BAKER — The Baker City Council heard a profanity-laced recording of an irate customer berating city Utility Department employees as the members discussed residents’ complaints that the employees are rude and have “bad attitudes.”
Mayor Harold Rideau played the recording to support his contention that a small number of customers at the billing office “come in with attitudes.”
Rideau and council members debated at length whether an apparent increase in the number of billing complaints stems from a council ordinance reducing the utility late fee and giving customers extra time before their gas and water services are discontinued.
The council approved the measure, 4-1, in December, with Councilman Charles Vincent, a frequent critic of Rideau, saying he, Vincent, wants to portray Baker as a “citizen-friendly” city.
Heine voted against the ordinance, saying it benefits about 10 percent of the customers or the “same people every month.”
Rideau vetoed the ordinance, but Vincent, John Givens, Joyce Burges and Robert Young voted to override the veto.
In addition to cutting the late fee in half, to $30, the ordinance prohibits the Utility Department from developing a cut-off list until the morning after the deadline passes. The provision allows customers to avoid being on the list if they drop their payment into the night deposit box.
Rideau and utility employees said the overnight delay puts the city’s small cut-off crew behind in their work, which translates to a delay in restoring services if customers pay up the day after the deadline.
If employees cannot restore a customer’s gas and water services on the same day service is discontinued, they may find the customer gone the next day, which leads to more complaints, Rideau said.
“We can’t turn on water or gas if no one is at home,” the mayor said.
Wednesday’s discussion came after several customers voiced complaints at a council meeting last week about employee rudeness.
“This was all pre-orchestrated. The people beat up on me pretty good, and I sat there and took it,” Rideau said.
“Your policy is hindering us from doing our job,” the mayor said.
Vincent denied that the complaints were orchestrated. Young, Burges and Givens said they also have received complaints about employees.
“There are far too many people with complaints for them to be lies,” Givens said.
Vincent also said the new policy resulted in only a two-hour delay in getting the cut-off list ready on Wednesday.
In the recording, the customer is heard loudly arguing that she paid her bill in cash but didn’t know where she put her receipt.
The woman made a threat against city employees as she left, utility employee Elaine Williams-Robinson said.
In another case, a man threatened to kill the mayor, said Alice Sanders, who heads the billing office.
Police arrested the man, Rideau said.