Wednesday, February 12, 2014

25% jump in Toronto city staff complaints: Ombud

TORONTO - Members of Toronto’s civil service need to brush up on their people skills based on the complaints the city’s ombudsman received last year.

And Mayor Rob Ford warned if they don’t, they’ll be getting “pink slips.”

Ombudsman Fiona Crean revealed Wednesday that she saw an increase in complaints about municipal services last year and a jump in cases of “poor communication” by city staff.

In her annual report, Crean said her office dealt with 1,827 complaints last year — a 28% increase from 2012. Around 70% of those complaints involved “poor communication” by city workers — up from 55% in 2012 and 40% in 2011.

“It’s a whole range — it is not returning phone calls, it’s rudeness, it is problems that need fixing in a timely fashion such as basement flooding where no responses are occurring or little to no explanation is provided,” Crean said in a press conference at City Hall. “It is the notion that somehow it is the resident’s problem and not the public servant.”

The ombudsman’s office spent $12,000 on the annual report.

Ford — who campaigned on bringing “customer service excellence” to City Hall — said he supports the civil service but they are still far from perfect.

“They have to be responsive to the taxpayers,” he said. “I believe that they don’t understand who the boss is, the boss are the taxpayers.

“I think people are going to get pink slips if they don’t start responding to the taxpayers when they call,” he added.

Crean stressed she’s not talking about the whole public service but called the increase in complaints involving poor communications unacceptable.

“I think (management) has to enforce performance standards,” she said.

“Remember that the areas I look at are where things fail as opposed to where public servants are being successful.”

She stopped short of saying customer service was getting worse at the city.

“It has gotten worse from my perspective but that is a defined number of complainants,” Crean said.

“I think that the conclusion you can draw is that on the whole, the public service is under a great deal of stress, is delivering service well and there are exceptions and one area of real concern is the rise of poor and inadequate communications.”

Councillor David Shiner — the chairman of the city’s government management committee — said “customer service is waning” due to the high number of staff vacancies.

“We still have over 2,500 vacant positions that are funded,” Shiner said. “Now there is an effort back on by the city manager to hire up those vacant positions to provide better customer service.”

The Ombudsman’s annual report goes to city council next week.
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