Improving Code Enforcement

Two years ago, the Council’s Public Safety Committee requested improvements to 311 and the Code Compliance Department. The Council’s Quality of Life Committee was briefed today on the status of those improvements.

There are some good benchmarks indicating positive changes: In 2004, the backlog of unassigned cases was 16,800. Today, that’s been reduced to 1,113. In 2003, the average time for complaints to be resolved was 64 days. Today, it’s 16 days, with only .1% overdue.

Part of the problem was also 311 input training. That’s been accomplished and is ongoing. A reconfiguration of the 311 system was also completed, allowing calltakers to give residents the estimated time the problem will be addressed and automating assignment of code complaints to code inspectors.

Other changes include providing a means to update residents on their complaints, conducting field audits to ensure inspectors are doing their jobs correctly, and working more closely with the City Attorney’s Office.

I would like your feedback. Do you see positive changes in 311 and Code Enforcement? Where do improvements still need to be made? Email me at

New Deadlines for City Service Requests

When you call 311, the city has deadlines by which departments should respond to your service request. These deadlines are called “Service Level Agreements” or SLRs.

For example, if you call 311 because there is a loose animal, the city has a self-imposed “deadline” to address the issue within 45 days. If you report graffiti on a traffic sign or signal, the city has 60 days to address it.

These deadlines are then used to let city departments know if they are meeting their deadlines (and doing a good job) or failing to meet their deadlines and need to improve.

The problem is that many of the deadlines are far beyond the average time it takes to address the issue. It’s like saying “I’m going to give myself two weeks to take out the trash. If I meet that deadline, I’ve succeeded.” Well, you typically take out the trash once a week, so you’ll always “succeed” and meet your deadline. And the fact is, you need to take out the trash every three days, not every seven days, so you need to give yourself a new deadline to reflect your goal.

The Council’s Quality of Life Committee, of which I’m vice-chair, recognized this problem and suggested that city staff come up with new SLRs or deadlines that are more reflective of how long it actually takes to get a job done. They have done so, and I’ve posted the new deadlines here.

Addressing graffiti on signs has gone from 60 days to 14 days. Dealing with loose (non-aggressive) animals has gone from 45 to 30 days.

Some of these response times are still too long, in my opinion, but there is tremendous progress. I’ve got some quibbles with a few items that have increased in time (down tree and emergency flooding has gone from 1 to 5 days), and I’ll be discussing these with staff. Overall, this is a great step.

City to Examine Improving 911/311

As part of the City’s new focus on improving customer service, the City Manager has put together a taskforce to determine how to improve the 911/311 system.

Right now, if you call 911 or 311, the same group of operators answers the call. The 911/311 system is currently under the authority of the Fire Department. The taskforce will look at organizational structure, training standards, and management issues, among other things.

The taskforce is being asked to address these issues expeditiously so that any suggested changes can be incorporated into the upcoming budget (our budget year runs from Oct. 2006 – Sept. 2007).

Council Quality of Life Committee Meeting: 311 and Trails

We had two agenda items today: COGNOS and the Citywide Trail program.

COGNOS is a computer program for manipulating city data, specifically 311 information. Data is not much use unless you can slice it and dice it and find patterns. COGNOS will allow us to really analyze 311 information. For example, we’ll be able to compare response times for different service requests, look at service requests by geographic area, and basically determine where the City needs to be improving. It’s going to be a very powerful tool, and will help us set goals for improvement. It will also give us concrete numbers to show residents whether the City is improving. Right now, staff is working with the Council to figure out exactly what types of reports we’ll want to run, and how to build the program.

The other agenda item was on our citywide trail system. I’m a big fan of hike and bike trails. My husband and I are out of the Katy Trail all the time, and I can’t wait for it to link up with the Old Trinity Trail.

We’ve got a master plan for our trail system, unlike most cities. We’ve also got more completed trail miles (about 85) than most cities. The goal is to triple that in a decade, which will complete our master plan. It’ll cost more than $100 million, but in addition to city money we’ll also seek grants and private funds.