CITY OF SANTA BARBARA

Draft Comments on Findings and Recommendations

1994-95 Santa Barbara County Grand Jury

Interim Final Report: Response to Citizen Complaints

Introduction

The City of Santa Barbara fully concurs with the premise of the County Grand Jury Report that government officials and staff should be responsive to the concerns and complaints of citizens. We welcome the attention to this issue and always are interested in suggestions for improving our ability to serve our citizens.

We believe it is important to have a citizen complaint response system which is easily accessible to all citizens, flexible to handle a wide variety of issues,, reliable in providing responses to all in a timely manner, and which is based on a positive, courteous and constructive attitude. We believe the avenues available to citizens to communicate with staff and elected officials of the City of Santa Barbara meet these goals.

These comments first address the Finding of the Grand Jury Report by providing additional information about City procedures currently in place for responding to citizen complaints. The comments then respond to Recommendations #la and #lb.

The City appreciates this opportunity to review this important issue.

City of Santa Barbara Citizen Complaint Response Procedures

All complaints received through City Hall, including the City Administrators Office, Mayor and Councilmembers, and the Clerk's office, are handled through the City Administrator's office. This includes complaints which are phoned in, letters received, or individuals who come in to discuss or report an item. Within the last year, a computerized tracking system has been implemented to facilitate logging, responding to and tracking complaints as well as providing summary information on the number and type of complaints received. Approximately 350 complaints are handled annually through this process.

Staff in all of the City Hall offices are familiar with procedures for taking information about the nature of the complaint and the individual and forwarding that information to City Administrator's staff. The complaint is forwarded to the appropriate departmental staff with direction regarding the type of response and a timeline. The individual making the complaint receives an immediate letter noting that the complaint is being reviewed and when a response will be available, usually within two weeks. Most responses are reviewed and signed by the City Administrator, her staff, the Mayor or a Councilmember.

Individual departments also receive complaints directly. The nature of the complaints and the type of response procedure varies. For example, a formal process is available in the Police Department to handle citizen complaints about police officers or in the Community Development Department for response to reports of zoning violations. Alternatively, questions or complaints about water billing procedures may be handled directly over the phone in many cases. If an issue cannot be resolved directly through the initial discussion, most Departments also have a response procedure which provides for documentation and follow up.

In any case, a citizen who is not satisfied with the response can contact any member of the City Council or the Mayor or the City Administrator. A citizen also may address the City Council during the Public Comment portion of every Tuesday meeting.

Probably more important than the specific procedures which are in place is the value the organization places on responding to citizen concerns. In the City of Santa Barbara, service to citizens is of the highest priority. Staff are trained to work positively with citizens to listen to their concerns and to address their complaints. Managers throughout the organization are held accountable and place a great deal of importance on responding to all complaints in a timely manner. The Mayor and Councilmembers expect and rely on staff to research and respond constructively to complaints forwarded through their offices.

Response to Recommendations

The City respectfully disagrees with the recommendations of the Grand Jury to either designate a single employee to be responsible for responding to all citizen complaints or to appoint an Ombudsman to act as an advocate for citizens. Centralizing the complaint response process would reduce the flexibility of the current system and in all likelihood increase the time required for response to most questions. All complaints would have to be routed to the single individual authorized to respond, who then would have to contact other staff members to gather information for a response.

The City believes that it is the role of all City staff to act as advocates for citizens and that it is unnecessary and inappropriate to create a position for this purpose. We believe that a positive staff approach to citizen/customer service can and should be maintained through management direction and example. Creation of an Ombudsman position would not result in improved service and would be an unnecessary expenditure of public funds.