Calling City Hall: Listen in on our most asked questions

single-meta-cal July 19, 2017

The caller was irate. She had a problem with a prosecutor and somebody suggested she write a letter to her council member. She didn’t have the patience for that, so she decided to take up the issue with City Hall via a phone call.

She demanded answers, and when they weren’t satisfactory to her, she began cursing.

Patiently, Tara Sloan tried to give the woman an appropriate phone number for the Legal department

“It’s 2-5-6 …”

“Why are you telling me 256?” the woman angrily demanded.

“Because it’s Huntsville, Alabama.”

Suddenly, the line grew quiet before the woman said, “I’m trying to call Huntsville, Texas.”

Then, as an afterthought, “I’m sorry I cussed you out.”

Sloan serves as part-receptionist, part-funnel in the Mayor’s Office. She fields calls for the eighth floor and also assists with the Huntsville Connect, the City’s digital customer service app that allows citizens to report service requests (think graffiti, potholes, litter and more) from the comfort of their smartphone or computer.

She’s a connector, able to quickly provide the phone number callers need or transfer to the right department so citizens can get the information they seek as fast as possible.

“Nine times out of 10, it’s a Public Works or Landscape issue that we’re able to address,” Sloan says. “It’s drainage issues, questions over who is responsible for easements, things like that.”

Even as routine as some of those calls might be, “a lot of the people demand that I come right out and look at the problem,” she says. “I had a man call not long ago because there was a small leak on a sanitation truck and there was some garbage that trailed behind. He told me I needed to leave the office right then and come clean it up.”

To do her job effectively, it’s important that Tara is ever-present at the front desk in the Mayor’s office, which is why Tara chuckles at calls like the one mentioned above.

Tara’s Top Call

Driver’s Licenses and Car Registration. Handled through the Licensing Department of Madison County, City Hall gets a good amount of calls from folks wanting to know where to go to check these items off their to-do list. Need to renew your driver’s license or car registration? Head to the Madison County License Department website for all the information you need. You can renew your driver’s license online or in person. Call 256-532-3310 for information about renewing your tags.

“We’re proud of the City of Huntsville website and all the resources available there. It’s a good place to find news and information and we always recommend that as the first stop,” Mayor Tommy Battle says. “But we put a priority on customer service, so it’s important to connect folks with a real, live person and not have them digging through a big phone menu.”

Often, she’s an initial point of contact for a visitor or a potential new resident.

Sloan receives many calls from out-of-towners seeking info about Huntsville. She refers them to the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau if they are looking for hotels or things do to, the Parks & Recreation Department if they’re interested in visiting a park.

Many calls arrive because of a resident’s confusion over services that are provided not by the City but by Madison County or the state. License issues are a frequent call.

Tara’s Top Call

Garbage Pickup and Recycling. If you live in Huntsville City limits, you can find the garbage schedule here – or simply remember the URL When the pickup schedule is affected by a holiday, be sure to check the Holiday Garbage Pickup Schedule on Recycling is handled through Republic Services, managed via the Solid Waste Disposal Authority. For questions about the recycling schedule, visit SWDA’s website or call 256-830-2467.

Sloan also has a couple of “regulars,” some elderly citizens who just want to hear the sound of a kind voice. She tries to give them a few minutes when she has time.

There is the occasional call that comes out of left field – or even from another galaxy – about conspiracies and imaginary objects.

And there are the frequent calls with off-beat questions.

For instance, some animal-related ones:

“Can we put our fish in the pond at Big Spring Park?” (Not unless you want them to be bait.)

“Can we have some of the carp out of Big Spring Park?” (Um, sorry, no.)

“Hypothetically speaking, I may have taken one of the ducklings. Now it’s sick and I want to give it back.” (Yes. Call Animal Services.)

And, “Can kids ride on the back of a fire truck for a birthday party?” (Sorry, no. Insurance regulations and all that.)

“Why don’t firemen get cats out of trees anymore?” (Did they really ever do that, anyway?)