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Will Dallas’ 311 reorganization improve communication with residents?

The interim city manager is combining the city’s marketing arm with its 311 service.

The latest in interim City Manager Kimberly Bizor Tolbert’s reshuffling of the bureaucracy at City Hall is the consolidation of the 311 and the communications and marketing departments. The move was announced in a vague two-page memo to the City Council, instead of a public briefing, as it should have been.

When people or businesses in Dallas have a problem that requires city intervention, they’re directed to file a complaint by calling 311 or using the online portal or mobile app. It’s the main channel that taxpayers use to get City Hall’s attention. Given 311′s importance to Dallas residents and businesses, the reconfiguration of this office should have been discussed in a public meeting where council members could have asked questions on behalf of their constituents, and where their constituents could have heard the answers.

Still, 311 needs an overhaul, and we hope Tolbert’s consolidation succeeds in improving this crucial city service. Although the city points to a 57% satisfaction rate with 311 based on the most recent community survey, this newspaper has heard complaints over the years — and as recently as last month — from homeowners and apartment renters in South Dallas, Bachman Lake and other neighborhoods who say their 311 cases have been closed without resolution or explanation. Some of these residents are Spanish speakers.


According to Tolbert’s memo, the new Office of Communications and Customer Experience/311 will be led by Daisy Torres Fast, the 311 director and a longtime city employee. Tolbert wrote that the consolidation of 311 and communications is expected to save the city $800,000.


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After we reached out with questions, the city elaborated in a five-page document. Officials said the consolidation will eliminate duplicative positions, unnecessary subscriptions and other administrative costs. However, Dallas continues to hire and train 311 call agents to handle the 1 million calls the city gets per year, according to the document.


“The focus will be on enhancing ‘back channel’ operations and communications by City departments responsible for responding to requests for service,” according to the document.

Officials say the city’s internal communications team will have greater purview into service requests, how departments follow up and what is being communicated to residents.

“Currently, once a service request is submitted via 311, residents receive limited progress updates through various emails or text messages,” according to the document.


Officials wrote that technology upgrades were already underway to better update residents. The city will promote its 311 app because it will allow for “expedited responsiveness,” according to the document. Already, the app and the online 311 form account for 44% of service requests, a jump from a third of service requests just five years ago.

As officials explain it, this is all part of a larger plan to improve how city departments communicate with one another and with residents. The way the plan was rolled out could have been better, but we agree that action needed to be taken.

For Dallas’ 311 overhaul to succeed, City Hall has to recognize that it must improve not only communication channels but also the way it actually deals with code complaints, animal control and other quality-of-life concerns. That’s a matter that warrants the full attention of city management and the City Council.

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