Better Clarksdale Foundation is a new local non-profit group making grassroots efforts to straighten out problems in the community.
One of the group’s first tasks was to speak with Clarksdale Public Utilities representatives about a ratepayer’s bill of rights. The group provided a typed copy of the proposed bill of rights for CPU general manager Curtis Boschert and was on the agenda to speak during the Feb. 12 meeting.
However, Better Clarksdale Foundation representatives arrived after 4:15 p.m. that day, which was when the meeting started and they were scheduled to speak. As a result, the group was not permitted to address its issues and will be placed on the agenda for the Feb. 26 meeting also set for 4:15 p.m., but the four representatives present did not agree with the way they were treated.
“They were supposed to be here at 4:15,” said CPU board president James Hicks in the later part of the meeting. “What we try to do is push you up front so you won’t have to sit here and wait and go through all this.”
The board unanimously voted to reschedule the Better Clarksdale Foundation representatives for the next meetings.
Hicks showed a copy of the Feb. 12 agenda to group representatives showing they would have been able to state their concerns had they shown up on time.
Better Clarksdale Foundation chairman Marvin Reddix asked the board if they did not want to hear what he had to say. Members of the group also said they were told the meeting was at 4:30 p.m., but did not confirm who gave them that information.
Hicks said, if the group was allowed to discuss their issues, others would come to the meeting to address the board when they were not on the agenda.
“I’m a citizen here in Clarksdale, a taxpaying citizens,” said Better Clarksdale Foundation at-large member the Rev. Fred Raggs to the CPU board. “There are some rules and regulations in everything. That’s in give and that’s in take. That’s the problem in DC in Washington.”
Raggs called the CPU board’s action “totally disrespectful.”
“We’ll come back, but it was very unprofessional the way you handled this matter,” said Raggs, adding only one board member voted.
Hicks then went around to each board member one by one and they all confirmed they voted to reschedule the Better Clarksdale Foundation to be on the agends for the next meeting.
George Fields, the vice president of Concerned Citizens of Clarksdale, was also on the agenda to speak at the beginning of the meeting, but he did not show up. Concerned Citizens of Clarksdale has held meetings to discuss several issues dealing with CPU with the main concern being utility rates.
After the four representatives from Better Clarksdale Foundation – Reddix, the Rev. Fred Raggs, Cedell Raggs and Stanley Clark – left the meeting, they told the Press Register some of their concerns.
“We were prepared to present to the board a ratepayer’s bill of rights,” Reddix said. “As you know, being a public utility, we don’t follow per se the offices of the public service commission and the bill of rights that they have because we are a non-regulated state. But there are no articles, there are no rules that connect the citizens to their very own board inside. We are proposing a bill of rights to be introduced to give the citizens some things.”
Reddix also said no one from the group was aware of anything printed stating the time of the meeting. All meeting times are regularly posted to the right of the main entrance, but Reddix did not see it until after he attended the Feb. 12 meeting.
“I don’t know when that was put up,” Reddix said.
Reddix said some of the group’s main issues were high utility bills.
“That’s what we’re prepared to present today because the general problem with the astronomical rates with the utility rates in this city is the board, as you just witnessed, has no respect for the citizens,” he said. “They work for us and we’re going to start a process of getting them to understand they work for us and not the other way around. We’re going to present a citizen’s bill of rights and we’re going to go forward with that. We’re going to be undeterred by this display.”
Reddix said CPU should not turn off utilities during the winter months or for disabled people when they need power to stay alive.
He called for transparency from all five board members.
“They don’t have jurisdictions and they don’t have job duties with regard to the citizens,” Reddix said. “We can’t contact them, so what we’re going to propose is numbers, an email address and a 72-hour turnaround so when they’re dealing with us, we’ll have some conduit of expression to the board and also with the representation. We’ll have the right to address any issue that is going to be about the money that we paid for.”
Reddix expects a big crowd at the Feb. 26 meeting.
“We want to encourage other people (to attend),” he said. “We’re going to have 100 people.”
Clark echoed the sentiments of other group members about how they were treated at the Feb. 12 meeting.
“We were highly disrespected,” he said.
Boschert said CPU is already doing most of the things the group is asking for.
“We don’t cut people off on Saturdays and Sundays and on holidays,” he said. “That’s one thing we don’t do.
“We don’t cut people off by what previous occupants have done in a place whether they have paid or not.”
Boschert said customers who have their utilities cut off have them turned on immediately after paying their bill, even if it is at the kiosk after hours.
“We generally have people cut back on if they paid that same day,” he said. “In fact, we cut people on at night if they pay after hours.”
Boschert said all customers are given notice before their power is cut off.
Boschert did not agree with everything in the proposed ratepayers bill of rights.
“Some of these things we cannot do legally,” he said. “They have ratepayers have the right to avoid disconnection of their electric or gas service between December 1 and March 1. Well, we can’t do that. We can’t cut people on when they don’t pay their bills.”
Boschert said CPU would work with customers who have life-threatening issues and need power for their oxygen. He noted CPU representatives must be told beforehand if there are cutting off power could put an individual’s health at risk.
“Regardless, people have to pay,” Boschert said. “We can’t give away free service. Most of these things in terms of dealing with disconnection of service and everything like that, we give notice to people. We don’t cut people off on holidays. If somebody pays, their service is restored after hours if they pay after hours.”