because they get so many calls for service that they are always running around town. I wish we had the kind of depth where we could patrol for a lot of different problems but we don’t and it’s unlikely that is going to change anytime soon given our tight finances.
So with that in mind we rely on citizens to let us know when there’s something that needs our attention. I always tell people that they are the best set of eyes and ears we could ask for because nobody knows the neighborhoods better than the people that live there. They see things we probably wouldn’t notice even if we did have the people to be out looking for stuff.
It’s funny because when I get people calling in to report some problem or another I’m actually grateful but I can sense that the callers are often expecting me to argue or give them grief about calling in with a problem. I’m sure there are days when the city employees that answer the phones may not always seem excited to hear about a problem — but we understand that’s the business we chose to be in and if there weren’t any problems we wouldn’t need to be here — so I want to do anything I can to make it easier for people to report problems to us and that’s exactly what the new Citizen Action Center does. Here’s what the new page looks like:
The whole idea of the Citizen Action Center is to make it as convenient as possible to report a problem and to track our progress on fixing it. The technology allows us to assign a work order number to each request and people can log in to see the status of that work order.
Plus, since so many of our calls are fairly routine questions we’ve added a new library of Frequently Asked Questions and answers so that people can get an idea of how to handle something in Kent with just a few key strokes and a couple of clicks. As you might imagine there are many many questions that we need to eventually get posted so what you see now is just a start and we’ll keep adding to it all year long.
I’ve always been a believer that you hire the best people and then get out of their way and you’ll be amazed at what they can do for you. Well that’s exactly what our new City Engineer has done. He’s taking a whole new direction in managing his department and the City’s capital projects. He understands that capital projects are some of the most visible, expensive and important things that the City does so he wants to do everything he can to make sure that anyone that is interested can find out what’s going on, when things are happening and who to contact if they have questions. That’s what he’s done by putting all the capital project information on line.
Jim has made the information available either in a list format or with an interactive map. Here’s an image of the map (if you want to try the interactive version you have to go to his page):
Again, I really think this is just the beginning. I’m imagining video updates of really big projects like the Crain/Fairchild Bridge where you can see the progress in action and more importantly check to see what, if any, traffic problems you may want to avoid for a couple of days due to local construction impacts.
I don’t want to get all philosophical but as a City we’re striving to always do our job better and I think these are two great examples of small but important steps forward. I like to believe that excellence starts with a belief that there isn’t a right way, only a better way – and finding it takes people that push the limits on what’s possible and always try to deliver more than they promise.
My thanks to Jim Bowling and Suzanne Robertson who delivered on these two new additions to our City website.