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Commissioners retreat from ‘hardball’ position

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By Dave Taylor

The Bedford City Commission sent mixed signals to the city’s sewer customers during that government body’s meeting on Monday.

After instructing City Clerk Joyce Teague to “play hardball” with delinquent customers at the August meeting and to disconnect water service to customers who did not make payment within 30 days of the billing date, the commissioners voted to refund the $110 disconnect fee for one delinquent customer who complained.

As the commission neared the end of its scheduled agenda, Mayor Pro Tem Frank Floyd recognized a visitor in the audience and asked if she wished to address the group.

Paula Shelley, a Rowlett Avenue resident, came to ask for a refund of $110 “that the sewer company charged me for shutting off my water. I know that my bill was delinquent but the city has worked with Dale and I for three years now and (Mayor) Russell Clifton approved it.”

Shelley said Teague has always called her when her account was delinquent in the past.

“I understand you don’t let her call anymore,” Shelley said. “I really felt like the city was unfair by shutting off my water after working with me for three years and not having any warning. There are three years of records on that and I think it was very unfair. I understand bills need to be paid on time. I understand that I owed the money, but I don’t understand why the city works with me for three years and then out of the clear blue shuts me off.”

Commissioner Todd Pollock said that although Shelley had delinquent bills in the past “she didn’t leave a balance forward into the next month. We did agree that Russell would be the one to approve (working with customers).” Pollock made the motion to return the $110.

“Under certain circumstances you’ve got to have a little heart, a little love for people and give them a break,” said Commissioner Harold Greene.

“Last month you told me I’m too compassionate, you all did,” Teague said. “You told me ‘you’ve got to get tough and mean.’ ”

Commissioner Darrell Harmon had said in the August meeting that Teague had been lenient with delinquent customers in the past “because she had feelings for them.”

“Her heart is as big as this room,” Mayor Clifton said of Teague a month ago, “but I’m seeing facts and reality. We’ve got to run this as a business because it is a business.” Clifton, who was not present for Monday’s meeting, was the one who made the “hardball” comment during the August meeting. “You pay your bill in full or we’re shutting it off,” he had said at that time. “We’ve got to play hard ball, boys, the economy dictates it.”

Pollock had argued at the August meeting that there is a fine line “where we’ve got to have some compassion.” Pollock said Monday that he thought the end resolution at the August meeting was “we were going to have compassion. I would never say that I was in favor of this (shutting off service).”

Pollock questioned if, in fact, a motion, second and a vote had been taken during the August meeting to follow through on cessation of reminder calls and disconnecting service for delinquent customers. He recalled having been quoted in The Trimble Banner that he was in favor of having compassion for customers. Pollock asked to hear the recording of that meeting for clarification.

“Looking at the other side, we’re 50-some thousand in the hole,” Harmon said.

City Attorney Genon Hensley asked for a clarification of what the commissioners were instructing the city clerk to do.

“You voted that you didn’t want Joyce to call people,” Hensley said. “Now you’ve voted to excuse payment because she didn’t call this woman. Do we want her to call people? We’re acting opposite to what we voted to do.”

Teague had ordered one other delinquent customer to be disconnected in addition to Shelley. Hensley asked if the other customer would be refunded $110 also.

“What we do need to do is concentrate on the point,” Hensley said, “first of all, do we want a call reminder, yes or no? If the answer is no I don’t have a problem with forgiving this $110 but will we do it for the other people as well? I’m big on you should treat everybody the same. If we’re going to call one then we need to call however many there are. We need to be consistent with what we’re saying we’re going to do. That’s the important thing.”

“Let’s table this until next month until we can decide what’s going to happen,” Floyd said.

Shelley said there was a significant change in the office atmosphere at city hall when she came in to address her delinquent bill recently.

“I see a huge difference when I came into this office the other day,” she said. “The coldness, I see so much difference in this office and this is not Bedford. It was not a Bedford office. It was very standoffish. The office had changed that dramatically. I don’t think that’s right or fair.”

Teague explained that following the August meeting Mayor Clifton instructed her “that I was not to have a conversation with people unless it was business. If someone comes in to talk to me I am to say to them, ‘You have to leave because I have work to do.’ I have been saying that to people.”

“You don’t have to discuss what your conversation with Russell was,” Hensley said. “That was a conversation between you and your boss. You don’t have to go into that.”

Teague said the people of Bedford have a right to know why she now conducts herself as she does. “I don’t want to be like that because that’s not who I am,” she said. “But I need my job and in order to keep my job I have to act like that.”

The Bedford City Commission has scheduled a special meeting to discuss the sewer situation at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Sept. 27, at the Morgan Community Center.