Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Aldermen Blast City’s Call Center

Should you call 286-City to report a pothole? Don't bother, some aldermen say.

By - Jul 18th, 2019 01:36 pm
A large pothole on S. 25th St. just south of W. Greenfield Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

A large pothole on S. 25th St. just south of W. Greenfield Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

What should you do when you have a problem with a City of Milwaukee service? Call 286-CITY (2489).

At least that’s what city marketing and public officials will tell you. Now some council members, after issues with notifications and responsiveness, are suggesting otherwise.

“I’m at the point where the call center is pretty useless for me,” said Alderman Michael Murphy Tuesday morning at a Public Works Committee meeting. He said he encourages his constituents to call his office instead.

“I completely agree,” said Robert Bauman. “I tell people the same thing, ‘don’t even use the call center.'”

The committee members were expressing frustration that months after the issue was first debated publicly, city residents are still reporting issues and getting confusing status reports back.

The Unified Call Center is a section of the city’s Information and Technology Management Division (ITMD), which in turn is part of the Department of Administration. During normal business hours, 12 people staff the call center. On an average day, approximately 900 to 1,000 calls come in, according to ITMD policy and administration manager Richard Watt. “The vast majority of those are handled correctly.”

Much of the data the center collects, via calls, website or smartphone submissions, is turned over the Department of Public Works (DPW). Department workers were previously closing work orders if they were a duplicate, resulting in potholes, street light outages and other issues being listed as “Closed.” The work ultimately gets done, but until then citizens reporting issues are left in the dark on what is happening.

“[My constituents] walk away saying ‘this is just a scam system’,” said Murphy in April when the problem was first debated. “You’re leaving an impression on them that we’re not doing our job.”

“Why does it take you to come before a public hearing for us to beat you up when I put it in writing to you?” said Murphy to the DPW representatives. “I’m frustrated why it takes you so long to resolve something.”

In April, after multiple council members weighed in that it didn’t seem like a complicated problem to fix, Watt promised to resolve the issue within a week.

Did that happen?

Watt and City Engineer Samir Amin were called in front of the committee again on Tuesday. Amin said when it comes to potholes the problem has been addressed. Duplicates are now left open until the original report is addressed, which happens after an average of three days.

But problems still remain, with Ald. Cavalier Johnson telling the committee of a constituent who has repeatedly reported the same problem only to see it come back with responses filled with internal city acronyms.

“I don’t think constituents are asking for the moon. I just think they’re asking for wording that they understand,” said Johnson. “When they do report that information, it would help if the city would do its part to be forthcoming with what’s actually happening so they’re encouraged to keep calling that stuff in.”

“I agree,” said Amin.

“I don’t see why it’s so complicated that you can’t put in a field that has a little bit more narrative,” said Murphy.

There is still an issue with street lighting, something this writer has encountered first hand in reporting a street light out on the Holton Street viaduct and having it marked as closed. “On street lighting we need to add another statement,” said Amin.

“How about ‘in progress’? I don’t want to be the wordsmith here, but something other than resolved or complete,” said Ald. Nik Kovac. “It doesn’t seem to me from the outside like it should be that hard.” Kovac still encourages his constituents use the call center.

The committee held the item to revisit it again after the August recess.

The tongue lashing had a ripple effect. Multiple members of the Department of Public Works and other city departments were seen having what could charitably be described as “vigorous debate” in the hallway outside the meeting room.

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Related Legislation: File 181926

Categories: City Hall, Politics

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Aldermen Blast City’s Call Center”

  1. Edward Susterich says:

    My experience with the call center: always a prompt response, courteous, and accurate information in response to my query.

    In addition, other city departments were excellent in their responses– such as street lighting needing repair, forestry response to tree health; special pick up of tree branches, clogged street sewer, etc..

    Let the well-run departments do their job without alderperson interference. Overdue: the Mayor and Common Council need to address ghetto poverty.


  2. lccfccoop2 says:

    I’m in Alderman Murphy’s district and do often call him about neighborhood issues. BUT experience with 286-CITY isn’t all bad. On basic routine problems with garbage messes and tires dropped in the road they have been ok. But I’m one of those people willing to sit on the phone waiting to speak to a real person.

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