Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Merdon Proposes 311 Call Center

Posted by David Keelan on Wednesday, August 2, 2006

As reported in the Baltimore Sun

Based on reports from other jurisdictions that utilize a 311 system it appears as though this would do what Merdon suggests.  Improve and streamline communications between government and citizens, would be quickly accepted by residents, and improve public safety by off loading calls to 911 centers.

I have to note Ken Ulman’s comments:

“He wants to emulate Mayor [Martin] O’Malley’s Citistat,” Ulman said, chuckling at the political incongruity of Merdon appearing to want to copy a program identified with O’Malley, a Democrat hoping to unseat Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

To set the record straight.  As the article points out the Baltimore City 311 center was established in 1997 under Mayor Kurt Schmoke.  Martin O’Malley became Mayor in 2000.  Additionally, 311 is not Citistat.  311 is one of many components of Citistat.  Every City Agency contributes data to Citistat and recent press reports indicate that those agency heads are not doing a very good job of keeping the information current.  In the beginning agenies updated Citistat almost monthly.  Now it seems they update Citistat quarterly.

I don’t think Merdon is talking about Citistat – nice spin Mr. Ulman.

A review of the Baltimore City Citistat website will clarify this for Mr. Ulman.  Additionally, Mr. Ulman will learn that Martin O’Malley “emulated” principles of the New York City Police Department when he conceived of Citistat.

What is CitiStat? CitiStat is an accountability tool based on the ComStat program pioneered in the New York City Police Department by Jack Maple. CompStat, utilizing computer pin mapping and weekly accountability sessions, helped the NYPD dramatically reduce crime and is employed today by several police departments around the world.

A number of citys have instituted 311 systems.  Here is a sampling:

City of Columbus
New York City
City of Detroit
City of Birmingham
City of Knoxville
City of Hampton, VA
Washington, DC
San Francisco (implementing)
Miami-Dade County
Columbia, SC
Los Angeles, CA
Las Vegas, NV
Chicago, IL
San Jose, CA
Akron, OH

I imagine, though I don’t know for sure, that Merdon got the idea as a member of National Association of Counties Steering Committee on Technology and Telecommunications.  He is also employed in the technology area and has been for some time. 

Given his business and government experience I am sure he has many more ideas on how to make government more effecient.

Of course this is no easy undertaking, but a rewarding challenge for those who would implement such a program.  Setting up a call center is a monumental task, and implementing and linking CRM and CRS systems, cataloging all the types of potential calls that would come in and where to route them, training operators on how to handle calls, linkage to existing call centers, ensuring existing hardware can handle such a system, etc.  It will take time to implement but may be worth it.

This holds enormous potential for squeezing out effeciencies in Howard County Departments.  It will not be inexpensive however the initial capital costs and ongoing operating costs may lower overall operating costs thus creating a savings for the County. 

Building a regional 311 center won’t be easy. Finance/budget issues, inter-jurisdication politics, and different processes would have to be carefully managed.  However, this is Merdon’t long term view.  Given his approach to government and technology matters he probably he has the credentials to broker an arrangement with surrounding jurisdictions.


2 Responses to “Merdon Proposes 311 Call Center”

  1. Hayduke said

    Yes, but is there really a demonstrated need for this, or is it just another politically-expedient expansion of government?

    Snarky, I know. Applauding a new budget item because your guy proposed it after devoting so much space recently to fiscal responsibilty, however, seems pretty partisan.

  2. hocomd said

    I don’t know if their is a demonstrated need for this.

    As I said, “It…may be worth it”. It “…holds enormous potential…” and it “…won’t be easy.” Honestly, I am luke warm to the idea until I see if it has eeked out effeciencies in jurisdictions that have implemented it, do they translate in to cost savings, and what it would cost.

    I would call my comments warm applause at this time because I feel it is worth exploring.

    What I know about 311 centers (any call center in fact) is based on my telecommunications background. Call centers can provide a great deal of efficiencies, better communications, better management tools, enhance public safety, enhance co-operation among different departments.

    I applaud the idea and believe that it will make government more accessible to citizens and businesses.

    Finally, many cities get funding for establishing and operating 311 centers in the form of grants from the Federal and State Govt.

    The impact to the budget is yet to be determined.

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