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EDITORIAL: Privatizing MAC worth exploring: Saving cash shouldn't be only goal

August 18, 2008

Privatizing MAC worth exploring Saving cash shouldn't be only goal

The bad news: The Mayor's Action Center-city government's primary vehicle for responding to citizen complaints-is vastly ineffective. When nearly half the residents who call the center hang up the phone in frustration before reporting their problems, you know something isn't working right.

The good news: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard recognizes there is a big problem with the MAC and says he wants to fix it.

In late July, he issued a "Request for Information," seeking input on possible improvements from companies that operate call centers. The eventual result could be privatization of the MAC.

Whether bringing in a private business to operate the MAC is a good idea remains to be seen, but it's definitely an idea worth exploring. Improving the problem-plagued system should be a big priority for the city. It's a critical communications tool that, if working properly, helps the city accomplish a major part of its core mission-fixing infrastructure problems and responding to safety and security issues in a timely fashion.

On the surface, the MAC is an outstanding idea: Give residents an easy way to report problems that plague their neighborhoods or affect their travels throughout the city. But ever since its launch in the 1990s, the MAC has suffered from ineffectiveness, prompting the nickname, "The Mayor's Inaction Center."

To be fair, the phone-in system does work much of the time. It receives more than 220,000 inquiries annually, resulting in more than 86,000 requests for city services. But records uncovered by IBJ in last week's story about the MAC revealed that as many as 50 percent of callers hang up before even reporting a problem due to long wait times. Outdated and poorly integrated technology systems cause major inefficiencies and duplication of services.

The mayor, for good reason, is in cost-cutting mode these days to balance the city's books. He deserves praise for that pursuit. And if a private operator can improve the MAC's effectiveness and save the city money, Ballard should make the deal.

Cost savings, however, shouldn't be the bottom line on this issue. The system desperately needs to be improved. Residents need a convenient, efficient way to report problems to local operators who are familiar with city operations. Once those problems are reported, they should be turned over promptly to the appropriate city department.

The result should be a comprehensive system that lets people report issues in a variety of ways, from phone calls to e-mails to online messages.

A good first fix would be changing the system's politically charged name. Those in city government need to keep in mind that the reason for improving communication with residents is to better serve the residents-not the mayor.



To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.
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