Friday, June 15, 2001

Center opens for complaint calls

By Earnest Winston
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The first few days at Cincinnati's first community-based call center — a phone bank to help solve neighborhood problems — have been filled with complaints about everything from a backed-up sewer and gas fumes seeping into an elderly man's house to drug dealers and crime.

        “People feel more comfortable calling here and sharing their problems than calling a municipality where you're put on hold and ... passed from one department to the next,” said Tom Jones, CEO of the Avondale Public Safety Task Force.

        Volunteers work out of the office at 3505 Burnet Ave. Monday through Friday. They will eventually be replaced by paid neighborhood senior citizens.

        Volunteer Everett Cork, 54, of Kennedy Heights says the call center is of “utmost value.”

        “It raises the trust level with individuals,” Mr. Cork says. “They'll be more apt to speak to people who have their best interest in mind. There's been frustration in the past with getting in contact with the powers-that-be.”

        Funding for the call center, $150,000 per year, was provided by the Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office from money confiscated during drug activity.

        Although the call center is located in Avondale, residents from Cincinnati's 52 neighborhoods are free to call.

        Tara Sullivan took a call this week from the family of an 80-year-old Avondale man who was complaining about gas fumes seeping into his house. She relayed the complaint to city officials. A short while later, city, police and health officials showed up. Fines were issued to people who were repairing cars on the street and then dumping oil and other chemicals near the 80-year-old man's house.

        “That was a serious problem,” Mr. Jones said. But it's also a problem, he said, that typically gets stuck in red tape.

        “The idea for the community phone bank originated out of a concern (about the lack) of services that were being allocated to the communities,” Mr. Jones says.

        Prosecutor Mike Allen said his office provides money because the call center will help reduce crime.

        “It sounds like a good program and it's one we felt was worthy of funding,” Mr. Allen says. “I think it's a great idea, and I have a lot of faith in Tom Jones.”

        Beginning Monday, residents can call 221-7888 from 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m. Complaints are referred to the city department that handles that particular issue.


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