- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

Community leaders polled in an unscientific survey gave low scores in efficiency and responsiveness to two District of Columbia agencies for last year, according to results obtained by The Washington Times.

The departments of Public Works and of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs each garnered "unsatisfactory" ratings from more than 50 percent of the city's 37 advisory neighborhood commissions polled in a "Customer Satisfaction Survey" conducted by D.C. Council member David A. Catania.

In addition, those agencies, along with the Metropolitan Police Department, received the most complaints from the neighborhood commissions, which interact frequently with the agencies.

"The satisfaction among commissioners really mirrors the satisfaction of many of the citizens," Mr. Catania, at-large Republican, said of the results of his second annual survey.

Twenty-one commissions gave an "unsatisfactory" rating to the Public Works Department, while 12 rated the agency "satisfactory" and four offered no opinion.

Nineteen commissions gave an "unsatisfactory" rating to the consumer affairs agency, while 11 rated it "satisfactory" and seven offered no opinion.

The public works and consumer affairs agencies "have serious structural problems in the delivery of constituent services for citizens of this city," Mr. Catania said.

Residents in each of the District's 123 communities elect representatives to the city's 37 neighborhood commissions, which advise city officials on issues like zoning, public safety and social services.

Mr. Catania surveyed each commission in December and January, allowing the members of each group to decide how to respond. In some cases, only the commission chairman responded; in others, members compiled their views into a single response.

Commission members complained that the Public Works Department was lax in regulating utility companies tearing up streets to install fiber-optic cables and took too long to fill potholes, plow snow-covered streets and pick up trash.

Public Works Director Vanessa Dale Burns told The Washington Times her department is taking steps to improve its performance.

Commission members said the consumer affairs agency responded too slowly or not at all to requests for inspection of dangerous and filthy properties. They also cited "a general lack of respect" at the department, complaining that staffers gave misleading information, refused to provide documents or charged a fee for those documents, Mr. Catania wrote in a March 13 letter to Consumer Affairs Director Lloyd J. Jordan.

Consumer affairs spokeswoman Jacqueline Wallace said neither she nor Mr. Jordan had seen the survey results or Mr. Catania's letter.

Ms. Wallace said the agency has made some strides to improve, noting that it "has been fairly broken for 11 years [and suffered from] neglect, mismanagement and performance problems by untrained and demoralized employees, as well as the absence of technology."

"We want to be responsive to the citizens. Mr. Jordan would like to see us make these improvements, recognizing the resources we need to do this work. We'd like to see some additional resources in terms of staff and equipment," she said.

Ms. Wallace added that many agency services are now available on line at www.dcra.org and that an automated telephone information system will begin Saturday to help residents.

Among the middling performers in the survey were the Office of Tax and Revenue, which 19 commissioners rated "satisfactory"; the Office of Documents, which received 23 "satisfactory" votes; and the Metropolitan Police Department, which also received 23 "satisfactory" votes.

Although the police received a 62 percent satisfactory rating, many commissions reported problems with community policing and were frustrated with the department's "general non-responsiveness to their concerns and lax enforcement," Mr. Catania wrote in a March 13 letter to police Chief Charles H. Ramsey.

Chief Ramsey was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Like the police department, the Board of Zoning Adjustment received a 62 percent satisfactory rating. But almost every commissioner told Mr. Catania during hearings in February that the board routinely failed to notify residents of upcoming hearings.

Commission members also complained the board gives business owners zoning exceptions in exchange for meeting certain conditions, which the owners often fail to do.

Zoning office Director Jerrily Kress admitted "we have not always done our best job" in notifying residents of hearings for zoning changes. But zoning staffers now notify commission and council members of hearings, she said.

The zoning office only writes zoning laws and decides on adjustments and exceptions, Ms. Kress said, adding that the Consumer Affairs Department enforces and monitors compliance of zoning decisions.

The agency is upgrading its Web site (www.dcoz.dcgov.org) to include zoning regulations and eventually a database of zoning exceptions searchable by address, Ms. Kress said.

Other agencies receiving highest marks include the Board of Elections and Ethics (88 percent satisfactory), the Office of the Auditor (87 percent), the Office of Campaign Finance (76 percent), the Fire and EMS (71 percent) and the mayor's office (59 percent).

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