MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Since Dr. Candace Jones moved in to her home two years ago, she’s been embarrassed by her Southeast Memphis community.
“It’s deplorable. It’s not a way to live. It’s not the way we want to live,” she said.
She showed the WREG Problem Solvers the massive amounts of dumping along Clarke Road south of her home. The mess included abandoned mattresses, televisions and light bulbs.
She’s tried reporting it to 311.
“I and some of the other neighbors will put in complaints often, and that’s the problem,” she said.
But their multiple 311 complaints all show they’ve been “closed” with a positive resolution, such as “Trash or Debris was removed by crews.”
“Generally, they’re closed a couple days after they’re logged in and the message will be from the city that the debris has been picked up,” she said. “The reality is, it sits and it grows.”
Jones is not alone. The WREG Problem Solvers have been hearing from Memphians all over the city with similar complaints.
“They’re just closing the orders for whatever reason, and it makes it look like they’ve performed the service and they haven’t,” Kenneth Oakes said in May.
“Is that a ploy for the media and other people to see that the city of Memphis is handling their cases but they’re not? Because this is not closed. This has not even been addressed,” Flora Childres said.
The Problem Solvers have asked city officials about it for months.
First they said: “Sometimes 311 service requests are closed out because of duplicate requests.” Later, they admitted they knew about the problem, but still didn’t say what they were doing about it.
Finally, we got the chance to ask Public Works Director Robert Knecht.
He explained complaints can get closed because they’ve been moved behind the scenes.
“If you mis-categorize it, let’s say you said it was ‘miscellaneous.’ You didn’t know who it was assigned to. That gets to 311. They say, ‘No this is another division.’ Sometimes they close that service request and reassign it, create a new service request and assign it to the division,” he said.
Keep in mind, the city’s solid waste division only handles residential pickups.
Public Works handles dumping like the situation on Clarke Road.
“There are lots of things that happen with our service requests and 311 they don’t see. That’s a weakness in our system. That’s why we’re looking to replace it,” Knecht said. “The system doesn’t work as well as we think it should in communicating with the citizens so we need to find another solution.”
The Problem Solvers asked why city officials had never told the public about their issues with the system and intentions to replace it.
“I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that,” Knecht said.
Until they replace the system, here are some ways you can help your chances with your complaint:
- Call 311 rather than report online.
- Do your research; check what department handles this issue. Don’t try to guess. Knecht says they plan to release a citizen guide soon with this information.
- Be patient. You might not realize that behind the scenes, your complaint could be making its way to a different department or to court.
Back in Southeast Memphis, Jones has started enjoying her commute.
“Since we saw you last, they’ve cleaned up this area,” she said. “Your involvement in this situation has really caused the city to begin checking. So, now we have results.”
She showed pictures of how they first put out these hazard signs and then cleared the dumping.
Officials also tell the Problem Solvers they’re now adding hidden cameras to Clarke Road.
“I am excited this issue has come to their attention and they’re intentional about moving forward to ensure we get it taken care of,” she said.
Now, she’ll wait for the city to upgrade the 311 system so this won’t continue to happen.