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Archive for Sunday, January 27, 2002

City service?

January 27, 2002

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City commissioners are right to try to make Lawrence's City Hall a more "user-friendly" place.

The deadline for registering rental properties in Lawrence is drawing near, so a local landlord went to City Hall this week to comply with the new city ordinance.

Walking in the building's main south entrance, he found the receptionist's desk empty. While seeking help at a nearby map of the building, he was noticed by a member of the city-county planning staff, whose offices are nearby.

Yes, indeed, he was told, you need to register that property. To do so, you just go to the Neighborhood Resources office at the far east end of the Riverfront Plaza building. After walking to Riverfront Plaza and learning that the first floor office can be accessed only from the east entrance, not the west, he finally finds his way to the appointed registration spot. There he is told, yes, indeed, you can register your property here. No, we don't take credit cards. We can take cash, but only if you have the exact amount because we don't have change. Or you can write a check. If you can't pay exact change or don't have your checkbook with you, you'll just have to come back or perhaps mail in your payment.

Lawrence city commissioners met in executive session on Thursday for City Manager Mike Wildgen's performance evaluation, so we don't know exactly what was said, but you have to wonder if stories like the one recounted above weren't what they had in mind when they told Wildgen they wanted city government to become more "user-friendly." They also decided to re-evaluate the city manager in six months, instead of the traditional year.

This is not the first time city government has been criticized for its lack of customer service. Not long ago, high priority was given to staffing the information/reception desk on the first floor, where most people enter City Hall, but no one was there to greet the landlord. He arrived during lunch hour, but what service-oriented business anywhere doesn't staff its main reception desk during the lunch hour?

The obstacles faced by the landlord were not insurmountable, but they certainly made his trip to City Hall less pleasant. Citizens, builders and developers regularly report that city staff members are less than helpful in guiding them through the various city requirements to complete a project. The situation is maddening both for local residents and for people from out of town who are trying to do business here. In some cases, they may find it so difficult to do business in Lawrence that they take their projects elsewhere.

Wildgen can't police every city employee's interaction with a member of the public, but he is responsible for setting a tone that is friendly and helpful to the people who come to City Hall or any city office in Lawrence. Wildgen is a respected city administrator who has served Lawrence in many ways, but city commissioners are right to instruct him to address this shortcoming in his performance.

One city commissioner indicated, "We've made measurable progress on our concerns" since Wildgen's last evaluation. Hopefully that trend will continue and City Hall soon will be a more service-oriented place.

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