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Cleveland residents can call 311 when they have a problem or concern about a city service. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

During a budget meeting in February, Chief Technology Officer Roy Fernando said he hopes to modernize city government. Specifically, Fernando’s sights are set on 311.

311 is a non-emergency line Cleveland residents can call when they have a problem or concern about a city service. For example, they could report a pothole on a city street or request assistance with trash pick-up. 

Ward 14 Council Member Jasmin Santana asked during the budget meeting how many 311 support specialists are bilingual. Santana, who speaks Spanish and English, represents an area with a high concentration of residents who speak Spanish. 

At the time, city officials said none of the specialists were bilingual, but callers could access translation services through LanguageLine

Federal civil rights law requires governments and agencies that get federal money to take reasonable steps to make services accessible to folks with limited English abilities. For example, an agency cannot require someone to provide their own interpreter or refuse services because a person does not speak English.

Cleveland Documenter Dean Jackson covered the meeting and wanted to know:

How many Clevelanders use the city’s 311 LanguageLine translation service each year, and what are their needs and demographics?

Dean Jackson, Cleveland Documenter

What we learned

The city still has no bilingual support staffing the 311 line, according to city spokesperson Marie Zickefoose. Call takers for 311 still rely on LanguageLine to meet the needs of non-English-speaking residents. 

In 2022, LanguageLine handled:

  • 497 calls to the 311 line
  • 5,271 minutes of conversation
  • 85% of the translated calls were Spanish

Using the current system, the city can’t trace the reason for each call. But when a $4 million  upgrade of the 311 platform launches – possibly next year – it will track the reason for calls and how the calls were resolved, Zickefoose said in an email.

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The Follow Up

Service Journalism Reporter (she/her)
Dakotah is a journalist and audio producer dedicated to untangling bureaucracy and providing power (information) to the people of Cleveland. She spent 10 years on the frontlines of direct service working with youth and system-impacted communities before receiving her master's in media advocacy from Northeastern University. Dakotah is part of the Community team whose mission is to listen and amplify the issues Clevelanders care about most.

Cleveland Documenters pays and trains people to cover public meetings where government officials discuss important issues and decide how to spend taxpayer money.