He vows to remain persistent with pleas to City Council

Published 10:54 am Saturday, February 20, 2010

I would like to applaud Franklin for finally getting City Council meetings on the local cable station Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m., as well as on the Internet.

However, at a City Council meeting a couple of weeks ago, two things happened that I feel are worthy of sharing with my fellow citizens who are unaware. There was a public hearing held on adopting new electricity rate increases that was attended by only four citizens.

Such low attendance in itself should be considered disturbing, considering everyone I speak to seems to be overwhelmingly concerned about the constant rising cost of utilities here in Franklin. The lack of concern, as indicated by the citizens’ failure to come out and voice their grievances about a rate increase, was perhaps all the go-ahead that the council needed to override the dissatisfaction expressed by the citizens who did show up.

I asked the council to delay implementing this rate increase until more investigation was done to see how our rates compare to surrounding cities. In doing some research, I called Dominion Power to see what it charges residential customers for electricity and was told that its kilowatt-per-hour rate is a little more than .04 cents for under 800 kilowatts and a little more than .03 cents for more than 800 kilowatts. Then I called the City of Franklin to see what Franklin Power & Light charges and found that its kilowatt rate is a little over .07 cents for the first 800 kilowatts, a little over .06 cents for 800 kilowatts, and, during the summer, .08 cents.

That means that the city of Franklin is charging almost twice the kilowatt rates that Dominion customers pay elsewhere in Virginia.

Another citizen brought up the idea of instead of raising the rates on those of us who are paying customers, try collecting the more than $1.3 million owed to the city from former customers.

Further investigation of these two issues could have been enough reason to delay voting to adopt the rate increases. Instead, a motion was made by Councilwoman Mary Hilliard to adopt the rate increase, and it was seconded by Councilwoman Rosa Lawrence and passed unanimously by the remaining council members.

The hard thing for me to digest is that both Hilliard and Lawrence represent two of the most economically disadvantaged wards in our city. These increases are sure to carry a greater impact on the lower-income residents of their constituencies. The councilwomen seemingly had little regard for the economic struggles that are eating away at their constituents’ limited incomes. Whose interests are these council members serving — the people who elected them or the City Council?

By the way, I would like to offer my thanks to Councilman Benny Burgess and offer my congratulations to the citizens of Ward 2 for electing a council member who asks hard questions on behalf of the people he was elected to represent.

The other thing that stood out was after I had left the council meeting and returned home to finish watching it on TV. Burgess agreed with another point that I brought up, which was about the “citizens time” regulations. The citizens still are not being given a chance to have dialog with the council or receive answers from the council or, in some cases, from the city manager about concerns that they present. The mayor said he understood and did not see a problem revising it to allow the citizens such opportunity, which is a great thing for the citizens.

The only people on the council who expressed reservations about a revision of the current policies forbidding dialog and answers from the bench were the council members from Wards 3 and 5, Lawrence and Hilliard. This saddens me as a resident of Ward 3 that our councilwoman would try to limit dialog, referencing that I have asked the same questions on several occasions. I continue to ask her why she won’t do something about the street lighting in high-crime areas and why the council won’t stop charging people $50 for putting their name on an electric late list before they disconnect their lights. I’m constantly asking the council to stop raising rates and fees.

My council member may consider me a nuisance, but I consider it persistence, and my persistence has paid off in both the elimination of the city decals and getting our council meetings on TV. I’m still not finished with the decals until they decide not to replace the decal with another fee. I will continue to speak out and demand lighting in high-crime areas.

They want me to just go away or be quiet like most. Well, I have news for the City Council: I’m not through until they materialize some new jobs and do something about raising rates, taxes and unjust fees.

I only hope that more citizens will start following their city government as much as they follow their entertainment. Because until we do, we will continue to get the short end of the stick and told that it’s too complicated for us to understand.