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  • Winnipeg Tribune

RYBACK: Are We Getting Our Money's Worth from 311?

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Kelly Ryback will fight for taxpayers and hold those in Winnipeg City Hall accountable.
Kelly Ryback will fight for taxpayers and keep you informed about Winnipeg City Hall.

By Guest Columnist l Kelly Ryback

Winnipeg, December 4, 2023 - A recent City of Winnipeg report stated that 311 call wait times fell to 5 minutes, 54 seconds for 2023. Wait times were almost double in the previous two years. This was accomplished by adding extra staff. No other reasons or tactics were provided for the improvement.

The 311-budget increase for 2023 was $870,883. Six full-time staff positions were added for a total of eighty full-time staff equivalents. Overtime was increased. Two positions were not filled. Recently, a full-time human resource recruiter was added to 311. It’s unknown if the HR position is included in the $870k+. It’s projected that $125,000 will be unspent.

We, the taxpayers, got six positions, more overtime, and maybe an HR officer for $745,883. That is an excessive amount of money with a poor return on investment. You can include a portion of an additional $800,000 that city council added to the councillors’ ward allowance. Excessive call volumes to the councillors’ offices because citizens could not get through to 311 was a primary reason for the ward increase. Some councillors have added additional staff, and some maintain ward offices at $1,500 to $2,000 per month.

In October 2021, CAO Michael Jack requested the Executive Policy Committee and council to approve his request to undertake a review of 311 operations and to report back in ninety days. I appeared as a delegate at a city council meeting and offered fifty hours of free consulting to assist with the review and the report. I had twenty years of experience supporting call centres, with the final twelve years as a call centre team and department leader.

Our departments went through system and process changes, an improved method of active supervision, increased and improved call monitoring, added new performance targets with weekly representative and team reporting, improved scheduling, greater real-time customer communication, greater focus on interval performance, monthly staff result reviews, a performance improvement plan process, and meaningful annual development plan and performance reviews, reviewed quarterly. Through it all we were able to accomplish more with less, increase customer satisfaction, and improve employee morale and development.

I presented all this to EPC. I gave examples of poor 311 performance and provided initial recommendations. Three city councillors contacted me afterwards to let me know that they are lobbying to bring me in. I never heard from the CAO or the mayor’s office.

Now January, 2022 and the ninety days is almost up for the 311 report on the EPC agenda. The CAO is requesting an additional sixty days to complete the report. They shouldn’t have needed the extra time. I appear again in delegation to offer my assistance. I state that I can provide ten recommendations to improve service. Without me, they will only get four. The extension request gets approved. I hear crickets. Nothing from the CAO or mayor.

Now we get to March, and the report topic is once again on EPC’s agenda but without a published report and without purpose. What the heck, I’ll be a delegate again. My presentation includes thirteen examples where I recently called/emailed 311 and got issues resolved within two weeks. These problems had been in place between four months and four years. Elected officials, senior management, supervisors, foremen, and frontline workers walked or drove past these sites thousands of times. Never addressed until I reported them. We have a disengaged workplace. I said that 311 inquiries would decrease if leadership was stronger and employee performance improved. Ten recommendations with me, only four without.

I rescinded my offer but said I would try one more thing to improve 311. I was going to run for city council in St. James. Mic drop. No questions.

Later in the meeting we learn the reason for the agenda item was to request an additional sixty-day extension. Seriously? Subsequently Council dug in a little and only provided a thirty-day extension. The report was published in April. They got four recommendations, nothing about improving systems, process, or performance.

I didn’t win the election. I saw Mayor Gillingham a few weeks after the election. I offered my free consulting again. Crickets.

We are now eighteen months and almost a million dollars (and counting) later. The only reported tactic is added staff and increased costs. 311 is better but so much more could have been accomplished in those eighteen months that should have resulted in lower inquiry volumes. That hasn’t happened. Frontline departments still operate inefficiently (more on that in future articles). And where did the money come from? Calgary council just approved a 7.8% tax increase. What is Winnipeg in store for?

Back in that March 2022 meeting, I identified that one of the largest year-over-year increases in reported call types was for damaged residential garbage and recycling bins. I suggested that many bins may have come to end-of-life or collector abuse so this could be an opportunity to pursue proactive measures to address. Nothing was done and then a year later it’s reported there are supply chain issues and a huge shortage of bins. Homeowners in new developments had to wait months to get their bins. There is still a large quantity of inquiries per month about damaged bins.

I wasn’t successful in my pursuit of the St. James council seat. I had a strong showing and came second. That experience demonstrated there is a significant need for community support and advocacy. I’ve dedicated my life to service. I continue to advocate at city hall in various capacities and provide service. I’ve joined a service club, a couple of boards and committees, and I champion five charities.

I had many blessings in my life. I now give back even more to the community. I plan to write frequently for the Winnipeg Tribune. Hopefully you can learn more about me. I will show how you can be engaged at city hall and in your community. I will keep you abreast of government affairs and issues, especially with city hall.


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