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In the Government Trenches

The front line of Boston city gov­ern­ment, says Mayor Thomas M. Menino, is the eighth floor of City Hall, where requests, com­plaints, and feed­back pour in, 24/​7, from more than 600,000 res­i­dents. Phone calls range from gripes about pot­holes and graf­fiti, to com­ments on such issues as crime and edu­ca­tion, to ques­tions about the city’s small busi­ness ser­vices — just to name a few.

This week, seven North­eastern under­grad­u­ates are joining the small army of city employees who field these calls in the mayor’s 24-​​hour con­stituent ser­vices call center, part of a newly estab­lished co-​​op part­ner­ship between the Uni­ver­sity and the City of Boston.

“This is really what it’s all about,” Menino said Wednesday during a kick-​​off meeting with the North­eastern team. “Here, you’re in touch with people in a way that makes a huge dif­fer­ence in their per­cep­tion of government.”

The stu­dents, who rep­re­sent a variety of majors including his­tory, polit­ical sci­ence, psy­chology, inter­na­tional rela­tions and com­puter sci­ence, were selected from a pool of nearly 40 North­eastern applicants.

John Tobin, former Boston city coun­cilor and North­eastern University’s vice pres­i­dent for city and com­mu­nity affairs, said the new town-​​gown part­ner­ship gives co-​​op stu­dents a unique oppor­tu­nity to be part of what makes city gov­ern­ment work.

“When it’s all said and done, all pol­i­tics is local,” he told the stu­dents. “It’s about taking care of issues that arise and get­ting results.”

Justin Holmes, the city’s director of con­stituent engage­ment, said the group would pro­vide a sig­nif­i­cant boost to the day-​​to-​​day oper­a­tion of the call center; his 13-​​member staff field between 600 and 700 calls on a normal day. After com­pleting training, during which the stu­dents will listen in on live calls, learn how to triage a com­plaint that involves mul­tiple depart­ments, and meet with city offi­cials, the group will try their hand at what Menino called “retail politics.”

A live person greets callers at any hour of the day or night, Menino explained to the students.

“I’ve been in the busi­ness long enough to know that human con­tact is the best way to help Bosto­nians con­nect with their gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Tom Shepard, a third-​​year polit­ical sci­ence major and one of the stu­dents eager to shake the mayor’s hand, said the chance to be part of City Hall’s con­stituent ser­vice hub would give him a close look at nearly every ele­ment of city government.

“It’s an amazing oppor­tu­nity to have a look at how every­thing in city gov­ern­ment fits together.”

– by Matt Collette

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