Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

25 calls to 311: no action; vow to call media: action

Homeowner miffed damage to garage ignored

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Olivia Harris says Emterra only responded to her complaints because she threatened to go to the media.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Olivia Harris says Emterra only responded to her complaints because she threatened to go to the media. Photo Store

THE time comes when it's not about the money anymore or the inconvenience or frustration.

After about 25-plus calls to city hall and your councillor, it's about the principle.

Welcome to the world of Olivia Harris.

More than 10 months ago, when new garbage pickup service by Emterra was unveiled, her garage was damaged during a pickup. A neighbour reported that either the container or claw from the truck banged into the Harris home on Cottonwood Road in Windsor Park, chipping off a chunk of stucco, ripping off phone wires and tearing off part of the fascia.

Harris believed if the city or its contractor were responsible for the damage -- "Six-hundred bucks is 600 bucks," she reasoned -- they could fix it.

"When someone destroys your property [that person] should be held accountable," she said. "It's been 10 months already. They said they were going to address it, but they haven't."

Harris said she called 311 in regards to the issue "at least 25 times."

"I stopped counting because it frustrates me," she added. "Their (311 operators') hands are tied, too. They can only advance you to a supervisor and that gets you nowhere."

Harris was promised four months ago by a supervisor at Emterra that a company representative would come out to assess the damage.

No one did.

"If I go out and damage someone else's property, I would be accountable for it," she said. "Why shouldn't the city? I know they'll think the longer they leave it, we'll forget. Well, I'm not going to forget."

On Tuesday, after Harris told a 311 operator she planned to take her complaint about Emterra to the media, a supervisor from the waste-collection company showed up at her door a few hours later to assess the damage and take pictures.

In June, an employee from Emterra had made a similar visit, but there was no followup.

Harris said the supervisor told her the company had no record of her complaints.

Harris wondered how that might be possible given 311 operators she called more than two dozen times not only recorded her calls, but practically knew her on a first-name basis.

However, Emterra supervisor David Tarko, who made the assessment, insisted there were only five 311 calls from the Harris residence on file. One was for a broken wheel on the garbage container (which was fixed immediately), and others for days when the garbage wasn't picked up.

There was no record of damage to the house and no list of 25 or more calls, he said.

"Maybe it just slipped through the cracks," he said, agreeing with Harris that all 311 calls are recorded and made available to Emterra.

Tarko said Harris's complaint is a "top priority" and the damage will be fixed within days.

"We have to look after it right away," he said. "She's all looked after now."

A city spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday that "we absolutely agree that the customer contacted 311 regularly to keep us informed on the lack of progress" on the issue.

"We are still in the first year of a new system that was rolled out to over 190,000 homes," the spokeswoman added in an email.

"Even though we strive for excellent customer service, this situation affirms that we need to take some steps to improve our monitoring process to ensure that customer concerns are addressed in a timely fashion.

"We apologize for the inconvenience this delay has caused the customer and very much appreciate that she kept us informed."

Regardless, Harris believes her threat to publicize her complaint spurred the supervisor's visit and promise for action.

"It's not a coincidence," she said. "But it shouldn't come to that to get them to do their job. As far as I'm concerned it's not dealt with until it's fixed.

"They've made so many promises. They came out (in March) to look at it and didn't do anything."

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Have you had to call 311? What was that experience like? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2013 A3

History

Updated on Thursday, August 1, 2013 at 5:38 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds question for conversation

6:15 AM: clarifies wording on who should be accountable

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