Sanders on city’s constituent services

Keyshia Sanders was recently named manager of constituent services for the city of Jackson. Sanders is a graduate of Metropolitan State University in Denver, and previously worked for the city from 2009 to 2015. She recently spoke with Sun Staff Writer Anthony Warren about her new position, and her plans for the department.

 

What exactly does constituent services do?

“It is a department created to serve as a line of communication from the mayor’s office to its constituents. We take information was receive back to the mayor and his officials, and then take the response back to the public, and hopefully (help them find resolutions to their problems). We also plan citywide events, like the back to school event coming up, the Christmas parade, the Christmas tree lighting, National Night Out and citywide cleanup initiatives. We try to partner with churches and others in the faith-based community and with businesses that want to work on projects with the city.”

 

How many employees does the department have?

“The department is budgeted for four, which is a manager and three representatives.”

 

Are all those positions filled?

“No, they’re not. At this point, we’re only filling two positions, because we’re working out the budget. The third one will be filled in October (after the new budget goes into effect).”

 

Since you’ve come back to the city, what have been the major concerns reported by residents?

“The main calls and concerns, thus far, have been about infrastructure – potholes and water leaks, as well as sewer. We’ve also had calls about water bill concerns and blighted properties.”

 

So many residents are frustrated with their water and sewer bills, and have been for years. What is your message for those residents?

“Most constituents understand the critical areas and needs of our city, but the biggest piece is being open and accessible. I think sometimes our constituents have felt their concerns fall on deaf ears. I want to make sure I follow up with them and help them understand what we are doing to get their problems addressed. I don’t want to create unreasonable goals or put myself in a situation where I have to go back to a constituent and tell them what I initially said wasn’t correct.

“The biggest piece for me is to make sure the information I do communicate is as accurate as possible.”

 

So you’re not promising customers that the water bill situation will be fixed in the next 30 days?

“No; I try not to make empty promises. I try to be up front and honest in the beginning, whether the news is good or bad. It’s no different than what I experienced the other day, with a water main break off of Riverside (Drive). I was walking and talking, and letting people know what was going on. The water was off, but people were at ease when they knew what was going on.”

Where did the break happen?

“It happened between St. Ann and St. Mary (streets), right in front of the Salvation Army and National Guard buildings.”

 

How quickly was water restored?

“Water was finally restored around 10 o’clock that night. We got the call around 11 a.m., and public works had to do an assessment – figure out what pipe it was – there’s a 36-inch and a16-inch pipe in the area, and it was the 16-inch pipe that broke, which meant we could do the repair in-house. About five feet of pipe had to be replaced. The work on the pipe got started around two or 3 p.m.”

 

So you were going door-to-door talking to people?

“I went door-to-door in the two blocks (affected by the break). One of the council member’s, Councilwoman Virgi Lindsay’s clerk, was actually affected by the outage. She was able to help me disseminate information and keep me in the loop. Belhaven has an internal e-mail system, so she me know what she was (hearing). People were also out jogging and walking their dogs and stopped by asking questions.”

 

Do you envision doing a lot of work like this?

“Absolutely. There will be a lot of walking and talking. We are not only going to do that in bad situations. We’re also going to get out and tell people our story – to help keep them better informed about what’s going on in the city. For example, we’re going to do a push to let people know about some of the technology we’re offering, like Code Red and Nextdoor. We’re also preparing to do another rollout of 311 to let people know about a mobile app they can utilize.”

 

When will your department begin doing that?

“The app is in the test phase right now. Hopefully, we’ll be able to roll it out in mid-August.”

 

Also, what is Code Red?

“It’s an app that you can get on your phone, and you can set it to send you an e-mail or text to notify you when there’s a boil water notice, missing child alerts and other notices.”

 

As constituent services manager, what are your top priorities?

“Definitely making sure our communication to constituents is effective. That’s one of the biggest pieces I’ve noted that has been lacking. That means we’ll be making a lot of phone calls and having a lot of face-to-face contact with residents. We’re also trying to prioritize our tasks and responsibilities, and follow through on projects were pending (before we took office). One of the biggest things will be working with 311 to make sure we close out those cases, so problems are not reoccurring.”

 

Was there a backlog of cases when you took office? And how long will it take to address them?

“Yes, there are some. I don’t have an exact number of cases. I say realistically it will take about six months to close them out.”

 

What does it mean to close out a case?

“When you go into 311, it will show a case as pending or progress. Closing it out means we’ll follow up with the department administrator to see if the case has been handled and to see how it was handled. I have not looked at specific cases, but am planning to do that. I am also planning to meet with the 311 administrators in each department to see what their needs are and if they’re having issues managing their caseloads, and see how we can make cases flow a little more fluidly through the system.”

 

 

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Esperanza Velasquez is founder of the Mississippi Hispanic Association in Flowood.