Code complaint in St. Pete Beach? There's an app for that

The smartphone service will help St. Pete Beach improve responsiveness.
Published March 20 2015

ST. PETE BEACH — There really is an app that will fix that annoying pothole or get someone to mow the overgrown yard next door.

Well, the app might not actually "do" it, but it will forward residents' complaints and photos of code violations and other issues directly to the attention of city officials.

The app also will allow the city to promptly reply to the complaining resident about their complaint, the action taken and when the issue is resolved.

PublicStuff, a mobile smartphone app, is also available for use on computers, and will be available for residents to download from iTunes and other app distribution centers within the next few weeks.

This month, the City Commission approved spending $5,000 — or about 50 cents per resident — to buy the app service, which first became available to municipalities in 2010. Forbes named PublicStuff as one of "America's Most Promising Companies" in 2014.

City Manager Wayne Saunders and Human Resources Administrator Colette Graston are now working to adapt the app to address the unique needs and problems of St. Pete Beach.

"The app reports not only the number and type of complaints, but also how quickly we respond to them and what the status is. It helps our staff to see where complaints are. If there is a concentration of garbage complaints in one place, for example, we can respond to that," said Saunders.

He and other city officials tested the app for more than a month before asking the commission to actually subscribe to the Internet-based service.

Before the app is rolled out to the public, the city staff will be trained in how to use it to respond to complaints, Graston said.

She estimated that could take up to six weeks. At that time, residents would be able to use their smartphones to take pictures of code enforcement violations and report those and any other issues directly to the city.

There will even be a selection of widgets for such commonly reported issues as fallen trees or pests that residents could click on.

Pictures sent to the city would have GPS location data attached, so city officials will know the exact location of the reported problem.

"If an issue is not addressed in a set number of days, the complaint will get kicked up to next level person for action," Graston explained. "It can go to a supervisor, a director or even the city manager. Nothing falls through the cracks."

The city can get daily reports itemizing the number of complaints, their type and location, what kind of response occurred, the number of outstanding unresolved complaints, and whether or not the complaining resident was notified of the status of their complaint.

"We are excited about the app. It can do all kinds of reports: by district, type, date, outstanding issues, completed issues, and by department," Graston said.

"I love it. It is wonderful responsiveness," Mayor Maria Lowe said.

Commissioner Rick Falkenstein, who was one of the commissioners who urged the city to consider employing the app, stressed that it can send information, like evacuation orders or city event schedules, out to participating residents, as well.