Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wouldn't be surprised if this kind of thing is happening in Greensboro, considering how much our water taxes have risen

"Opa-locka turned public utility into extortion racket

Former Assistant City Manager Jordan Leonard talks about his 2012 discovery of over one million dollars of uncollected water bills in inactive accounts in the city of Opa-locka

...Wearing a video recording device, Zambrana paid $300 in cash to Harris to get his water service turned back on in 2015. What struck the frustrated businessman, however, was the notebook carried by Harris that showed dozens of customers making under-the-table payments for water.

“There were a bunch of names, phone numbers and monthly payments,” Zambrana told the Herald. “My bill was $50 a month, and I could use as much water as I wanted.”

While the FBI targeted the suspicious payments, no one at City Hall was trying to stop the other abuse of the water program — the erasing of delinquent bills.

Leonard, the former assistant city manager, said unless the city conducts an investigation of every property, there is no way of knowing how many customers received special treatment by having their debts wiped off the books.

Raising even more questions is a recent county study that shows hundreds of occupied homes and businesses in Opa-locka don’t even appear on the city’s monthly billing records. Of the 663 properties in the study, Herald reporters visited two dozen and found that half are hooked into water lines.

Carswell said he recommended in April that the city conduct an audit on every property in the city to root out corrupt activity and to make sure the city was accurately gauging water use.

Leonard said the breakdowns can be traced partly to chronic mismanagement — and corruption. The few times that administrators tried to deal with problem, they were ousted from their jobs.

“There is an expectation that government is going to protect you,” Leonard said. “That’s really the sad thing.

“Think of all the people at City Hall who knew this was happening and what they could have done five years ago to stop it. You wouldn’t be in the position you are today,” he said. “It’s beyond just the abuse of the position. It’s the abuse of the trust. Their first priority was not to protect the residents and the customers. It was to make money.”