Hamilton starting new system for resident complaints this week

The city this week will start a new electronic system people can use to complain about things like potholes, burned-out street lights, drug houses and other problems they want to see fixed.

This system will be better than the old one, promises Brandon Saurber, director of the city’s new Department of Neighborhoods, which aims to improve life in Hamilton’s 17 parts of town.

Although the system no longer is connected with the phone number 311, its name will still contain that number. To de-emphasize the 311 concept, though, it now will be known as “MyHamilton 311.” It will launch just after midnight on Wednesday, because that also is known as “3/11 Day,” Saurber said.

“I tell people all the time: This is the best way to get anything done in the city, because you get a request number, and you can hold us accountable,” Saurber said. “And I relish the opportunity for us to prove ourselves in that regard.”

With the 311 system, “You can always go back to that service-request number that you get automatically as soon as you submit it, and say, ‘What’s the story on this?’”

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Improvements promised

Under the current 311 system, “the number resolved was about 96 percent” during 2018 and 2019 combined, Saurber said. “I looked at just ‘19, and I think it was still 4 percent open.”

The biggest types of complaints are potholes and street issues (14.4 percent), followed by tall grass and weeds (13.4 percent).

When city residents were asked to comment through social media about their experiences, a large majority said they were pleased with how quickly Hamilton responded to such things as repairs of specific potholes, street lights that weren’t working or other issues. Many said issues were fixed in a day or two.

A minority said they weren’t satisfied with responses, or problems were reported to be resolved that weren’t.

Richard Retherford used it twice, he said: Once for a pothole he reported on a Friday afternoon. It was fixed by the next Monday evening.

“Another time was about kids doing donuts and flying down the street at Joyce Park,” near the BMX track and the Badin HS baseball field, at a time when kids were practicing football and soccer, he said.

At the next week’s football practice, a police cruiser came through a couple of times, and there were “no issues with the cars being reckless after that,” Retherford said.

Resident Doris Howard, however, reported: "I used it once for low hanging branches blocking the school bus drivers' view."

When she received a response, “It was marked ‘completed’ or whatever term they use to close out an issue,” she added. “Not one single branch was removed and I gave specific details on the location of the tree.”

Some departments have been better than others at ensuring the problem is taken care of before such feedback is given, Saurber said. He doesn’t know exactly what percentage of the time that has happened, but it is within the 4 percent of unresolved issues, he said.

Part of the problem was training, which is being addressed. The other was a lack of communication between the internal asset-management software the city will continue to use, called Cityworks, and the software of the 311 system the city has used to take citizen complaints.
That new 311 software will cost $15,000 per year, up from $13,200 for the old one.

Cityworks tracks the equipment, man-hours and material needed for each job, as well as what was done to respond to each complaint. Because the soon-to-be-gone 311 system did not communicate well with the Cityworks system, “things could get orphaned,” he said. In those cases, such as when one part of city government tried to pass an issue to the appropriate department, the issues could get lost.

How it works

Here’s how the new system will work: People can use the app called MyHamilton (311). People with computers but no smartphones also can go to www.hamilton-oh.gov.

Users can take photos with their phones of the issue, such as a pothole, place a dot on a map of Hamilton, and describe the problem. If they see on the map someone has already complained about the same pothole, they can agree with the earlier complaint, and will receive “an update on when it’s completed,” Saurber said.

The will keep its longstanding goal of letting citizens know what’s happening within two business day Officials note that with some complicated issues, like health-department complaints, resolution can take weeks or months, even with the city working its hardest.

How it’s better

The new system should be easier to use.

“The categories we used last time were an internal development, without any external imput,” Saurber said. But this time, “We’ve used some citizen focus groups,” to see the most logical ways average people try to describe the complaints they have.

Under the old system, people were required “to understand what department handles a certain thing,” he said. “And it’s not really fair.”

The new system will ask follow-up questions to help people more easily direct their complaints to the correct department. For example, if they’re complaining about a missing metal cover in the street, the department that will handle the situation can vary.

If there’s a 24-inch-wide manhole cover, that needs to go to public works. But if it’s a 6-inch-wide utility lid, “that’s either gas or water. That needs to go to those guys,” Saurber said. “So what this does is help us route it, hopefully the correct place the first time.”

Another issue is abandoned vehicles, or cars that are parked in somebody’s lawn. If the car is on private property, it has to be handled by code-compliance officers. But if it’s on public property, or on the street, “police can handle it,” he said.

“The service is improved if we can get it to the right person, right away,” and the complaint doesn’t have to wait for a city employee to redirect it to the proper place, he said.

Other improvements:

1. From now on, departments will no longer be able to close complaints until they are resolved, although there will be exceptions. In the past, some departments were closing complaints when someone was assigned to handle them, but before they were fixed.

“But the residents get frustrated because they say, ‘Well, it’s not resolved, and you told me it is. Now, do I have to go back every day and make sure that you’ve actually done it?’” Saurber said. “Some departments handle 311s better than others. That’s one thing that’s going to be our responsibility, in my department, is to oversee this quality assurance and quality control.”

One exception to the no-closure-until-it’s-fixed rule is police investigations: Because of need for secrecy in drug or prostitution investigations, the city won’t be able to update people on those matters.

2. For complaints that take weeks or months to resolve, the city plans to more regularly update people on what's happening.

3. Also, when a closure email is sent when an issue is resolved, there will be a quality survey that lets people say, "Wait a second: You closed this out. This work is not done, or it's certainly not done to my satisfaction," Saurber said.

4. Some departments that needed more training are getting it.

How to get the new “MyHamilton (311)” app

Here’s how to get the new “MyHamilton (311)” app, which replaces the old one, which was called “311 Hamilton”:

  • People who have iPhones and other Apple devices and already have the "311 Hamilton" app will receive an automatic software update from the old one to the new "MyHamilton (311)" app. Depending on their phone settings, users may have to initiate the software upgrade.
  • But people who have Android devices and the "311 Hamilton" app will have to download the new 'MyHamilton (311)" app, in an app store.
  • "We're going to make a push to let the Android users be aware of this," said city Neighborhoods Director Brandon Saurber.
  • "The Apple users will know they have the new one when the logo changes from green to blue," he said.
  • People without smart phones can also access the 311 system through the Hamilton website, www.hamilton-oh.gov .

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