To Tallahassee Utilities,

I am writing to protest the 56 dollars of connection fees that I am being charged on my utility account that I have had connected with no interruptions for over three years.

Let me take time to explain the situation.  When I moved to Tallahassee four years ago my father was kind enough to activate my utilities in his name and social security number so that the deposit would be waved due to his good credit with his utility company.  But since that day I have received and paid the utility bills with my own money.

Three years ago I moved across town to a new house.  At that point I decided it would be logical to change the name on the account from my father’s to my name.  I called and inquired and was told that I would have to pay a deposit (approximately $250) in order to do that.  That of course was unsatisfactory to me.   So I asked about what would be done if someone had died or gotten a divorce or sublet a house and needed to change a name on an account.  The customer service representative told me that I could add my name to the account and then after two years of good history I could remove my father’s name from the account.  To do this we had to both (my father who lives out of town and I) appear in person at the Renaissance Center.  So we did that and in June of 2005 my name and social security number were added to the account so that in two years I could remove my father’s name.

Earlier this month I happened to be in the Renaissance Center to meet with Gwen Lightfoot about affordable housing issues on behalf of Tallahassee Equality Action Ministry.  I remembered that it had been plenty of time now and I was in the building I could stop by the Customer Service desk and remove my father’s name from my account.   I got to the front of the line and told the representative what I wanted to do I was first told that had to pay a deposit.  But I explained that I had been on the account for over two years had been told that I could now just remove his name outright.  She looked up my account and told me that was okay and she had me fill out a form and show my ID.  I asked “So now my father is off my account?” and was told yes.  At no time during this meeting or during any of the other conversations and meetings three years ago was I told that there would be any charge if I followed the procedure proscribed.  So that is what I did.

Three days ago I received a bill in my name that included 56 dollars combined of “connection fees” for gas, water, and electricity.  Since my utilities had never been disconnected and I was not expecting any charges I called the customer service line and spoke to a representative.  I asked about the charges and she said, “it says that you had one account that was closed and another that was opened.”  So I explained the situation to her and the steps that I had taken.  She then told me that the way I had handled the situation forced them to send a meter reader to my house and that is what the fees were for and that I was lucky because I only had to pay 56 dollars instead of the $250 deposit.

There are two major problems I have with this.  One, I was never told that I would be charged anything.  The bill I received was the first indication. Had I been told about the charges I would not have done it this way.  And second a deposit would be potentially refundable; where as these “connection fees” I will never see again.  And again, nothing was ever disconnected.

I have over four years of good history with Tallahassee Utilities, three of which are under my own name.  I feel like I am being taken advantage of by an unfair and unclear policy that now I see little way out of.   I hope that I will receive satisfaction by getting a bill that reflects the removal of these unfair fees.

Thank you,
Erin K. Thompson

Walking in a Hurricane

June 24, 2008

I have lovely white crape-myrtles growing in my front yard. And right now they are in full bloom just like every summer. If you haven’t seen them before they are short bushy trees that are native to the south and the tiny white flowers grow in clusters. One of my favorite things about the flowers is that they get heavy when they are in full bloom and make the tree look like an umbrella of flowers. When you walk under them the individual flowers let go and land on your clothes and stick in your hair. I love it. It’s just such a simple and happy thing.

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I think everyone likes to tease their parents (everyone with a good parental relationship anyway.) As the oldest child I get to give mine a hard time about the ways that they were strict on me and then let up on my younger siblings. But I have to say that my favorite story to tell on them is the time they made me walk home in a hurricane.

It was the summer after I finished eighth grade and I was taking summer PE so that I could take an extra elective my freshman year. I think that it was about three weeks and we would get up and go at 8 and have classroom lessons until lunch and then after lunch we would have physical activity till it was time to go home at about three. My parents never took me to school (never is strong but we are talking about maybe 5 times ever.) So in middle school I walked home from school most days less than a mile with my friends, my cousin, and sometimes my sister and brother. So I continued to do that during summer PE but since it was the summer there was not even a bus option.

So one day we had a hurricane watch. It wasn’t close enough that they canceled summer school before we had to show up but they let us go home shortly after we arrived. So I called home to get a ride… I mean a hurricane was coming. And they told me “just walk home.” Just walk home?! I was so mad. Mad enough to huff and cry as I walked home in the rain that was beginning to fall. So I walked, I cried, and I stewed as the wind started to pick up. “I can’t believe they are making me walk home in a hurricane.” And that’s the end of the story that I tell but it’s not really the end.

About half way home something kind of magical happened. The rain had made the temperature drop to a pleasant seventy instead of the usual nineties and hundreds of a typical Florida summer day. And it was still just drizzling. I walked by some white crapemyrtles that were blooming like they do in the summer. The wind was blowing the whole trees and tiny white flowers were being let go in huge swirling clouds. It was indescribably beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it since; I had to be walking in a hurricane.