CITY OF SANTA MARIA

OFFICE OF THE MAYOR

July 7, 1995

Honorable Judge Melville,

This letter is to transmit the City of Santa Maria formal response to the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury's Interim Final Report dated April 26, 1995. According to Penal Code Section 933, the City has 90 days or until July 26, 1995, to reply to the Grand Jury Report. This letter is intended to satisfy that reporting requirement.

The Grand Jury's report makes the following recommendations to all of the affected agencies:

1. Designate one employee in the County/City organization to take complaints and coordinate their resolutions with the operating departments.

2. If #1 does not address the problem of complaint resolution, then Santa Barbara County and the Cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara should establish an Ombudsman position to coordinate complaint handling and resolution. The Ombudsman should be impartial and serve as a buffer between government and the citizen.

City staff and the individual department heads have reviewed the Grand Jury report and have discussed its recommendations and how the various City departments handle citizen complaints. The City Council reviewed the report at their July 5 meeting, reviewed the staff recommendations, and have finalized the City's recommendations to the Grand Jury which are listed below. A copy of the July 5 City Council report is also enclosed with this letter, which explains the staff recommendations in more detail.

It is the City's policy to handle complaints as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It would be unwieldy to require that all complaints be channeled through one person in the City. That person will not be knowledgeable about every aspect of City operations and would not be able to provide information or answers without researching the issue first. It would be much more effective to have the staff member who has responsibility for a particular area to respond directly. Not only will this person be able to answer questions knowledgeably, but he/she would be better able to assist with solutions and alternatives.

Citizens calling the City may already know which department or person can fix their problem and contact that employee directly. To be told that all complaints have to go through a third party delays a response and overlays another level of bureaucracy to complaint response. In our opinion, it does not provide customer service in the most efficient way possible.

In actuality, the City Manager's Office is designated as the official complaint office, if someone needs assistance and does not know who to contact. Likewise, City Councilmembers also function in this capacity as elected officials. City Councilmembers who receive complaints either send them to the operating department with responsibility for the area of concern, or channel them on to the City Manager's Office for handling. The City Manager's Office has a specific procedure for handling complaints as outlined above and assures that complaints don't "fall through the cracks." In addition, the City Manager is always aware of the more critical or complex complaints and becomes personally involved to insure their resolution and makes sure any City operational changes that become necessary are made. He also personally meets with citizens who come in to complain and want to "go to the top" to talk about their concerns or problems.

If a single employee is not designated to handle complaints, the Grand Jury has suggested that an Ombudsman position be created. The County Counsel has advised that an Ombudsman can be appointed to disseminate information, facilitate the resolution of disputes, serve as a liaison between members of the public and government officials, and bring grievances to the attention of the officials. An Ombudsman could be designated to perform an advocacy or mediation role, which the Grand Jury feels would help avoid costly and prolonged litigation.

The Grand Jury assumes that citizens need an advocate to approach the City to resolve complaints. It is the elected City Council who functions as the community's advocate and liaison with the City organization. In addition, the City Manager, and to some extent the City Attorney, also function in that capacity as the City Councils representatives to assist citizens in a neutral, liaison fashion and to bring grievances to the attention of elected officials.

To appoint someone outside the City organization implies that person would not be familiar with how the City operates; this lack of knowledge would decrease the position's efficiency and efficacy, especially since one of the primary duties would be the dissemination of information. To appoint someone who isn't paid by the City who acts as a volunteer raises problems of accountability, authority to solve problems, and ability to handle a critical function in a volunteer capacity. This is critical since the Ombudsman position is supposed to facilitate the resolution of disputes. To suggest that a special position of Ombudsman be created and funded to handle only complaints raises issues of staffing and responsibilities and the fiscal ability of the City to fund a position that only handles one responsibility. To establish one position to handle not only the County of Santa Barbara but the Cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara as well again brings up issues such as accountability, knowledge of the organization, and actual ability to solve problems.

Based on the above information, it is the City Councils recommendation not to appoint one employee to handle complaints nor to appoint an Ombudsman position. Rather, it is recommended that the City Manager's Office continue to be designated and used as the official complaint resolution office for the City organization and its citizens. In recognition of the Grand Jury's concern that citizen complaints be handled in a consistent fashion, the City Manager will develop a Complaint Policy that will formally commit to writing the City's policy, by department and for the City Manager's office, for handling citizen complaints. This policy will insure that all City departments are handling complaints in a consistent fashion and will provide citizens with written information on how the City handles complaints.

