If you’ve seen television portrayals of police “CompStat” meetings — where precinct commanders are grilled about why reports show crime is up in their neighborhood — you might have seen echoes of that at Monday’s Evanston City Council meeting

If you’ve seen television portrayals of police “CompStat” meetings — where precinct commanders are grilled about why reports show crime is up in their neighborhood — you might have seen echoes of that at Monday’s Evanston City Council meeting

The aldermen got reports about calls to the city’s 311 service — and department heads whose units received the most calls for service had to explain what they were doing about it.

Sue Pontarelli, who manages the 311 operation from police headquarters, reported that the most frequent issues residents raised during the service’s first three months of operation included missed trash and recycling pickups and broken parking meters.

Joellen Earl, who heads the city’s administrative services department, told aldermen more than half of the 216 reports came from city employees who noticed the problem.

And she suggested that with 2,400 meters in the city that number of problems wasn’t all that bad — especially given that most of the time the problem was fixed simply by replacing batteries in the meter.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said getting new batteries installed promptly is a smart move for the city — because a dead meter doesn’t earn the city any parking revenue.

There was no discussion of whether the city has a preventive program to replace meter batteries before they die.

Public Works Director Suzette Robinson said the high number of calls for missed trash pickups is in part a result of the switch last fall to a new trash hauler.

She said that because the city has a mixed pattern of pickups from curbside and from alleys it takes drivers a while to learn the routes — and when a regular driver goes on vacation, a substitute may have to learn the route all over again.

She also claimed that some of the calls are coming from people who don’t put out their trash by 7 a.m. as city rules require.

When a new driver decides to work a route in a different pattern, Robinsons said, somebody who could count on not having their trash picked up before 10 a.m. may find the truck has already gone by when they put it out at 9:30 a.m.

Joe McRae, the assistant to the city manager who organized the 311 program, says the city will have a mobile phone app available for 311 by the fall and is also looking at adding text messaging capability.

Top: 311 manager Sue Pontarelli.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

Join the Conversation


  1. 311 response time and are calls handled even necessary

    Quote from the story "…more than half of the 216 reports came from city employees who noticed the problem."

    I address all the problems that have to be resolved by a city department—

    You would think city employees would know what department to call directly to address the problem(s).  Why call 311 and go through another step ?

    Is there any comparison of the speed with which a problem gets to the person in the department who has the authority to fix the problem ?   I.e. if I see a street light or large area out I call/phonemail the Streets Dept. directly or a large area the police for a large area if after hours so they can contact an engineer.  What is turn-around time when a 311 gets a call about a large area of lights out, for example ?

    Aside from real items that have to be addressed—and many address faster and better by calling the department directly—I suspect a large percent of the calls are made for items the person is too lazy to think about or check on themself.  All one has to do is observe the questions "educated" people ask at EPL or NU library—most of which could be found by using the electronic catalog in one minute but instead they want the librarian to do the same thing for them.

    When will people learn that every extra level of bureaucracy, cost money.


    P.S. Note Trib story today about a city with a library board [with expenses] but no library; a board to administer a handful of street lights; etc..  We seem to want to create a new bureaucracy for every problem [or Council to pay for votes] instead of having a lean government that not only costs less but is more experienced—and closer to the problem—and held responsible instead of passing it off to some other office.   Township is a good example.

  2. That’s the point of 311

    That the city employee should not have to look up from a list of dozens of numbers to call in a broken meter, graffiti, dangerous sidewalk, downed tree limb, etc.  That anyone can just dial 311 and call in a problem means that patterns can be noticed and records kept in one neutral place.  AND, 311 has an email acknowledgement and a follow-up. 

    When I called about three tires dumped on my street to 311, now I know that the police and Streets and Sans are aware in case someone tries dumping again, or in a different spot.  311, it's a good thing.

    1. Not Impressed

      I went to the City departments page for Public Works [street repair] and filled out the form about a hole that had appeared in a street.  When I hit 'Submit' it pops up a screen wanting all kinds of information about me including a 'password' for '311' records.  It says it marks certain fields that need to be filled out but I would take alot of imagination to guess which were actually marked.  Still I started to fill in a password when it jumps to another screen—much like the original information page.  I have no idea whether the message actually went through or not.  Not impressed.  The reason I used email was so I would not forget, so I'd not have to deal with a bureaucrat who was probably located in India anyway and would keep me the phone for 1/2 hour while looking up procedures in several manuals and to get to the people who actually handle the work.

      Would I use it again ? No.


      BTW The problem is a hole [currently small but deep and surrounding area looks weak] that opened in the street at Orrington and Dartmouth near where the city [contractors] recently did work.   Why the city needs more info about me to check this is hard to understand unless they feel they must meet quotas !

      1. Street Lights on for three days

        Sat. through Labor Day the street lights from at least Clark to Noyes and at least Sherman to Sheridan were on all day.

        Don't any city employees, including Streets and San. employees live in Evanston and notice these things ?  I even  saw city trucks drive through this area—but lights never went off.

        With the city budget problems and the cries for wind-power and environmental causes, why does the city employees notice these things. 311 off-hand did not recall anyone calling before I did.

        However when large blocks of lights are off for several nights, neither police or city employees or Streets and San. employees don't seem to notice—I know I've seen them driving through these areas and even when I mention it they "had not noticed."  But then the streets are so dark residents in these area don't notice until I mention it.

  3. Street lights

    So they should call someone out on a holiday weekend at double time pay to save a couple dollars in electricity??

    1. Who is the city’s electric vendor—that is so inexpensive ?

      If the city can run street lights for three days for "a couple of dollars', I'd like to know who supplies its electricity and how the residents can get in on the deal.

      Does the city pay 'double time' for Saturday?  Are wages so high that three days of electric would not cover the cost of an employee to flip a switch to turn them off ?  Its not like finding out why and repairing lights when they are out [unless that is just flipping a switch someone forgot about].


      1. Emergency Call out

        If there is no one scheduled to be working that day then an employee(s) must be called in – DOUBLE TIME – 

        What if there is some issue that would take hours or days to resolve, or needs multiple workers? Do you want the city to pay overtime for that …. or worry about it during regular work hours? 

        Flipping a switch … really … do you actually believe your street lights are turned off and on by a person? Maybe we should go back to gas street lamps and have a lamplighter make the rounds every night. 

        As far as the pay of the city workers – call a union electrician and see what they charge for "emergency" calls before you start on the over paid employees rant ….

    2. Street lights

      It is probably displayed somewhere, but Sunday night I called 311 to report all street lights from Sheridan to Asbury and Noyes to [thru] Lincoln were out.  311 said to leave a phone mail message or call the police–which I did.

      Most surprising I was the first to contact the police.  As with past large areas being out, I was the first to call 311/police. I guess it is the old 'not my job' of everyone and they are really not concerned about crimes of opportunity. I've even seen police cars driving through and even stopped for events like NU games who did not realize lights were out until I pointed it out.

      I guess the lighting is so bad in Evanston people don't even know when large areas are out—or care.

  4. Did you know that AT & T U-verse customers can’t dial 311?

    Although AT & T has been peppering Evanston with ugly utility boxes for their U-Verse service, if you have U-Verse phone service in Evanston, dialing 311 does not work — AT & T never bothered to correct their infrastructure. Evidently the 311 center is aware of this, but no one thinks it will be fixed.

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