If you call the city attorney’s hotline, 619-533-5600, a recorded message tells you that if you have an environmental complaint, call Nuisance Abatement. Huh? If you have a consumer fraud complaint, you are told to call the Civil Litigation Division. Civil? Suppose your complaint is over a criminal matter? The city attorney’s office handles some misdemeanor criminal matters.
On March 21, the city attorney’s office abolished the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit with little if any media coverage. At the time, the office heralded the civil lawsuit against Experian Data Corporation for selling confidential information about consumers. The office put out a news release that the Affirmative Civil Enforcement Unit (Called “ACE”) was being created to prosecute civil crimes against consumers and polluters. That news release made no mention of the killing of the old Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit. There was a press conference, but the matter of abolishing the old unit apparently did not come up.
Thus, confusion reigned. People calling with consumer fraud and environmental complaints got shifted around by operators. Bill Newsome, who was the head deputy city attorney in the Consumer and Environmental Protection Unit from 1985 to 2000, called with a consumer complaiint. “I was transferred about five or six times,” he says. Several operators knew nothing about “ACE.” He finally got to a deputy city attorney in the office who conceded he was confused, too.
“Our receptionists should understand where to direct callers, but there are always kinks to work out,” says Gerry Braun, chief of staff in the office. “We are designing new website pages to help direct the public to the units that will handle their issues."