Oswaldo Mestre Jr. has several job titles at the city of Buffalo, N.Y. He is its director of citizen services and the chief service officer. He also acts as ombudsman — which leads Mestre, Mayor Byron Brown’s first appointee, to a more descriptive way of quantifying what he actually does.
“I’m the guy you call when you have constituent issues, things you need done or fixed. The office of citizen service is primarily that,” Mestre said.
“I am a push-the-envelope type of guy,” he said. “I don’t necessarily believe in the status quo, and I’m grateful that I have a boss, the mayor, who acknowledges that and allows me the freedom to try to make that happen.”
Mestre directed Buffalo’s Weed and Seed program, which used federal Department of Justice funds to target underserved areas with crime problems. He also helped stand up Buffalo’s 311 system, fostering a more responsive relationship between constituents and City Hall in the digital age. A key tenet of the program is that residents get an initial response from officials, then another when their problems are resolved.
In turn, City Hall has come to use information from 311 to shape its planning and transform its own culture. “It really just changed the dynamic of how we responded,” Mestre said. “It has to be driven that way because we’re moving into this technology.”
The arrival of Mayor Brown in 2005 further shaped City Hall into a data-driven institution. Today, Buffalo’s CitiStat program measures departments monthly by completion of goals they set. Residents see that level of detail on the streets in Operation Clean Sweep, a neighborhood makeover program to reach residents who may not otherwise be heard.
“To the extent that we can be a driver, create this opportunity where people can live right next to each other and be at peace, that’s a very big, important thing,” Mestre said.