City of Reno officials on Wednesday announced the creation of a new Office of Innovation and Experience to be housed within the City Manager’s office. The move was touted as an effort to enhance customer service for citizens seeking information or submitting complaints to the city through its Reno Direct call line.
“Ideally, what this will help us do is it will help us keep better track of what the complaints are, what they come from, what time of year, so that we can be more proactive in how we address some of the stuff that we see on a regular basis,” City Manager Doug Thornley said.
Former City Clerk Ashley Turney has been named the chief innovation and experience officer for the new department.
According to Thornley, in addition to the Reno Direct call line, “the liaisons for the council members are moving over there. Arts and Culture is over there for the moment so that we can start to be more proactive in how we handle events. Special events that we have downtown are, by and large, run by promoters—and we’re just a permitting agency, but we’d like to be more active in that space.”
Thornley said the new office will work collaboratively with internal departments and the community to “drive innovation and efficiencies at the city while also working to improve service delivery for every resident.”
The city plans to bolster the Reno Direct call line so activity can be better tracked to see what issues citizens are most often raising with the city and how these vary by neighborhood and time of year. He said the most common complaints submitted to Reno Direct are for abandoned vehicles and uncontrolled weeds.
“We are not a traditional city, and I think that’s what makes Reno really shine.”
While some things may become more automated over time, Thornley said it is not the city’s intention to pare down its staffing.
“It’s difficult to say that there would be staffing changes,” he said. “I think this will give us the information we need to deploy our human assets in a more efficient and more proactive way … and this is not intended to thin the organization in any way. It’s just intended to say, ‘Hey, look, there’s only so many hours in the day. There’s only so many people in the organization. These are the things we need to get done.’
“If there are things that we can have technology do for us or have technology help us do better so that we can better focus our efforts for the community, that’s something we’re going to take advantage of,” he said.
Thornley added that the city will be mindful to make sure services remain available for people who don’t have access to internet-connected technology to find information or make requests online.
Mayor Hillary Schieve said it has always been her goal to keep Reno at the “forefront of how city government works,” adding that the pandemic was accompanied by a flood of citizen complaints that the city needs to respond to more efficiently.
“We want to be responsive immediately,” she said. “We don’t want constituents to have to wait two or three days to get an answer. And we want to just think very differently. Like I’ve said, government can be incredibly stale. It can have a lot of blockades, and we want to make sure that we can really be there when our community needs us.
“It’s certainly not traditional—and, actually, that’s why I like it. We are not a traditional city, and I think that’s what makes Reno really shine,” she said.
In addition to Turney’s recent job transition, the city has hired several other new people, including Jackie Bryant as the new assistant city manager, JW Hodge as the new director of the Office of Policy and Strategy, Kannaiah Vadlakunta as the new director of the Department of Information Technology and Norma Santoyo as the new director of human resources.
The city also recently contracted with Ralph Andersen & Associates, an executive research firm, to conduct the recruitment for an additional Assistant City Manager position.
Jeri Chadwell came to Reno from rural Nevada in 2004 to study anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. In 2012, she returned to the university for a master’s degree in journalism. She is the former associate and news editor of the Reno News & Review and is a recipient of first-place Nevada Press Association awards for investigative and business reporting. Jeri is passionate about Nevada’s history, politics and communities.