The City of Santa Maria welcomes this opportunity to respond to the Grand Jury, and hopes that the information provided demonstrates the high priority that the City places on solving citizen complaints. Any further questions regarding the City's handling of citizen complaints may be directed to Tim S. Ness, City Manager, at 925-0951, ext. 200.

ROGER G. BUNCH

Mayor

Enclosure

City Council Report Dated July 5, 1995.

___________________________________________________________________________

COUNCIL AGENDA REPORT

July 5, 1995

MEMO TO: City Council

FROM: City Manager

SUBJECT: RESPONSE TO SANTA BARBARA COUNTY GRAND JURY INTERIM REPORT REGARDING THE HANDLING OF CITIZEN COMPLAINTS

RECOMMENDATION

That the City Council review and provide input to staff recommendations for the City's response to the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury Interim Report regarding the handling of citizen complaints, and direct the City Manager to transmit the Councils response to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court and to the Grand Jury, and to file a copy of the Councils response with the

City Clerk.

BACKGROUND

Section 933 of the California Penal Code allows the County Grand Jury to investigate agencies of local government within its jurisdiction. The objective of the Grand Jury's investigation into this matter is to ascertain if local governments have any established procedures for the filing of and responding to citizen complaints regarding governmental services or actions. The affected agencies include Santa Barbara County and the Cities of Buellton, Carpinteria, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Santa Barbara, Santa Maria and Solvang.

DISCUSSION

On April 26, 1995, the City of Santa Maria received the attached report from the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury regarding the handling of citizen complaints. As a governing body, the Council must respond to the Grand Jury's report within 90 days of its receipt, which gives the Council until July 26, 1995 to reply to the Grand Jury's report.

The report states that Grand Jury members reviewed various citizen complaints received by the Grand Jury and interviewed various government officials regarding the procedures for processing citizen complaints. The report discusses primarily those interviews held with Santa Barbara County officials. A representative of the Grand Jury did contact the City of Santa Maria City Attorney to inquire how that office handled barking dog complaints. The City Attorney was under the impression that he was answering questions regarding the disposition of barking dog complaints, and was not made aware that an official investigation was being conducted regarding the City-wide system for handling complaints. The City Manager was not contacted by any member of the Grand Jury regarding the City's system for handling citizen complaints.

Based on what appears to be interviews largely with representatives from Santa Barbara County, the Grand Jury has made the following findings: 1. that no definite procedure exists for handling citizen complaints for Santa Barbara County or any city contacted within the county; and, 2. that citizens do not know how to initiate a complaint and do not have an assurance that a complaint will be heard and decided within a reasonable period of time.

The Grand Jury's report makes the following recommendations to all of the affected agencies:

1. Designate one employee in the County/City organization to take complaints and coordinate their resolutions with the operating departments.

2. If 11 does not address the problem of complaint resolution, then Santa Barbara County and the Cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara should establish an ombudsman position to coordinate complaint handling and resolution. The Ombudsman should be impartial and serve as a buffer between government and the citizen.

Staff has reviewed the Grand Jury report and discussed its recommendations and how the various City departments handle citizen complaints. The department heads also reviewed the report at the June Department Head meeting and made their recommendations to the City Manager. Several issues are raised when dealing with citizen complaints: 1. how is a complaint defined? 2. how are actual complaints currently received/coordinated? and, 3. the role of City departments and the City Manager's Office in handling complaints.

1. How Is A Complaint Defined?

The City receives a variety of daily contacts - in person, on the telephone, and by letter - asking for some kind of assistance. Requests for assistance generally come in one of three forms: 1. a request for service, 2. a request for information, and, 3. a complaint. It is estimated that approximately 80% to 90% of the contacts that the city receives are either requests for service or requests for information.

Requests for service range anywhere from tree trimming, sidewalk repair, copies of documents, mailing of employment flyers/applications, water service hook-up, water line repair, initiation of trash pick-up services, or pothole repair, to name a few.

