311 Supervisor Sue Pontarelli, 311 Assistant Supervisor Pandora Pratt and Citizen Engagement Manager Erica Storlie.  RoundTable photo

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Work did not really stop during the March 1 open house for the 311 call center, located in the police department wing of the police/fire building at Lake Street and Elmwood Avenue. Instead, visitors and City officials chatted in the open space between cubicles in the tiny room, enjoying lunch and conversation.   

Citizen Engagement Manager Erica Storlie described “live web chat,” one of this year’s innovations at the center.

“It’s a pop-up on a web page that offers help to the user,” she said. Michelle Males said the service was helpful in this year’s summer camp registration lottery.

“If someone was on a web page for more than a minute, a pop-up would say [for example], ‘I’m Michelle. May I help you?’” said Michelle Males.

“It scared some people, but some were glad to see it,” Ms. Storlie said.

Live chatting and two-way texting are also available on 311, Ms. Storlie said. “Evanston’s 311 center is one of only two agencies in the country to have live two-way texting,” said Sue Pontarelli, 311 supervisor.

Assistant City Manager Joe MacRae, who helped set up the 311 call center two years ago, told the RoundTable, “They’re doing a great job. They’ve exceeded our epectations in every way.”

Beverly Otey, who has worked at the center since the beginning, said she “likes to work here. We provide really good service – and there’s something new every day.”

Ms. Pontarelli said there are two aspects to quality control: Residents are asked to complete a survey after their request has been completed, and calls are recorded “so we can do quality-control reviews.” Feedback from the surveys, she said, has been overwhelmingly positive.

Pandora Pratt, assistant supervisor of 311, said, “We’re meeting the expectations of the citizens of Evanston – and that’s the goal.”
The 311 call center is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.

Since its opening, the center has received more than 270,000 phone calls and created 45,000 service requests but no staff members have been added. “We reallocated resources and moved staff accordingly [to peak times, e.g.]” she said.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, who pushed for the City’s 311 call system to begin operations on 3/1/11 to mnemonically reinforce 311, must have also enjoyed the palindrome of this year’s celebration date: 3/1/13.