New voice @ the city

Ruth Longoria

Mercer Island Reporter

Imagine this: You pick up the telephone, dial the old familiar number, and a smooth, slightly sexy baritone voice responds, ``Hello and thank you for calling the city of Mercer Island.''

No, you haven't just reached classic Dragnet announcer George Fenneman, or even Dan Aykroyd portraying Sergeant Joe Friday. You've been welcomed to the city's new automated phone line. A call that used to reach the city's sometimes harried development services attendants now elicits a new, yet familiar vocalization.

The city is piloting a trial automated attendant system that began Dec. 12 and is expected to last at least two months. During that time, folks who call the city's main line: 206-236-3560, are treated to a narrative of numbers to reach specific departments, as well as information to reach the city's Web site. The pseudo-phone operator is expected to save time and money for the city, as the workers who previously answered the phone can perform their other regular duties.

``The idea is that there's technology that can help us and make it so an operator doesn't need to be tied to the switchboard,'' said Deb Symmonds, deputy city manager. ``We are trying for greater efficiency.''

Previously, the development services department supplied someone to answer the city phone lines because that department generally receives the highest volume of calls. Back when the city operated its own police and fire dispatch the call volume was about equal between emergency calls and development services. But now, most of the people who call City Hall are seeking information about permits, zoning and other development services issues.

Symmonds said the city will decide whether or not to keep the system based primarily on if it's a service to the community, as well as the development services employees.

The new telephone voice that Symmonds refers to as ``magnificent'' belongs to Mercer Island's Police Commander Ed Holmes.

``I've never done anything like that,'' he said, ``but when they asked me, I said, `Hey, why not?''

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