Something’s Shady in Kodak…

Those of us Sevier Countians who live on “the other side of the river” know all too well the plight we share, a menacing presence reminiscent of the Star Wars evil empire.  A heartless, uncaring force mercilessly imposing its will on the innocent citizens of our beloved Kodak.

For starters, zoned in a separate State Senate District from the rest of the county (except part of Grandview Estates and a small sliver on the north side of the bridge crossing the French Broad River), we of Kodak have suffered as the red-headed stepchild of the county, excluded from our brothers and sisters in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, and appended like an unsightly skin tag onto the district that composes Morristown, but not Jefferson City, Newport but not Dandridge, Cosby but not Gatlinburg.  We are not even connect by land to the rest of our convoluted district which crosses Douglas Lake to drag us kicking and screaming into a district that circles around Jefferson County to combine our votes with the majority of Hamblen and Greene Counties.

The purpose of such gerrymandering is as obscure to me as a string theory exposition by Stephen Hawking.

If you have never seen the Tennessee Senate or House or federal district maps, you should Google them right now and take a long hard look.  Planned by our politicians to serve who knows what ends, the chaotic lines drawn across the state might lend you a better understanding of our state and federal government.  Probably not.

But we survive screwy voting districts.  There are greater evils to endure.  Darker forces at work here.   A name that strikes fear in the hearts of everyone trying to acquire access to a drop or two of the world’s most abundant resource.

Shady Grove Utility District, aka, the water Nazis.

While those more fortunate Sevier County brethren south of the river enjoy cool, crisp city utilities, we in Kodak are cursed with a district that serves parts of Sevier and Jefferson Counties but is exempt from fiscal or budgetary control by either.  So Shady Grove is just… well… shady.

You probably suspect I have a beef with Shady Grove Utility.

Guilty.

Recently they cut my water off.  Tuesday January 3rd to be exact.  In fairness, It was my fault.  I wrote checks in early December for my water and electric bills, both due on the 15th, and set them aside to mail later.  Later never arrived and I found them only after we became all of 18 days past due and the water Nazis jumped into action.  Not surprisingly, Sevier County Electric with whom I have also done business for decades took no action.

Some of you are thinking to yourselves, “Set up autopay and be done with it.”  I have considered that, but I still like to look at the bill, scrutinize it, and write a check myself.  Call me old-fashioned, I guess, but neighbors just received a $300 water bill as the first indication of a leak they had yet to discover.  That’s not the kind of surprise automatic draft most of us can handle.  Some utility systems offer a credit in such circumstances for quick repairs, but Shady’s website boasts, “We do not refund utility payments for any reason.”

I suppose when you are a monopoly, you don’t have to bother with niceties like customer service.  A simple account review would have shown that I have faithfully paid Shady Grove for a combined 20 years, five at my present address.  A brief call saying, “Mr. Collins, your bill is past due and we see you have a stellar payment history.  Did you forget your payment?” would have been perfect.  I would have immediately paid with a debit card and thanked them while apologizing profusely.

Alternatively, recognizing the time and budgetary constraints utilities face, an automated postcard notice could have been mailed or a bold message placed on the following month’s bill.  Heck, charge me a reminder fee.  Instead our first notice was a rattling faucet and a utility truck at the curb, and when my wife asked if there was a problem, the utility worker’s curt response was simply, “Yeah, I just cut your water off.”  He could only have been ruder had he sneered, “Happy New Year!” and peeled out with maniacal laughter.

So I was left with a $50 reconnection fee, an irritable wife, and a couple hours without water in a house with six family members plus four holiday guests.  Then right about the time the water got turned back on, the mail delivered a new Shady Grove bill simply noting a past-due balance without a word about potential shutoff, even if it had been mailed in time to warn me.

What a profiteering scheme.

My wife now acknowledges that, having discovered the shutoff amidst dealing with a clogged and overflowing toilet, starting the ensuing load of laundry for dirty towels, and trying to run water to clean the carpet, her own tone to the worker may have been less than friendly, and she probably looked a fright to boot.

Perhaps in a few days, I too can reflect more charitably on the challenges faced in running a local utility.  But for now, I say Shady Grove is aptly named.

© Michael L. Collins

This column originally appeared in the January 11, 2017 edition of The Mountain Press under the name, “New year challenges the water line.”

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