Thursday, October 01, 2015

chiraq 311 callers will get used to new delhi english with a hindi accent...,

theatlantic |  Cash-strapped cities have long looked at privatizing services or selling off assets as a way to save money, but Chicago in particular has a spotty record with the practice. In a move orchestrated by Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard Daley, the city sold off its parking meters to a private firm, allowing the company to reap the revenues in exchange for a one-time, upfront payment. But the deal has been widely criticized as a loser for the Windy City. The firm has already made well over half as much revenue as the $1.2 billion lump sum it paid to Chicago, and it will continue to  earn 100 percent of the revenue for nearly seven more decades under the agreement. Selling off the parking meters and privatizing services is  like “burning your furniture to heat your house,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the AFSCME Council 31, the union that represents city employees.

Emanuel, a Democrat, ran for office criticizing the parking-meter deal, and in his budget speech last week he specifically pledged not to sell off city assets. That sale, and the political blowback it generated, is now cited as a cautionary tale for mayors nationwide and has slowed the move to privatization that began more than a decade ago.

“I think since then the enthusiasm for privatization has tempered somewhat,” said Ron Littlefield, the former mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Littlefield, who left office two years ago, told me that when they looked at privatizing services, they focused on those “that don’t touch citizens directly.”

In some ways, the 311 hotlines have become a victim of their own success. The more calls come in, the more people you need to answer the phone. The system had grown so popular in Chattanooga, a city of 170,000, that the call center frequently ran behind, Littlefield said, “because you just cant get people to keep up with the calls.” But rather than outsource its operations, the former mayor said that, like other cities, Chattanooga focused on encouraging residents to contact 311 through its mobile app when possible. Reporting a pot hole, for example, is now as easy as sending a photo with embedded GPS coordinates—no phone call and no operator needed.