A Complaint is a Gift

(February 2016)

A Complaint is a Gift. This is the name of a business book by Janelle Barlow based on the premise that complaints are not negative feedback to avoid, but gifts of constructive feedback to be heeded.

All of you – whether you rent or own your home, whether you work here or own a business here, whether you come here to worship or to go to school – are stakeholders in our community. It is the greatest honor of my life to have been elected to represent you at Saint Paul City Hall.

As I complete my second week as your Ward 7 City Councilmember, I write to ask you do to something that a lot of us on the East Side don’t like to do: COMPLAIN.

Does that surprise you? Well, here’s why it’s important. The City of Saint Paul operates on what is known as a “complaint-based” system. That means that while the City provides basic services of snow plowing, street cleaning, public safety, and code enforcement, the City asks all of YOU to be its eyes and ears in reporting those things that need extra care, repair, or attention.

A lot of neighborhoods in Saint Paul know how to make this system work for them. When I worked in the Ward 4 office from 1998 to 2007, I would swear that every neighbor had the City on speed dial! They called to have the city re-plow a snowy intersection, to clear debris from the right of way, to remove graffiti, to deal with barking dogs, abandoned vehicles, trash, loud noise, speeding traffic, burned out street lights, damaged sidewalks, tall weeds, and so on and so on.

East Siders are good people – but they are not good complainers! Repeatedly when I was out campaigning, Ward 7 neighbors would point to a pothole, graffiti, or illegal dumping that was getting in the way of the peaceful enjoyment of their neighborhood. When I asked if they had called it into the City, they said, “Oh no, I don’t want to be a complainer!”

Believe me when I say that under its complaint-based system, the City responds quickly and effectively by dispatching the appropriate city staff to fix the problem. And usually, it doesn’t even take a second call!

Think of it this way: A complaint is a gift. By complaining, you are demonstrating that you care enough about Dayton’s Bluff to make sure it’s a place that all of us can enjoy and be proud of. Your complaint is a gift to city officials that enables us to make Saint Paul more beautiful and livable.

So how do you do it? There are a variety of ways. First, you can call the City’s Complaint Line at 651-266- 8989 anytime of the day or night and leave a recorded message. Describe the problem and be specific about the address and intersection that you are talking about. Your complaint will be anonymous – even if you leave your name and phone number, the City is required by law to keep the complainant’s name private. You can also go to the City’s website, www.stpaul.- gov, and type: “City Information & Complaints” into the Search Box. There is a wealth of helpful information there.

Police calls are a whole different story. If you see something suspicious or feel unsafe, call 911 right away. Don’t try to determine if it is an emergency, call 911 and the Police dispatcher will figure it out.

To make a complaint, you can also call my office at 651-266-8670 or email us at [email protected], where you can talk to me and Legislative Aide Stephanie Harr. Many of you know Stephanie as a former Dayton’s Bluff Community Council Board member and as a community activist in Mounds Park.

Again, your complaint will be confidential, and you can share any and all details that will help us solve your problem. We will work with City staff to address your complaint. And in the meantime, Dayton’s Bluff will keep getting better.

This is a great time for our neighborhood. At our Dayton’s Bluff Community Council annual meeting in December, we elected a board of directors reflecting the broad diversity of our community. East Seventh Street is a hub of new economic development, that includes Mississippi Market, Cambric Senior Apartments, the opening of a new student center and science building at Metro State University, the expansion of CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas en Servicio), initiatives launched with the help of the East Side Enterprise Center, and Beacon Bluff.

Working together – and with your complaints – we can make our neighborhood the best it can be.