(photos via City of Hoboken)
As you can imagine, Constituent Affairs in a densely populated city like ours can be a pretty busy job. Nevertheless, Caulfield took the time to chat with hMAG about Hoboken, her role with the City and what it means to serve the people of her hometown…
hMAG: You were born and raised in Hoboken. How important do you feel that is when it comes to understanding the needs of this community?
Caroline Caulfield, Hoboken Chief of Constituent Affairs: Being from Hoboken is central to the way I think about the needs of my community. I’ve seen how our needs have evolved and, frankly, I’ve been thinking about how City Hall falls short of meeting those needs for as long as I can remember. I know many families that were priced out here and forced to leave, so I am acutely aware of how lucky I am to have grown up here.
I’ve been grateful to be at the table in conversations in City Hall throughout the past few months where I’ve had the opportunity to advocate for fellow residents. Seniors and other Hoboken “B&R’s” often call my office and share their anxieties about their ability to remain in their homes or the despicable maintenance services they’re subjected to here, because it’s all they can afford. Those phone calls stay with me and, although I always treat them as confidential, I often share those stories when I’m working on larger City-wide initiatives. They are a main driver of my thinking and I believe its crucial that those perspectives are brought to the table.
h: What’s your favorite part about working back here at home?
CC: Forgive me for being sentimental, but my love for these streets runs very deep. C’mon, my parents met because my mom was my Dad’s waitress at Helmers‘… of course I’m going to think about that when I’m walking up 11th St!
h: The City has put a lot of emphasis on its 311 system. What were the previous mechanisms that would ensure issues were reaching the right personnel, and how will that change under your supervision?
CC: When the City’s contract with 311 began under Mayor Zimmer’s administration, complaints were automatically routed to various employees scattered throughout City Hall. This was great in theory, but there wasn’t an office dedicated to giving the platform the attention it needs.
When I started the job in June, I combed through the 311 system, making sure that all appropriate City Employees had access and all appropriate staff was notified immediately when requests came through. I met with every Division head and Department Director to get their feedback on the top 311 requests their Department receives and how they think the system could improve. I made a lot of changes and new digital workflows in the 311 system after these conversations and after learning– for myself– who to go to in each department to get things done.
Now, I am personally notified when every single 311 request comes through. Although many are also routed to individual employees and Directors within City Hall, I am responsible for overseeing each employee’s responses. I’m still in the process of working out many kinks in the system, but when I see that requests are going unanswered, it’s my responsibility to follow up to ensure they’re taken care of myself.
h: There is no shortage of complaints in a city like ours. We know, because we get them, too. When should Hobokenites reach out to you? What’s your philosophy on serving the constituents, and what can residents expect when they reach out to the City with an issue?
CC: Follow up is the most important aspect of my office’s work. And at the very least, I believe that residents deserve an administration that is responsive to them. Between 311, phone calls, emails, and in-person visits, the office already has a very high volume of incoming requests. I recommend that Hobokenites use any of those mediums to get in touch with me. I am not on social media, so when people submit requests via Facebook and Twitter, they should know that it will take much longer for me to get back to them. I have to depend on their post being flagged by a colleague and messaged to me. Sometimes folks tag individuals within City Hall and I have no way of ensuring that that request will be forwarded to my office. To ensure that my office receives the request, I’d ask that residents please use 311, call/email me, or stop by the office.
Hoboken Office of Constituent Affairs
Open 9-4 p.m.; Monday-Friday
(201) 420-2000 ext. 1311
h: BONUS QUESTION: what’s your favorite Frank Sinatra song and why?
CC: Life has prepared me well for your great bonus question… Under My Skin (Live at The Sands recording of course). When the song hits it really hits and I love the timid build up and ending. When I was a kid my dad would blast it in our kitchen and me and my sister would play air trumpets with our fists. We all still know every ad-lib from that recording and go wild when that song comes on.