12:11 pm Oct. 5, 2012
In last night's "Parks and Recreation" episode, "How a bill becomes a law," Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 311 program comes to Pawnee.
Pawnee city manager Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) arrives at the idea following an unusually positive experience with "intensive psychotherapy."
"It used to be, when I was down, I called my mother," he said. "When I lacked self confidence, I called my running coach. And now, no matter what emotion I'm feeling, I call one number, my therapist. I want to do the same thing for the city."
"A psychotherapist for the city," exclaims the ever daft and endearing Andy, seeming to think that's a revelatory idea.
"No Andy," says Chris. "A 311 line. Citizens will call 311 for whatever problem they have. Uncollected garbage, broken street light, and we will direct them to the proper department."
"Chris, great idea," says Andy.
"Thank you," says Chris. "I agree. I love this idea. And I love me for thinking of it."
This is not the first time Pawnee and its unusually robust small-town media have taken on Bloomberg initiatives.
Last week's episode satirized the controversy surrounding Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ban on large servings of sugared sodas in restaurants and movie theaters, among other establishments regulated by the city's health department.
And now, 311.
It should be noted, New York was not the first major city to create a 311 hotline for all non-emergency calls. Baltimore implemented a non-emergency hotline in 1997 and Chicago in 1999, both originally designed to siphon off non-emergency calls from 911.
In 2001, Houston launched something more akin to what would become New York City's 311, but it wasn't 24/7.
New York City's 311, launched in 2003, never closes, and is designed to handle all manner of non-emergency calls, from questions about which plastics are recyclable, to complaints about that unduly boisterous bar downstairs.
Other cities, like Buffalo, have gone on to launch similar efforts.
On the show, Ron Swanson, the head of the Pawnee parks department and the show's resident libertarian, takes one of the first calls.
"Well, Diane, for potholes you want to speak with Public Works," he says to a caller. "I understand, you've tried them four times. Government is inefficient and should be dissolved. Please hold while I transfer you."
A few seconds later, his phone rings again.
"311 how can I … oh hello again, Diane. Nobody answered. OK, you know what, someone will be there shortly. Andrew, get your lunch, some water and a 40-pound bag of asphalt."
"OK, boss, what are we doing?" asks Andy.
"We're fixing a pothole."
They leave the office.
Another character, Jerry, answers the phone.
"Pawnee 311, how can I help … Oh no, no this is not 911, no no this is 311. Donna, they switched my phone with 911. What do I do?"
Donna looks up from the book she's reading, Fifty Shades of Grey.
"I don't know," she says. "Try to help. Now hush."
As it turns out, Diane the pot-hole complainant is a hot middle-school vice principal played by Lucy Lawless. She and Ron have instant chemistry. And after she asks him out, the normally government-disparaging government employee offers his assessment of 311.
"I begrudgingly admit that the 311 program is a moderate success," Ron says.
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