Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Bad actors

You really have to hand it to LaToya. She is developing a knack for saying exactly the wrong thing at the right time.  It's the surest sign that the job of Mayor Of New Orleans suits her.
"Mayor Cantrell supports bringing accountability to delinquent bad actors who have taken advantage of the billing problems to avoid paying their fair share," Tidwell said in an email.

New Orleans City Council members have pushed back against the plan, arguing the Sewerage & Water Board has not proven beyond a doubt that it has distinguished scofflaws from earnest but struggling ratepayers among the estimated 17,000 delinquent customers. The City Council, however, does not have authority to order the utility to continue suspending shut-offs.
This is the Cantrell paranoid style in evidence again.  Whatever the issue, she finds a way to connect it to some imagined foe or, well, "bad actor" trying to get away with something. Everything is defined in very personal terms. Every argument is more about "tone" than substance.  Have any of these bad actors been identified?  Not that we've seen so far. The stories we have read are all about ordinary people struggling to pay or even understand their absurd water bills.

There are many examples of those. The T-P article linked above found another one yesterday. It's confusing that her name happens to also be Cantrell but her story is typical of what's been widely reported. I don't want to lift the whole thing from the article but, after some months of no bill followed by months of unusually high bills and a dispute process which was denied we get to this part.
Payment on the balance was due immediately, the letter read. Rather than fight it further, Cantrell paid the full $228.75 for her July bill. She couldn't risk having her water shut off, Cantrell said, because her daughter is homebound in a wheelchair.

"I can't afford to leave her without water," Cantrell said. "So I just paid it."

That bill also showed a $140 credit, which took care of the $139.27 she was charged for July. Cantrell said she does not know why the $140 credit appeared because she had not called to discuss the bill.

"Einstein couldn't figure all this out," she said.
Yesterday S & WB offices were crowded with people in similar situations. Exasperated with the billing problems, but too exhausted and intimidated to put up a fight, these are the "bad actors" being extorted to cover the mismanagement of administrators with six figure salaries.
In all, the agency says there are more than 17,000 delinquent accounts, amounting to about $21.8 million in unpaid bills. It warned the City Council last week that as a result, the utility's cash reserve is running low, threatening vital projects.

So a day ahead of the moratorium lifting, there was a steady stream of customers like Lopez, either settling up or trying to convince the agency that their bill is wrong.

"We have to pay for their mistakes," Lopez said. "Good luck dealing with these people. It’s like a black hole."

Like Lopez, many of those standing in line Tuesday said they still think their bills are bogus — officials have acknowledged widespread problems implementing new billing software — but didn’t want to risk losing water service.

Cassandra Carmouche said she’s been “battling these people for months and months” but was told she had to pay off her $1,600 bill or be considered delinquent. She said she could hardly afford the typical $90 monthly charge.

“How can they cut off water when people need water every day?” she asked.
Do we see anyone here "taking advantage of the billing problems to avoid paying their fair share" as the mayor alleges?  Maybe such entities do exist. But they sure don't seem to be taking the brunt of this action.

Regardless of how we got to this point, everyone understands the utility has to get its finances in order one way or another. But there has to be a better way to do that than shaking down 17,000 vulnerable people already victimized by the billing errors. At the very least, the mayor could show a little more love, as she likes to say, than what it takes to accuse them all of criminal behavior.  Better than that, though, why not take the opportunity to fix the revenue problem and resolve everyone's billing issues at once?  Just collect a fair, uniform one time payment and restart everyone's account at zero.  Like this.
If S&WB has a serious need for cash,  it should offer all delinquent accounts a fair deal to pay an affordable amount and cancel the rest of the debt. This would restore the flow of revenue into the utility without unfairly burdening customers. But it would also require that S&WB step up and acknowledge the gravity of their mismanagement.
Oh but they do have to admit their well paid upper management screwed up the billing process.  We've already tried blaming the line employees and the general public. That hasn't worked out so well. Maybe it's time for a little introspection.  Naah we're bound to find some nefarious "bad actors" to lay this on eventually. Keep looking for those. 

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