The citizens of Greensboro dodged a bullet on Tuesday, March 16, courtesy of the Greensboro City Council.

Following a unanimous vote of the City Council, calls to the Greensboro Water Resources Department will not be answered by someone in Costa Rica.

Water Resources Department Director Mike Borchers presented a proposal to the City Council to have the water department’s call center “outsourced” to the CRG Corporation at a cost of about $300,000 year.

Borchers offered some of the advantages of having the call center out sourced – cost was one.  But he also noted that when the water department has emergencies, such as a recent major waterline break, that the call center gets overwhelmed.  He said that if the call center were outsourced CRG could provide sufficient lines for calls to get answered.

Borchers noted that if the water department call center went down due to a weather event or other emergency that they had no backup, while the CRG call center did have a backup call center that could take over.  He also said that it was becoming more common place, and Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Guilford County had all outsourced call centers.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said, “I have a problem outsourcing customer service.”  Vaughan said she would rather see the city’s customer service personnel beefed up.

Councilmember Michelle Kennedy also noted that “call centers are notoriously low wage employers.”  And she said that she was also concerned about the quality of the customer service.

Councilmember Sharon Hightower expressed concern over the diversity of the workforce at the call center.

It was left to Councilmember Marikay Abuzuaiter to ask the key question: “Where is this call center located?”  Borchers said the CRG was headquartered in High Point but the actual call center would be in Costa Rica.

If there were any undecideds on the City Council before that statement, there were not any after.  The idea of having to explain to constituents why a call to the Greensboro Water Resources Department was being answered by someone in Costa Rica was a bridge too far for this City Council.

It was odd that a proposal from staff that was so unpopular with the City Council ever made it to on a City Council agenda.  In the past, this kind of proposal would have been floated out in a City Council work session.  The council would have discussed the proposal long before it got to the point of approving a contract for $870,000.  In this case, Borchers would have been told “no way” by the City Council long before the proposal went through the request for proposals and contract negotiating process.

But with only one City Council business meeting a month and infrequent, hastily held work sessions, the city staff is left with few avenues to communicate with the City Council other than at that one business meeting a month.