Last week, the Ombudsman, Fiona Crean, released her office’s 2013 annual report. It did not paint a pretty picture of the interface between the city’s bureaucracy and its residents. Complaints were up 28% over 2012 with a solid majority of them having to do with ‘poor communications and inadequate information provided by city staff.’
“It’s not returning phone calls, it’s rudeness,” Ms. Crean stated, “it’s problems that need fixing in a timely fashion such as basement flooding, where no responses are occurring or little to no explanation is provided.”
That probably only serves to confirm what many already believe about our civil servants. Unhelpful. Lazy. Rude. Overpaid and underworked, the lot of them.
It may be worth pointing out, I think, 2013 contained more than a few unexpected and unwelcome turn of events that put undue pressure on city services. The torrential rain of early July and the ice storm in late December spring immediately to mind. While no excuse for bad or uncooperative behaviour, especially if these so-called 100 year type storms begin happening on a more frequent basis, it would be charitable to chalk up at least some of the problems in communication and inadequate information provision to staff being caught both unprepared and undermanned for such unexpected turn of weather events.
As the report points out, there are more than 2500 vacant positions currently in the ranks of the city’s civil service. We hear about the big ones, the chronic shortages in departments like planning. Gapping, is the euphemism used to suggest that short staffing is a temporary situation. Let’s just get past this little rough patch. Then we can start filling the roster back up.
While it may warm the cockles of the cold, cold hearts of everyone who sees four guys gathered around one pothole in the road as proof the city is bloated with useless workers, the success of any municipality ultimately lies in its ability to provide residents with day-to-day services. That can’t be done on the cheap or without the necessary number of bodies to deliver the necessary services. Or, at least not yet, with robots. Believing otherwise is simply wishful, ideological thinking.
“There’s no question that resources are tight,” the Ombudsman said. “It’s a difficult time to be a public servant. The stress is tremendous, but there’s never an excuse for poor communication.”
Obviously one of the prerequisites to working for the city, particularly if it’s a job interacting directly with the public, should be a certain grace and unflappability in the face of even the harshest of approaches by those you’ve been hired to serve. It comes with the territory. Being surly or unfriendly only feeds into the anti-bureaucracy sentiment that bubbles perpetually just below the surface in the public’s imagination.
Interestingly, the report suggests that the antagonism isn’t purely a one-way street. “… complainants are becoming more hostile,” the Ombudsman writes. “Citizens have shouted at and cussed her staff, and security has had to be called to intervene.”
Ms. Crean generously talks about that dynamic in terms of people becoming more desperate. “There are more frustrated residents,” she told reporters which “may reflect ‘growing social inequality’”.
“We have more complaints from seniors, from people who are poor, from people with disabilities, people with diminished capacity.”
“People are becoming poorer; the waiting list for subsidized child care is over 15,000 now. The number of working poor has spiked from about 16 per cent to 21 per cent.”
And it probably doesn’t help when there’s an administration at City Hall that has forged its reputation as gravy stoppers. As much as the Ford team has picked away at perceived councillor extravagances like office budgets, snacks and retirement parties, it has also hit on, time and time again, finding efficiencies. No matter how many reports are paid for and come back telling everybody that the city runs a pretty tight ship and operates near peak efficiency, there’s always more to cut, more to slash and burn.
That’s the services you want and those that provide them to you, folks.
Never mind the fact that the mayor and his dwindling band of supporters consistently vote against all those things that the Ombudsman believes are making people more desperate and cranky. Subsidized child care. After school and nutritional programs. A continued lack of funding for the repair backlog for TCHC with a preference for selling off its stock instead.
It’s a double sided machete of underfunding programs and services while berating and belittling city staff for not providing those programs and services with a smiling face and peppy personality. Demanding excellent customer service without any sort of support for the chances of doing just that.
Little wonder everybody involved is cranky, frustrated and more than a little stressed out.
— complainingly submitted by Cityslikr