California city tracks complaints online

Bakersfield, Calif., city officials take citizen complaints so seriously that they're installing an automated Web-based system that will track and direct problems with potholes, gripes about graffiti and moans about missed trash pickups.

"This is simply an additional way for the public to contact the city," said Bob Trammell, the city's management information systems director. Residents have been able to call or e-mail agencies with complaints, but he said the city has had a difficult time tracking the number of complaints it receives and what responses it gives.

"The city council has asked questions in the past that no one has been able to give an easy answer to: How many potholes have been reported in this particular ward? How many incidents of graffiti have been reported in that ward?" Trammell said.

Trammell said the city couldn't find a program to suit its needs, but with the help of Metastorm Inc., an e-process automation software developer, Bakersfield developed a workflow management system.

Under the centralized system, which will be ready by February, residents will be able to link to the complaint section of the city's home page (www.ci.bakersfield.ca.us); plug in key words or use a pull-down menu of frequent complaints; enter optional information, such as name and address; and click a button to send it off, Trammell said. The information will be routed through the city's intranet to the appropriate agency.

The new system, which cost about $19,000, will make city officials more accountable and reduce paperwork, he said.

Eventually, Bakersfield plans to use the workflow management software for budget transfers between departments to cut paperwork and to save time. The way transfers are made now, paperwork is shuffled among several department heads and city officials, which takes a lot of time, Trammel said.

The new system would pass information electronically among city officials, automatically track who had looked at it, whether it's been approved and even forward it to another official if someone on the list is on vacation, Trammell said.

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