Tuesday, December 6, 2011



I doubt that anyone was surprised at the Toronto audit report that one out of every five calls go unanswered when taxpayers call the hotline 311 service when they need help with municipal problems.
What I would like to see is an audit report into how many of the 80% of  taxpayers who do get through are satisfied.
Then there are the 10% who have to wait more than three minutes for someone to answer.
So it's not just the councillors who are dysfunctional.
I have had a ringside seat watching bureaucracy at all levels, beginning in 1957. It didn't start well.
I was thrown out of the first political meeting I ever attended, Whitehorse council. The mayor couldn't believe that the kid editor of the local newspaper actually wanted to watch and not just accept what he was told later.
Since then my attempts to observe and cut through red tape have gone downhill faster than an Olympic skier. If you think the politicians are bad, you should observe the uncivil service.
It can be symbolized by the spectacle of the typical five-man city crew digging a hole. There will be a foreman who of course just supervises. Then there is the brown noser trying to become the foreman by not doing anything. Then there is the guy with the headache who sits to one side, the guy who gets coffee and, oh yes, the guy who actually digs.
That is if they're not on their break.
The 311 service is relatively new in Toronto, but other cities like Ottawa and New York have them too. Except in Toronto, only half of the 108 staff meet the minimum daily target of dealing with 80 calls  while in the other cities the average number of calls taken is 90.
But then the Toronto staffers aren't exactly the cream of the uncivil servants. Some are more like the dregs, troublesome workers dumped by their managers when the 311 service began. It was designed to eliminate the mind-boggling 75 different numbers that the public had to call previously to get action, real or pretend.
The absentee rate early this year was 12%. So maybe some of the bosses are satisfied when an employee just shows up and don't mind them answering only 30 calls instead of 80.
The 311 service cost $38 million to establish and $19 million annually to operate. It is said this was a pet project of former mayor David Miller. Good for him!
It's much more useful to Toronto even at half power than all his attempts to strut on the world stage as an advocate for the environment and just about every other darling scheme of the left.
Now if we can only get it to work.
My local councillor, Peter Milczyn, is the politician who has done the most work on the trouble call centre. He grumbles that this great step forward in service was opposed by all senior managers. I would imagine this is still happening, because nothing bugs a commissioner more than workers not under their thumb determining a department has goofed.
This prompts the basic question about just why we need 311 in the first place. Heaven knows we pay city workers enough, so they should be happy to ensure they actually do a good job when they manage to work.
 Most municipal service issues are studied almost to death before they begin. So the grey areas and the loopholes should be known. It's not rocket science!
Yet we have 44 councillors with a couple of assistants each,  the mayor's staff and all the flunkies around each commissioner, who keep telling us how busy they are dealing with calls from the public.
Then there are the constituency offices of MPs and MPPs who also get the calls from all the people who haven't a clue as to who does what in government. Maybe the MP can help with better garbage collection instead of just making more of it.
The city's audit committee wants to see if parts of 311 can be privatized. Perhaps it would  work better if we just outsourced all dealing with complaints to some centre in India where they would answer 80 callers a day even if you aren't always sure what they're saying.

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