As Jane Young listens to the story being told over the telephone, her body becomes a study in theatrics. The eyes dance, a hand flickers impatiently through her hair. She registers anger, then suprise as she tunes into the caller's story.
While the body theatrics dramatize the tale, Young writes the facts on a sheet of paper. Before she hangs up, she refers the caller to one of the many telephone numbers of government agencies listed on a bulletin board in front of her.
Another case has been started. And Yound, along with 11 other volunteers at the City Hall Complaint Center, will follow this caller's problem until it is resolved one way or another.
You may not be able to beat City Hall but you certainly can complain about it to the people in room 220 of the District Building. Whether the problem is about abandoned autos, housing or noisy dogs, volunteers at the City Hall Complaint Center are available from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each week day to act as informal links between the people and the government.
Last year 3,500 complaints were handled by the center, said office manager Lloyd Mayfield. At one time the office had 34 volunteers, and more than 5,000 complaints were handled annually, he said.
"When we get a complaint we send a card to the (proper) agency. They reply and let us know what's being done, if anything," Mayfield explained. This information is then placed on the case file card.
"If nothing's done, that's stated on the card, too."
Each month Mayfield sends a report to Mayor Walter E. Washington. Ben Gilbert, director of the Municipal Planning Office, gets a similar report weekly.
Most complaints involve city services, but action alos is taken on complaints that concern private firms, he said.
Mayfield, a psychology major at the Unviersity of the District of Columbia, has been at the center a year.He said the center is constantly seeking more volunteers and, in some cases, college students can receive credit for their work.
Housing problems are the most frequent complaints the center receives, he said. Many of these complaints come from tenants in National Capitol Housing projects.
Tenants complain of a lack of heat or hot water, a leaky roof or eviction notices. In most other cases, a housing inspector is sent to the property.
"But we can't send an inspector to the National Capitol Housing (projects)," said Mayfield explaining that the city has no control over federal properties. When this problem arises, Mayfield said, the center appeals to the building property manager until the problem is resolved or there is no reply.
Although there are common complaints, such as housing problems, each day is full of surprises, he said.
He chuckles good naturedly about the woman who wanted the city to stop pigeons from roosting on her new roof. Surprisingly enough a city agency was able to control the problem.
"The interesting thing about this job is you never know what you're going to be asked," agreed Young.
In some ways, Young said, she finds the job similar to her former career as a foreign service officer. She said some of the agencies could be more efficient in their respinse to complaints, "but you don't know how overburdened they are. You don't know the mitigating circumstances. For example, the tree people are always behind. It's not their fault. They're good, hard working people but there are so many trees."
Therefore Young said volunteers are encouraged to weigh each situation separately. "Balance it out, don't always accept the story you're told."
On the other hand, she cautions workers, don't be too skeptical.
"The people who call in complaints are mostly very nice people. They're grateful to have someone help them and they need help."
D.C. residents who have used the center said they have found the volunteers to be very helpful. But, more importantly, they got the job done.
"I believe in giving credit where it's due. I called them and got a very quick response," said Minnie B. Reeves, of 501 21st St. NE. Reeves had complained about an abandoned house in her neighborhood that she wanted boarded up. She said the problem was taken care of immediately. Now the center is working on another case for her.
Pauline Ray, of 6104 4th St. NW, was stunned by "some very bad potholes" at 16th and Buchannan streets NW. "I called the center and just a few days later they had taken care of them."
Another resident, Carolyn Giles, of 604 57the St. NE, complained about an abandoned shack near her home. A few weeks later it was torn down.
And the Rev. Aron McCombs said he called the enter after trying to get District police to tow away a car that had been left in front of his church at 3924 4th St. SE. for more than five months.
"The police rode by there every day," said McCombs. "I called (the complaint center) and they acted pretty rapidly." The car was gone within two weeks, he said. Still McCombs did have one complaint.
"They're not there too long during the day. I wish they were (open) longer."
The complaint center was introduced to Washingtonians in 1968 over WTOP on "Call For Action." Later Mayor Washington asked that the program be moved to the District Building so it could better serve the city. Thus the City Hall Complaint Center was born. The city provides space, materials and telephones for the program. Alice Rowen and Sue Okun serve as chairmen of the vlounteers who actually handle the calls.
Okun said the cooperation from most of the city department heads "is really astonishing. We find response from all branches is really quite remarkable." She said she hopes the center will continue with the next administration.
The Complaint Center number is 393-3333.