Requests for information might include wanting to know when the City Council meets and where to pick up an agenda, what Recreation classes are available, what hours the Library is open, directions to the landfill, how to obtain a copy of a Police report, when is trash pick-up when there is a holiday, or how to obtain a business license. By way of note, the City receives a significant number of calls for service or information that are under the jurisdiction of the County of Santa Barbara.

A contact is generally defined as a complaint when someone is not satisfied with a service or information he/she has received, when someone thinks the City or its employees) have done something wrong or illegal, or someone has already requested a service or information and no action or unsatisfactory action has been taken.

2. How Do Departments Currently Receive/Coordinate Complaints?

With eight operating departments, the city is of a size where departmental areas of responsibility are generally evident to the community. Citizens who have a complaint and already know which department handles the particular area of concern will contact the department directly. Complaints are directed to staff members with the direct responsibility for handling the area of concern. If a citizen has already had contact with such a staff member and is not satisfied with the results, the person will be referred to the Department Head for further resolution.

All City departments receive direct complaints. The Public Works Department gets more complaints than any other department, by virtue of its size and areas of responsibility. Typical inquiries include trash pick-up problems, especially around MTO days and holidays; landfill fees; water rates; quality/frequency of street maintenance; traffic conditions (including traffic signal timing) ; sidewalk buckling; broken water pipes; and the condition of flags flying from the City Hall flagpole.

The Code Enforcement Office also receives a high volume of complaints. Typical complaints include barking dogs and other animal related concerns; disabled automobiles parked in residential areas; empty lots with trash and/or weeds; alleys where trash is dumped (old furniture, mattresses, etc.) ; illegal dwelling conversions; home occupations; signs in violation of the City's sign ordinance; and, habitation of recreational vehicles. Code Enforcement also publishes a monthly activity report that is reviewed by both the City Attorney and the City Manager which shows a numerical tally of cases pending, cases resolved, and new cases received.

Citizens can listen to recorded information about services and leave messages for assistance or problems. "Hot Line" telephone numbers are available for graffiti, solid waste, and street lights. The Recreation and Parks Department publicizes its graffiti hotline through newspaper ads, fliers on bulletin boards, news releases, and by telephone to those who call the office. The Public Works Department publicizes the solid waste hotline in the news releases for Mandatory Time Of f (MTO) days and in the newspaper. The street light hotline was publicized in a news release two months ago at its inception.

3. The Role Of The City Manager's Office In Handling Complaints

Those citizens who need help defining a problem or clarifying a complaint, or who do not know where to go for help are directed to the City Manager's Office. Both professional and support staff in the City Manager's Office respond to and assist with citizen complaints. If City Manager staff can determine who in the organization the citizen needs to talk to, staff will make arrangements for the two parties to either meet or talk.

If it is not immediately evident who in the City can help, City Manager staff will take down the complaint information and either resolve the situation and get back to the citizen, or arrange for another staff person in another department to assist. Citizens are never left "hanging," and City Manager staff always make sure the citizen gets either a telephone call or a letter indicating who will be helping them, what has been done, or what steps need to be taken for the problem to be resolved. Names and telephone numbers of staff members who can provide further information or assistance are also provided.

For tracking purposes, letter complaints received in the City Manager's Office are monitored for follow-up and filed in an annual complaint file. Complaints received by telephone or in person are entered into a computer log and monitored for follow-up and resolution. If a code enforcement problem is received in the City Manager's Office, a supply of the forms needed to file a code enforcement complaint are kept in the office and mailed or given to those wishing to file such a complaint.

There is also a suggestion box in the City Hall hallway, where citizens may fill out a form if they have a problem, question, suggestion or complaint. The forms are available in English and in Spanish. The suggestion box is checked once a week, and the forms and their contents are either responded to by City Manager staff or the appropriate operating department. In those cases where complaints are sent to operating departments, the person filing the form is either called or notified by letter regarding the status of his/her filing. A log is kept noting the disposition, follow-up, and resolution of items from the suggestion box.

