By George King
When I became Framingham’s second Town Manager in 1999 a focus of my tenure was to place customer service in the forefront.
The Board of Selectmen adopted a formal policy delineating specific customer service standards that the then Town would strive to achieve.
I recognize times have changed a bit, but the importance of government providing efficient service to taxpayers has not. Framingham’s customer service policy is still on the books through three subsequent administrations. No doubt it could use a revision to reflect changing times, and at times adherence to it has faltered, but the principle is not lost.
One of the critical elements of the policy is that customer service is a broad concept, it is not just smiling and being nice to someone at the point of service. It requires services to be easily accessible with no red tape. It means returning phone calls and emails timely. It means processes are straightforward and understandable. Questions are answered directly and unambiguously. There are many broad-based aspects to the concept and the policy spells them out while offering standards for manifestation.
My long-held belief in customer service is the driving force behind my vocal opposition to City Hall changing its business hours, resulting in a 12:30 p.m. closing every Friday instead of 5 p.m. In exchange for the Friday afternoon closing, we will get two hours of service on Tuesday night from 5-7 p.m. Employees work the same number of hours by cutting lunch down by one half hour each day.
However the bottom line is city services are available 2.5 hours less each week and not at all on Friday afternoon. There is no cost savings to correspond to the reduction in service time.
I am not persuaded there is a good public policy reason for this change. Beyond a few offices such as the Clerk, Treasurer and Assessor that are convenient to have open in the evening, there is no operational need for the majority of the city offices such as, the Accountant, or Purchasing or Technology Services to stay open.
The City could easily keep the necessary offices open for a couple of evening hours, as it has regularly done in the past, without a complete change to the entire schedule.
It was recently suggested at a City Council meeting that if the whole operation must be impacted, why not simply open two hours late on Tuesday? You get the same result in terms of open evening hours, without decreasing the total hours open or the ability to serve the public on Friday afternoon. People who arrive to a closed building early on Tuesday morning may have to wait an hour, people who arrive Friday afternoon have to wait three days.
I feel strongly that at a time when we are asking people to pay so much for government, we can’t just take Friday afternoon off. The impression it leaves for our new city is not a positive one. We would not accept it if the RMV did it, or the post office, or other critical agencies.
There is no reason for city hall to close early for the weekend, and it does not serve the public policy interests of excellent customer service and efficient financial operations for Framingham’s taxpayers.
George King is one of two elected City Councilors at-large for the City of Framingham. He is a former Framingham Town Manager and a former superintendent of schools.