Saturday, November 10, 2007

City Hall: Customer Disservice

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Once upon a time, there was a city called Monrovia, California. Population 38k (Federal Way: 84k), size 13.7 square miles (Federal Way: 21 square miles)

It also had an unincorporated area, but rarely did they vote to incorporate it, and when they did vote, it was the incorporated city doing the voting on whether or not to annex the unincorporated area. And they never did, they didn't want them.

It also had a nice little main street running south to north. Wide sidewalks, quaint shops, a single lane of traffic in either direction. (Parallel streets to the east and west feature multiple lanes in each direction to encourage people not to drive down the main street.)

At the other end of one block, government complex. Fire station, police station, city hall. The other half of the block is a huge movie theater (with stores, restaurants, cafes, clothing stores, etc.) that no one wanted when it was first proposed but now is the flagship draw to the area.

If you saw Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, you saw much of the main street and the fire station the fire truck races out of is the Monrovia Fire Station. On Friday nights all summer, the street (and several side streets) are closed. Farmer's Market, fair, live music.

I do believe Federal Way could develop a main street. City Hall's placement in the middle of nowhere couldn't be duplicated, but a small street designed to encourage pedestrians (and get the Farmer's Market out of the Sears parking lot).

But this isn't about that. At the Monrovia P.D., the door was always open. The door opened to a small lobby and a desk. There was glass to the ceiling, but still, it was welcoming. You could walk in, day or night and there would be a clerk there to help you.

Anyhow, this isn't about the Monrovia P.D.

Last week, we had our daughter do a sort of her stuffed animals. They had grown out of control again -- it's like they multiply or something. We combined that new bag of stuffed animals together with two bags that we had already amassed in past sorts. I had cleaned them all and set aside any that weren't clean.

My wife called the Federal Way Police Department. We knew that sometimes police departments take gently used stuffed animals and keep them in cruisers for when they come upon a situation in which a child has been traumatized. She explained that they were used, but clean. The person on the phone said that they would love to have the animals.

So we go to City Hall today. The place looks quiet. There's a sign taped to the front door announcing Monday's closure. No visible "hours" sign. We see a desk immediately inside and a man sitting at it. We open the doors and walk into the vestibule. There's a second set of doors which won't open. The man at the desk makes some gesture to indicate that we're to go to the other door. Back outside, there's an "after hours" door for the Police Department. Let me tell you, if you are ever in urgent trouble, do not try to get to the Police Department for help after hours. Instead of help (especially if being pursued), you'll end up in front of a keypad, where you dial into a disembodied voice. You know, like at an apartment complex or something.

So the person on the other end asks if the toys are new. We say "no" and they say they only take brand new toys. We say we called first and were told that the police department would accept them. The person at the other end demands to know who told us that. We didn't know and feeling quite stupid and annoyed, walk back to the car with our daughter and three bags of toys.

Not wanting to just give them to Goodwill or something who will sell them, we wonder if the Fire Station would take them.

So we drive over there. The place is wide open, but it doesn't look like there's anyone there. I do spot two people and they greet me and I stammer asking if the station is actually open. They immediately ask me if I had come for a blood pressure check. I say no and explain about the toys. He gestures to a nearby desk and says to put them there and he'll get them to the "guys." I explain that they're used but that I cleaned them all and he says that's not a problem. So I go out and get my wife and daughter (who decided to wait in the car this time) and the toys and we come back in. He comes and greets us and professes his thanks and spends time addressing my daughter and telling her how the toys would come in helpful for children and how appreciative he was, and that some of the firemen would also like them, to help them fall asleep. As he walked out with us, he got something out of his truck, parked in a parking spot marked "Assistant Chief."

So now only was City Hall poorly located in the middle of nowhere, but the very way the police station was designed just doesn't seem like it was done with the thought of the citizens at all.

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