Response to Grand Jury Findings

The Grand Jury has made two findings: 1. that the City designate one employee to handle complaints; and, 2. if the "one employee system" does not work, the position of an Ombudsman should be established. The staff recommendations regarding a response to these findings are listed below:

It is the City's policy to handle complaints as quickly and as efficiently as possible. It would be unwieldy to require that all complaints be channeled through one person in the City. That person will not be knowledgeable about every aspect of city operations and would not be able to provide information or answers without researching the issue first. It would be much more effective to have the staff member who has responsibility for a particular area to respond directly. Not only will this person be able to answer questions knowledgeably, but he/she would be better able to assist with solutions and alternatives.

Citizens calling the City may know which department or person can fix their problem and contact that employee directly. To be told that all complaints have to go through a third party delays a response and overlays another level of bureaucracy to complaint response. In our opinion, it does not provide customer service in the most efficient way possible.

In actuality, the City Manager's Office is designated as the official complaint office, if someone needs assistance and does not know who to contact. Likewise, City Councilmembers also function in this capacity as elected officials. City Councilmembers who receive complaints either send them to the operating department with responsibility for the area of concern, or channel them on to the City Manager's Office for handling. The City Manager's Office has a specific procedure for handling complaints as outlined above and assures that complaints don't "fall through the cracks." In addition, the City Manager is always aware of the more critical and complex complaints and becomes personally involved to insure their resolution and makes sure any City operational changes that become necessary are made. He also personally meets with citizens who come in to complain and want to "go to the top" to talk about their concerns or problems.

If a single employee is not designated to handle complaints, the Grand Jury has suggested that an Ombudsman position be created. The County Counsel has advised that an Ombudsman can be appointed to disseminate information, facilitate the resolution of disputes, serve as a liaison between members of the public and government officials, and bring grievances to the attention of the officials. An Ombudsman could be designated to perform an advocacy or mediation role, which the Grand Jury feels would help avoid costly and prolonged litigation.

The Grand Jury assumes that citizens need an advocate to approach the City to resolve complaints. It is the elected City Council who functions as the community's advocate and liaison with the City organization. In addition, the City Manager, and to some extent the City Attorney, also function in that capacity as the City Councils representatives to assist citizens in a neutral, liaison fashion and to bring grievances to the attention of elected officials.

To appoint someone outside the City organization implies that person would not be familiar with how the City operates; this lack of knowledge would decrease the position's efficiency and efficacy, especially since one of the primary duties would be the dissemination of information. To appoint someone who isn't paid by the City who acts as a volunteer raises problems of accountability, authority to solve problems, and ability to handle a critical function in a volunteer capacity. This is critical since the ombudsman position is supposed to facilitate the resolution of disputes. To suggest that a special position of Ombudsman be created and funded to handle only complaints raises issues of staffing and responsibilities and the fiscal ability of the City to fund a position that only handles one responsibility. To establish one position to handle not only the County of Santa Barbara but the Cities of Santa Maria and Santa Barbara as well again brings up issues such as accountability, knowledge of the organization, and actual ability to solve problems.

Based on the above information, it is the staff recommendation not to appoint one employee to handle complaints nor to appoint an Ombudsman position. Rather, it is recommended that the City Manager's office continue to be designated and used as the official complaint resolution office for the city organization and its citizens. In recognition of the Grand Jury's concern that citizen complaints be handled in a consistent fashion, the City Manager will develop a Complaint Policy that will formally commit to writing the City's policy, by department and for the City Manager's office, for handling citizen complaints. This policy will insure that all City departments are handling complaints in a consistent fashion and will provide citizens with written information on how the City handles complaints.

Impact to the Community

It is important that citizen complaints be handled in the most efficient, expeditious, and courteous manner possible. The continued designation of the City Manager's Office insures an entire staff of five office employees (four fulltime, one parttime) are available to assist with complaints. It also makes the City Manager aware of complaints being filed, what's being done to resolve them, and makes him available to meet with citizens upon request. Citizens may also continue to contact City Councilmembers to discuss their concerns. Rather than having one person to assist with complaints, five City Councilmembers and the five staff members from the City Manager's Office are available.

Fiscal Considerations

The designation of City Manager's office staff as complaint coordinators insures maximum usage for existing employees and does not require the hiring of additional staff members.

TIM S. NESS

ATTACHMENTS

1) Grand Jury Interim Final Report dated April 26, 1995.

2) Draft Letter of Response to the Grand Jury Report