By John Schaffner

Walking the streets of his Buckhead district, Councilman Howard Shook takes a photo of himself reflected in a convex mirror in the Peachtree Park neighborhood off Piedmont Road.

Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook is employing technology that will allow his Buckhead constituents to report problems to city departments any time and anywhere.

“It gives new meaning to the notion City Hall is open for business 24/7,” Shook said.

See a pothole or a traffic light that needs fixing? Shook has launched a mobile-phone-based service/webpage that allows residents to instantly send any concerns directly to the appropriate city department. Using the service, residents can e-mail a text message or an image of the problem to city officials.

The service is provided through mobilezen, Inc., which provides a person or business the ability to communicate targeted information. It was developed for Shook’s use by his neighbor, attorney Mark Izenson, whom the councilman describes as a “real techie.”

Shook said Izenson “always has the very latest technology device” and believes “people are gravitating away from the use of PCs to cell phones.” After seeing what Izenson had developed for his own use, Shook decided, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could empower constituents to solve problems in the city by using this technology?”

Constituents simply use their mobile phones and text “District 7” to 99699 (Msg&Data Rates May Apply), then follow the link within the automated text-message reply. Or they can go online to to directly access the appropriate city department. The site contains tips on how to provide information needed to accelerate resolution of problems.

“This mobile phone-based service is the first of its kind,” Shook said, “an easy and interactive tool that empowers you to immediately put the city on notice regarding a variety of problems, including potholes, flawed water bills, malfunctioning traffic signals, missed garbage pick-ups, housing code violations and much more.”

Shook said he started by asking his staff what the most common things constituents called his office about. “We wanted to make this a turnkey way to report problems to the city,” he explained. The councilman’s office also tracks constituents’ e-mails to city departments to ensure that matters are resolved satisfactory.

“This gives our residents the ability to access information ‘on-the-go’ or send a concern to a city department instantly, whether they are out for the evening jog or sitting in traffic at a malfunctioning traffic signal,” Shook explained. “This certainly improves communication and allows us to more effectively serve the citizens.”

Meanwhile, while Shook is using technology to allow his constituents to more easily report problems around the city, he is personally applying one of the oldest methods of discovering problems in his neighborhoods—a lot of shoe leather, a notepad and a camera.

Shook reports he has completed walking all of the streets in the District 7 neighborhoods, but still has the commercial areas to go in his quest to examine firsthand the streets in his district. He had walked about 30 miles on 258 streets of his district by May 25, he said.

“I saw streets that need repaving and original sidewalk segments decades old that need repairs,” he said. “But it hasn’t been as bad as I had expected.”