I sat down today and wrote a letter to our state representative, the governor, and one more to our Public Services Commission (To those who live on the other side of the pond: This governor-appointed commission oversees both public and private utility companies at state level--from here on out I will refer to them as the PSC, though am tempted to change up the letters a little). Do I expect anything to come of this? No, but it made me feel better. The water company I blogged about sometime back has once again raised their rates with the blessings of the very people in the state capital who are supposed to be looking out for our interests. Since 2005 our rates have risen from 40.00 to nearly 90.00. And this is with people (like me) complaining every step of the way.
I have written letters and attended public meetings and listened to other citizens complain about double (or erratic) billing, terrible customer service, leaky mains, bad meters, and poor water quality. During the most recent public information meeting, one customer, a plain-spoken older man in jeans and a plaid shirt, presented the commissioners with a jar of rust colored water and invited them to drink it. The commissioners declined and asked if the water that came out of his tap actually smelled that bad or he'd let it sit for a few days. That's what it smells like when it comes out of the tap, the man said. The commissioners seemed stunned and asked if they could keep the jar. One woman talked about finding sand in the bottom of her tub after bathing her children. Another stated that she had stopped drinking her tap water altogether. The commissioners were riveted, asking questions and requesting that they stay afterward. Finally, I thought, they believe someone. Maybe this year they'll listen.
Silly me, I mistook good theater for the real thing. I learned today that they let them raise the rates anyway. I was annoyed and when I am annoyed, I seek to understand the source of said annoyance. So I visited the PSC's site and looked up the final report. I read that the decision to allow the rate change was not unanimous and that the chairman himself was reluctant to allow it (at least that's how he put it in the Final Concurring Opinion at the end of the report). His tone was apologetic and he promised that the water company would be forced to address the complaints made by the customers at the meeting (we've heard that before) as well as a two year moratorium on rate increases by this company. Gee whiz thanks boss. So in two years when they come back with another huge rate increase request you're going to say no, right?
Doing this research gave me an opportunity to examine just exactly who all these commissioners are and who appointed them. It did not surprise me to find that most of them were appointed by the previous governor, a man I have little use for. The chairman and one other commissioner were selected by the current governor who I like slightly more than the previous man.
Upon further research, I learned that I am not the only one questioning the commissioners ethics in situations like this. Ironically, on the same day they approved the rate increase, they also adopted a set of new ethics rules that should govern how they deal with companies like this in the future (namely--no meetings with utility companies behind closed doors). This is the article, Basically, it looks like the proverbial fox will be guarding the hen house as they look to be policing themselves. As stated by the chairman, they haven't quite worked out what they'll do to any commissioner who violates the ethics rules. I guess it was too much trouble to tack on a sentence that goes a lot like, "And if you violate the rules, you're fired." (Or something that takes up a lot more space than that and sounds ominously legal).
It's almost enough to make a girl consider socialism. According to some, I've got one toe in that pool already.