In past years when an Akron resident had a complaint about a house not being kept up, the city might send out as many as seven inspectors from four departments.
The inspectors would look for junk cars, tall grass, damaged downspouts, sidewalk obstructions, broken windows, garbage or zoning violations.
Now, Akron has cross-trained inspectors and consolidated most of these services under the new Department of Neighborhood Assistance. The department’s main focus is addressing nuisance complaints.
“These are the things that bug people to death,” Mayor Don Plusquellic said during a recent council meeting.
On July 9, City Council officially approved the creation of the department, which is headed by John Valle. He started his job in early June.
Valle has worn several hats in the city over the past 28 years, including most recently as deputy service director. The Beacon Journal talked to him about the new department and his role in it.
Q: What is this new department?
A: The department will be a one-stop shop to work with all neighborhoods to promote strong, safe and healthy neighborhoods.
Q: What was your reaction to this new role?
A: I told the mayor, “I’m ready.” That’s all I’ve done for the last 28 years.
Q: What are your duties?
A: Working with all 20 neighborhoods. Making sure each is as important as the others.
Q: Will the department cost the city more money?
A: Not right now. If I can get a secretary, it will be someone from another department. There are no plans for bringing more people in. We do have vacancies.
Q: One of the first tasks of your new job was implementing the city’s new policy of limiting how long roadside memorials can be up. How did this go? Was it difficult?
A: A couple of nights, I woke up thinking about it and couldn’t go back to sleep. I talked to [Customer Service Director] John Eaton and told him, “We’ve got to be very responsive. We’ve got to do this right.”
Q: You’ve been attending community meetings to let people know about the new department. What questions have people asked?
A: “What’s your job? What services are provided? What can you to do assist our block watch?”
Q: What’s the complaint the 311 customer service line gets most?
A: It depends on the time of year. Right now, it’s grass. All year, it’s bulk pickups. (Residents are permitted two a year.) Come winter time, it’s snow and ice — and potholes. 311 is a very seasonal department.
Q: How quickly does the city try to respond to complaints of junk cars, tall grass, etc.?
A: It depends on the season. When you put in a request for service to the call center, it’s sent to the department and assigned a tracking number. For most calls — high weeds, potholes — we hope to resolve it in three days.
Q: How do you deal with a resident who is upset?
A: That’s always a tough one. In my adult life, I’ve always been in people relations. The best way is just to listen to them. Then, once they’re done — don’t interrupt — come up with suggestions or tell them, ‘Let me look into this and call you back.’ Often, when you call back, they are not as upset. You [have] let them speak.
Q: How can residents assist the city in trying to improve their neighborhoods?
A: Get organized. Know who your neighbors are. If you see a vehicle that does not belong, get the license plate number. Work together.
Q: You’ve held several positions with the city over the years. What was your favorite?
A: The Department of Neighborhood Assistance. It’s new. We are trying to brand our department. I’m counting on the guys in 311 to help. … I need their input to help and create the department. We’ve got to take it out to the community. We have got to figure out ways to resolve issues.
Q: How do you do that with a limited budget?
A: We can’t use the excuse that we do not have funds. We’ve got to be creative.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.