By John Schaffner
johnschaffner@reporternewspapers.net

A joint work session of the City Utilities and Finance/Executive committees Sept. 30 on the state of the Department of Watershed Management provides Atlanta residents the opportunity to test the water on how the city is dealing with complaints over exceptionally high water bills.

The meeting, which will be held at 10 a.m. in Committee Room 2 at Atlanta City Hall, will discuss a variety of issues within the Department of Watershed Management, including billing issues such as customer complaints, the appeal process, the lien process, etc.

Other issues on the agenda for the meeting are the department’s procurement process, such a field purchase orders, emergency purchase orders, sole sourcing of work and special procurements, as well as the issue of major customers not paying bills.

The joint committee meeting was called by Councilwoman Natalyn Mosby Archibong, chair of the City Utilities Committee, and Buckhead’s Dist. 8 Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean, chair of the City Finance/Executive Committee.

Adrean said this meeting likely will prove “very interesting for those who have been receiving water bills for the past few months that are excessively high” compared to bills from earlier months.

If a large enough crowd of residents show up for the meeting, it may have to be moved into the regular City Council meeting auditorium, also located on the second floor of City Hall, in downtown Atlanta.

Meanwhile, Buckhead resident Bill Lucas, who has volunteered to lead the “citizen revolt” against both the excessively high water bills that have been sent to north Atlanta residents over the past three months and the poor customer service response to these resident complaints, said the city seems to have finally realized the magnitude of the billing problems and complaints and is taking immediate steps to remedy the billing and customer service problems.

Lucas said he recently had “a very positive meeting” with the city’s Chief Operating Officer Peter Aman, interim Watershed Management Commissioner Dexter White, interim Watershed Chief Financial Officer Jim Beard and Reese McCrainie from the office of Mayor Kasim Reed.

“Many pressing issues were covered in our one-and-a-half-hour meeting, including immediate changes to customer service and solutions to the billing problems, meters and appeals,” Lucas reported.

“Effective immediately Beard has taken control of the customer service and billing departments and I have been assured by Beard that there will be swift changes in the department,” Lucas said. “It is very clear now that they realize the severity of the problems in the customer service and billing departments.”

Lucas said he has requested to be appointed to the appeals board within Watershed.

Lucas urged everyone to follow procedures and formally dispute each bill at issue with an individual form (www.atlantawatershed.org/custsrv/forms) and fax it to Watershed (404) 658-7194 or mail it. Residents can also email the form to (watershedhelp@atlwater.com) .

Lucas said he is planning to organize “a public meeting, hopefully on Saturday Oct. 9th or 16th. I will be asking COO Aman, Dexter White, Jim Beard and Mayor Kasim Reed to attend.”

John Schaffner

John Schaffner was founding editor of Reporter Newspapers.