What can we do to make Dayton government more “citizen friendly?”

I might never have stepped foot inside City Hall if the city had done a better job of establishing a relationship with me, Joe Citizen. Instead, we started off on the wrong foot when a housing inspector told me I was screwing up by putting new garage doors on my $14,500 dump (it seems I had bought a “historic” dump, even though there were no covenants in the deed, or signs in the neighborhood).

Throughout the process of persecution, prosecution and proselytization by numerous city officials who filled jobs that no longer exist, not one actually seemed to care that I was just trying to build my part of the American dream. And sadly, we still don’t have a city hall that listens well, and follows through with any kind of systematic processes designed to make citizens feel respected and valued.

Recently, I’ve watched a friend try to open a small business, and had to listen to the numerous obstacles placed in his way. Another friend told me that her company is working on a $6 million dollar building/investment in Dayton- but, fears the company is about to throw in the towel and go elsewhere where business is easier to conduct.

I’ve often thought we needed a centralized ombudsman to collect and track complaints, which would be presented to the City Commission weekly- with status reports, so the commission could hold the City Manager accountable.

In doing some research for my business, I’ve been fascinated with the collaborative online Customer Relationship Management programs that help organizations collectively track and deliver service to prospects and current customers. Oracle, SAP, Salesforce.com are major players. Small businesses can use ACT! or Goldmine, but there is an emerging collection of Open Source systems like SugarCRM and vTiger.

It seems, there are already some companies targeting municipalities with this type of software- Mountain View CA has implemented a closed source solution- Comcate eFeedback Manager. And there apparently is a whole market segment of CRM for government:

Public Sector CRM Software and Strategy

CRM strategies and CRM software have become a powerful combination in helping not for profit, public sector and government agencies meet their organizational missions. Public sector CRM comes in many forms and may include Constituent Relationship Management, Customer Relationship Management, economic development, outreach programs, trade promotion, case management, help desk, call center, 3-1-1 and citizens self service to name only a few.

The purpose of CRM varies by governmental agency or entity, however, there is always a common focus on the customer relationship – whether your customer is an internal civil servant, a citizen or anybody else.

via Public Sector CRM Software.

I don’t think that software alone is the answer to our problems- I believe we need to re-task the City Commission as a board of directors who must keep the City Manager (our CEO) focused and on mission, with clear goals and objectives. However, that which you don’t measure, you can’t improve (at least that’s what Dr. Mike Cleary taught in QBA 301 at Wright State)- and without some kind of tracking system for complaints and requests, we can’t even start making the kind of changes we need to see if we want to make Dayton great again.

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Civil Servants are People, Too Recent comment authors
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Civil Servants are People, Too
Civil Servants are People, Too

I agree that the City should respond to valid complaints.  However, the biggest problem is the lack of education in matters of civics and laws.   People who complain about the City often don’t understand the laws or regulations they are being asked to follow.   So they blame the City workers.   I’m sure there are a few bad apples, but a large percentage of the complaints come from people not knowing or not following the law.

The example above is a case in point – Historic districts are a zoning issue.  Realtors and attorneys are paid to know these things when selling a home.  They should’ve told you about the issue.   (By the way, it would be inappropriate to put a historic “covenant” in a deed, because if the historic zoning later changed, you would have to track down the person ( or their heirs) who put the covenant in place to change the deed.)

Another example – Many building and permit issues happen because the architect or builder failed to follow the Ohio building codes.   It should not be the City’s job to tell an architect how to read the codes.   The City should not approve plans that don’t follow state code.    But it’s easier to complain than to follow the rules.

When a citizen starts a fight with a police officer, should they complain about getting hurt?   If a citizen fails to maintain his/her home, should they complain when they get cited for violations?  

If a child wants to eat nothing but ice cream, the good parent says no.
Sometimes people complain because they simply don’t like the answer.

PS.  Perhaps if you explained your friend’s problem for us, your faithful readers could help figure out a solution.