In Houston for three weeks, a delegation of 16 government professionals from Hangzhou, China are learning about constituent service – Texas-style. Following two days of classroom activity led by Dr. Roger Durand (University of Houston-Clear Lake) and Dr. Jon Taylor (University of St. Thomas), their first field trips included visits to municipal and state offices in Houston and Austin.
The Hangzhou group's visit to the City of Houston began with an introduction and welcome by Richard Cantú, director of the Mayor's Citizens' Assistance Office, and Alice Lee, administrator for the office of Mayor Pro-Tem Carol Alvarado.
Next was a stop by the City Council chambers. Mayor Bill White formally welcomed the group to Houston, and they had the opportunity to listen to the mayor and council in session. According to David Guo, president of Global Unisource and translator for the visit, "The group was quite impressed by the openness of American government's decision making process, which I suspect is an aspect that we take for granted."
The highlight of the visit was a session with Gloria Bingham, director of the 3-1-1 Houston Service Center. The 3-1-1 Center provides a consolidated system offering a single, easy-to-use number to access city services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Implemented in 2001, the 3-1-1 Center responds to citizens' non-emergency needs immediately while reducing the 9-1-1 call load. Ms. Bingham's session included information on the Service Center's background and processes as well as a tour of the facility. Guo said the delegation members were especially impressed by 3-1-1's technological system and were amazed at the number of calls they handled each day.
The group traveled to Austin the following day. The highlights of the trip included a tour of the capitol building and a visit to the office of State Representative Garnet Coleman. Ben Hallmark, Coleman's legislative aide, discussed the connection between constituents and state government, primarily focusing on how a constituent's concern can make its way through the legislative process.
Additional class lectures and field trips fill the group's remaining weeks.
Glimpses of the Hangzhou delegation's visit to the City of Houston
More about Global Unisource's study tours