Letter to the Editor:Mayor Curtatone’s Secret Citizen Initiative Will Cause Divide Between City Employees and Residents

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By Izak Shapiro

On April 14th, an article appeared in The Boston Globe to introduce the Somerville “Secret Resident Program.”
Via Somervillema.gov, the goal of the program is: “to evaluate and improve our customer service standards across all City Departments and to better serve our constituents.” The mayor’s office asks for volunteers to go through a brief customer service training session, where the volunteers will be given a “script and an exit survey for every evaluation of City services,” per Somervillema.gov.
This program is unethical. Plain and simple. The Globe article was the first broad public announcement. As Somerville residents we can understand where the mayor’s office is coming from; the ultimate intent—to better the services of the city for its residents—comes from a good place….doing so through spies disguised as residents will result in the exact opposite of the program’s intent.
Trust cannot be gained through illusion. On micro levels in communities across the United States, the rift between residents and city employees—and the communication gap widening that rift—is as visible and obvious as it has ever been. In Somerville, clearly, the desire for improvement burns strongly. Attempting to traverse the rift in the dark, through a spy program, will result in a firestorm.
Somerville employees should be treated appropriately: not subjected to the constant possibility of a false interaction with a fellow resident whose primary goal is to unearth a wrong-doing. Bettering the work of city employees needs to be accomplished through improved management, more thorough training, and an overall level of greater attention paid to the working environment and conditions of Somerville city employees. The Mayor’s Office has already violated worker’s rights by implementing this program without allowing for collective bargaining: Chapter 150 E of Massachusetts state law asserts the rights for all city employees to bargain for “terms and conditions of employment.” The Mayor’s Office’s choice to skirt worker’s rights reflects the larger issue their resident program will attempt to solve—inadequate management, subpar working conditions, and rude interactions—if they truly want to solve those issues, they must look in the mirror.
Perception and perspective dictate our interpretations of all interactions. Viewing the adequacy of an employee through the eyes of a spy will undoubtedly result in a confirmation bias tainted with negativity. Issues must be brought into the daylight. Let’s stop fumbling in the dark. Let’s not believe spying on each other is the best solution. Instead, we should use the original intent behind the “Secret Resident Program” as the impetus for open dialogue, a focus on bettering worker management, training, and environment, and ultimately as the impetus for a better Somerville for all, workers and residents equally.

One thought on “Letter to the Editor:Mayor Curtatone’s Secret Citizen Initiative Will Cause Divide Between City Employees and Residents”

  1. A great article in response to a subversive practice initiated by the City with only one real goal, set the workers up for progressive discipline through these “spies”. Adding these city chosen spies to funnel reviews back to city hall is a violation by adding people to conduct performance reviews in secret with the possibility of setting workers up against “hostile” citizens looking to get a rise out of a worker doing his job. There is no good result to be expected and I hope it backfires in their face with Division of Labor Charges and Grievances filed against the city by setup workers.

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