By John Schaffner
Almost two months after the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCON) sent a petition signed by 152 Buckhead residents to Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management (DWM) complaining about unusual, skyrocketing water bills and asking for a DWM manager to be assigned to investigate the overcharges, the neighborhood council has finally received an answer: Buckhead residents won’t get any special treatment.
But special treatment is not what was asked for in the petition, according to BCON chairman Jim King. He said the petition only asked for fair treatment of those who signed the petition, some whom were receiving water bills reaching thousands of dollars and often occurring after the installation of new electronic water meters.
The petition, which was spearheaded by BCON and was signed by King, was delivered June 15 to DWM Commissioner Rob Hunter and City Council members Howard Shook, Clair Muller and Felicia Moore, all of whom represent portions of Buckhead.
The petition landed on the desk of Hunter about the same time as attorney Michael Parsons filed an amended complaint in a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta, DWM, K&V Meter Automation, Neptune Technology Group and Khafra Operations, all parties involved with the new meter installations.
However, the petition and the Buckhead residents who signed it had no relationship to the lawsuit.
After a month of not hearing anything from Hunter — not even acknowledgement of receipt of the petition — King sent an email to Janet Ward, DWM communications director, complaining about not receiving any response and asking for her assistance.
King wrote to Ward on July 29: “I have always found you to be very professional in our interactions. Therefore, I am forwarding the attached correspondence for your review due to our disbelief that a public servant, Commissioner Robert Hunter, has failed to respond to our correspondence in a timely fashion.
“I am the chairman of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods and I have many irate board members, who are mostly neighborhood presidents,” King continued. “I know council members Muller and Shook, as well as possibly Moore have contacted the commissioner’s office regarding the attached letter, petition, and data. My members are inclined to take additional steps, but our real interests are in transparency, communication and resolution. Please let me know your thoughts and if you can arrange a meeting with the commissioner for us.”
King finally received a response from Ward, who was vacationing on a Florida Panhandle beach at the time, immediately prior to BCON’s Aug. 13 meeting.
“This is the statement the department has made involving the petition,” Ward emailed. “The department has received a petition from Buckhead residents regarding water/sewer bill issues. As it has always done, the department is addressing billing issues on a case-by-case basis. Every issue is different, and every customer is important. It is – and has always been – department policy to treat all customers equally without regard for where they live or who they are.”
Ward’s email continued: “The department appreciates the issues brought to its attention by the petitioners and will be diligent in seeking solutions to the concerns. However, the department will not appoint a representative to work solely on the petitioners’ issues nor will it require staff to report to the group as requested. To do so would be to create a special class of customer, and that would be inconsistent with the department’s values and policies.”