February 16, 2010 4:09 PM
They're an annoying fact of modern life. The "auto attendant" phone systems that greet us when we try to do business with a bank or just about any organization of any size. You know the routine. "If you have a question about your balance press 1," and it goes on from there.
Now Dane County has decided to implement the same system for nonemergency calls for police and fire service. This isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it needs to be done very carefully and with a lot of public input and education beforehand. Unfortunately, the county decided to announce today that it would implement this dramatically new system on Saturday.
Not so fast. It's not really the county's decision to make. The real authority here is with the Public Safety Communications Center Board and that board hasn't had a chance to fully vet the new system or introduce it to the public. To significantly change a system that has been in place for two decades with virtually no lead-in time for the public and inadequate vetting by experts would be a mistake. In fact, the Board voted today to refer approval of the system to at least its March meeting to allow for further vetting.
The other problem is that along with the auto attendant, the county has unilaterally decided to no longer dispatch City of Madison parking calls or will do so only at a charge to us. This is stunningly unfair to Madison taxpayers since they will continue to dispatch parking calls to every other community in the county. That means Madison residents will pay for parking dispatch in all other Dane County communities through their county property taxes and then have to pay separately for parking dispatch in their own community. And the outlying communities agree with us. They share our concern about this because they see a slippery slope. If the county can just decide what calls it doesn't want to dispatch, what's next?
Moreover, this violates the agreement that was put in place two decades ago when Madison donated its dispatch system to the county to start the 911 system at that time. We were promised no less service than we had then. Finally, it's a move away from the regionalism that virtually everyone agrees is a good thing.
The real answer is a 311 system that would be available for all non-emergency calls. Then the public would have a clear choice between dialing 911 for emergencies and 311 for all other government services. We've been studying that kind of system and could have one up and running in a few years.
The rational approach here would be to carefully implement the auto attendant in the coming months, continue to dispatch parking calls as the county has for over two decades and work together to implement a 311 system.
You can read my full letter to the County Executive on this issue at http://www.cityofmadison.com/mayor/documents/Falk12FEB10.pdf.