By STEVE JONES Staff writer

After 17 months of automation, people calling City Hall are once again reaching a real, live person. The city’s automated switchboard system was shut down and replaced with a person at the phone in the lobby Thursday.

Under then Mayor James F. Brown, the automated system was put in place at the start of 2011. The desk in the lobby was removed and the duties of directing callers to the right extension was handled electronically. But, Mayor Joseph R. Fusco Jr. said early in his first year in office that he wanted to return to the old way of things.

Friday, callers were being directed by Joan Fiaschetti, as she had done previously as one of the switchboard operators. She will be spelled by a few others who already work at City Hall, so no one new will be hired to handle the job, Fusco noted.

The main number — 336-6000 — will be manned by a human during office hours of 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.

The change to machine was made originally based on the Brown administration’s estimated cost savings of $17,000 a year. The change was criticized by some, including the fact that the switchboard was not just for phone calls but for helping people at City Hall who did not know where they needed to go for certain business.

"People have inquired," said Fusco Wednesday of the continued requests for a return to the old system. "And I told them that we’re getting there. We just had a contractual issue to get through. People are asking, and rightly so. I don’t like to get a recording. I like to get a human being."

The Common Council approved the change in February. The holdup was in the contract with phone system maintenance. That issue has been resolved, and will cost the city less because it is not using the automated system, Fusco said.

The shift is also one small part of a future effort to save on phone costs, Fusco said. "We’re looking to re-bid all of our telecommunications."