Phone tree of health

Nancy and I have decided to implement a new phone system, inspired by the Town of Chapel Hill phone system.

I’ll set it up so that my phone automatically directs a caller to my message center, which will inform the caller that if I can’t answer, the caller should contact Nancy. At the same time, Nancy’s phone will respond with a message that the caller should contact me.

That set-up will make for a nice little loop that will keep the two of us from ever having to answer the phones. If we feel overworked and stressed out, we could simply delete the messages.

This system was inspired by my efforts Thursday morning to contact someone, anyone, in the Chapel Hill transportation department because I had a question about a town budget item that dealt with transit funding. Manager Roger Stancil indicated during his budget presentation Monday night that a half-cent property tax increase might be needed to meet the costs of running the town’s fare-free bus system. I was curious about just how much money that would be. The presentation before council and the news stories didn’t give a dollar figure in their reports.

So I called Steve Spade, the transit director. He didn’t answer, but I got a nice extended tour of the phone tree that, for some reason, included a stop with Triangle Transit. Since Spade couldn’t come to the phone, I called Brian Litchfield, the assistant transit director. He also was not available.

Ever resourceful, I thought I’d go to the main line. The receptionist was super-efficient and, as soon as she heard the word “bus” transferred me to Anita Hackney. She also was not available.

I left messages with Litchfield and Hackney, and Litchfield called me back around 3 p.m. He told me the half-cent increase would generate $350,000 in revenue. Apparently the town doesn’t have the option of cutting bus service because it already did that the year before last. The other contributors to the transit fund – Carrboro and UNC – have indicated they will meet their increased obligation, with Carrboro not leaning toward a tax-rate hike.

I guess town budget belt-tightening has made it more difficult to man the phones – fewer bodies to pick up the receiver. Spade, Litchfield and Hackney probably were all out exercising or attending a smoking cessation class or learning to eat healthy in an effort to reduce town costs for health care.

I’m glad town workers are getting healthier. But I do miss talking to them on the phone.
–Don Evans

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
Previous Post
Leave a comment


  1. Terri Buckner

     /  May 18, 2012

    You should try calling them to get directions on how to get somewhere via the bus. Apparently, the help system operators don’t live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro and know nothing about the local bus lines.

  2. WJW

     /  May 18, 2012

    I’m not one usually to defend city govt, but what exactly happened here that got you in a curmudgeonly mood?

    You called a city department and no one answered. You left two messages. The #2 person in the particular department you were trying to reach called you back the same day. By the way how many hours later was it as you don’t mention the time you made the call?

    When the city worker called you back personally, you got an answer to your question.

    Again, what was the problem?

  3. Nancy Oates

     /  May 18, 2012

    Terri — Try contacting Catherine Lazorko, the town’s public information officer. I’ve had my own frustrations trying to get town staff to answer questions, but when I contact Lazorko, she almost always manages to find the answer and email it to me. I think the town takes her title literally: She’s the only one on staff who deals with the public.

  4. Fred Black

     /  May 18, 2012

    Nancy, if you believe that then you have never interacted with Sabrina Oliver.

  5. Chris Jones

     /  May 18, 2012

    Seriously? SERIOUSLY?

    Since I don’t know you from Adam, this will probably come across pretty rude, Don, and I semi-apologize for that, but you’ve gone off your rocker into official “grumpy old man with nothing better to do with your time” status.

    I’ve got as many complaints about the town as the next guy. But you start this diatribe in the frame of grumpy “why aren’t these people sitting by their phones waiting to answer my call while I’m sitting in my robe and bedroom shoes watching Sally Jesse Raphael” dude persona, and make a startingly angry shift to condescending amateur putdown hour (and, seriously, god forbid they might be partaking in a wellness program to help control the cost that YOU pay as a taxpayer).

    In the meantime, congratulations, you’ve now devalued any legitimate complaint you might have about the town’s level of service in a particular category. Way to marginalize yourself. Nice job.

  6. Chris Jones

     /  May 18, 2012

    Terri –
    You can’t get an answer from the transit folks because their is no sane answer to give you. That’s what happens after 20 years of “free” service, and the contingency of squeaky wheels in the CH/C populace demanding additional stops, sometimes as close as 25 yards from the previous one. If our bus system was a rail system, we’d have long since killed half the population in head-on train collisions.

    Nancy –
    Off the top of my head, I have called (or emailed) and received prompt feedback and information from the following during the previous 12 months: Roger Stancil, Catherine, JB Culpepper, Butch Kisiah, Ken Pennoyer, Brenda Jones, Dwight Bassett, Emily (landscape architect, can’t remember her last name to safe my life), and someone else in planning/housing (again, sorry, can’t remember name). It’s great that you stick up for Catherine, and their are admittedly plenty of, ahem, challenging personalities at town hall; there’s also a lot of people who try really damn hard to do their job in a really challenging environment.

  7. Terri Buckner

     /  May 18, 2012


    I’ve been riding the buses here since before fare-free was introduced and I don’t remember every riding riding a single route that stopped in 25 yards except for the stop between the Health Sciences Library and Carrington Hall. The problem is that the town has contracted out their help service to Triangle Transit–and those operators don’t live in the community. So if you say, I’m at the hospital and need to get to Chapel Hill North, they have no clue what you’re talking about.

    I agree with the regionalization of many services–trash collection being most recently on my mind. But there are some services that need to be local. And transit assistance is one of those, in my opinion.

  8. Nancy Oates

     /  May 18, 2012

    Chris — You got me thinking, and yes, Ken Pennoyer and JB Culpepper are quick to respond.

  9. Ed Harrison

     /  May 18, 2012

    The service cuts were made last Spring, effective mid-August 2011, not the year before last. They ended up being more workable once Brian Litchfield took over the process from the out-of-state consultant, but they were still severe in some areas. I had to push aggressively to keep bus service routed to the four major retail areas on Fordham Boulevard. Always good to have the local folks retool a plan. No one is getting “additional stops” anymore, although folks in my neighborhood managed to get one moved, and for the better, in one example. Don, next time try calling me with a transit question. I might know the answer.