By KEVIN MCCALLUM
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Got a complaint for City Hall? Well, now there’s an app for that.
Santa Rosa is rolling out a web page and mobile phone application called MySantaRosa that make it easier for residents to point out a problem, get answers to
common questions or simply make helpful suggestions to City Hall.
Now armed only with a smartphone, residents will be able to take a photo of a problem, email it to City Hall and then track how long it takes the city to fix it. There’s even a feature using GIS locator technology to pinpoint the location of the problem on a map.
“The idea is to make this so easy to use,” said Kendall Smith, president of the Government Outreach, the Pleasanton-based firm whose software powers the new system. “If someone is walking down the street and they spot a tripping hazard or a low hanging branch, they can take a picture and email it.”
In addition to making it easier to communicate with City Hall, the system could increase accountability of city staff. The system gives residents an estimate of long it will likely take to respond to a problem, and then alerts them when the complaint is closed, Smith explained.
“If you are not satisfied, then there is a place for you to add information,” he added.
The system is currently used by about 150 cities nationwide, including Rohnert Park, Smith said.
Santa Rosa City Manager Kathy Millison used the system when she was city manager of Clovis, and decided to implement it in Santa Rosa not long after she was hired in 2010.
“She’s a really big advocate of it. It really cuts down on the calls to her office,” Smith said.
Millison found that various city departments didn’t have a common system for tracking citizen complaints and calls for service, explained Kristie Bartlett, the city’s IT operations manager.
Residents would sometimes call several departments with the same issue, creating unnecessary extra work.
“It would go around and around and no one knew who had the item and there were a lot of people working on the same thing,” Bartlett said.
Millison approved purchase of the system in June of 2011 for a five-year contract worth a total of $66,000. The approval followed a formal request for proposals.
The MySantaRosa mobile app, which is available for free download for Android and Apple smartphones and tablets, stresses that people should not use the service for emergencies. It currently features 14 categories, from creek trail maintenance to water leaks to graffiti on fire hydrants to homeless encampments.
City officials decided what categories to include in the system. The app is most useful in handling “location dependent” issues, and the company suggested the city limit its use to those, at least initially, Smith said.
The service could be expanded at a later date to handle other types of interactions with citizens, Smith said.
The system is integrated with the city’s existing network of phone numbers and e-mail addresses and already set up to receive such information.
Complaints are forwarded to the appropriate city departments, where staff create work orders and identify someone responsible for following up, Bartlett explained.
City staff in the Public Works and Transportation Department have been fielding inquiries and comments from residents using the new system, but there have been some challenges, said Steve Kroeck, the department’s deputy director of field services.
Some people have been filing complaints anonymously, which makes getting relevant follow-up information challenging, Kroeck said. People have been “gaming the system” by sending emails under one category only to take issue with something entirely different, he said.
Lack of specificity is also a concern. Kroeck said the department recently received a complaint about a pothole on Stony Point Road. That’s all it said. For a road that runs from West College Avenue to Petaluma, that’s not terribly helpful, Kroeck noted.
The GIS compatibility is designed to improve exactly that problem, Smith explained.
There hasn’t been a spike in complaints or service calls yet, but that could be because the service hasn’t been publicized yet.
Despite the hiccups, Kroeck said the more ways for people to get into touch with the city, the better.
“Communication is a good thing. We work for the citizens,” he said.
For those who don’t have smartphones, there is a desktop version that guides people to answers to common questions and allow residents to send emails to the right department at City Hall.
The web page is: http://ci.santa-rosa.ca.us/Pages/MySantaRosa.aspx
You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. OnTwitter @citybeater