September 2010 Editorial Winner

Not Again

Wayne Trotter, Countywide & Sun

  Thirty days hath September, April, June and November,
But when the city needs some more Let August count for thirty-four.
(With Apologies)

We have said this before but we'll say it again: Jim Thompson has been right on the big issues he has tackled since becoming city manager of Tecumseh three and a half years ago. He was especially on target when he set out to yank the Tecumseh Utility Authority out of the red. Nobody in their right mind could argue that the city could continue selling electricity, water and all its other services at a loss. Everyone knows the consequences.

But when it comes to what ought to be little things, Mr. Thompson has built a depressing record of fumbling the ball, not just once but over and over.

It happened again when the August utility statements went out. People got mad when they opened the largest power bills many had ever seen. It happened at our office but we've cushioned ourselves through the averaging plan. More customers ought to do that. It's giving The Countywide News Inc. a little reprieve on our $800 plus August bill but we know we'll pay every penny in the long run. The bill here usually runs between $350 and $500 at worst and our company is now way behind on the averaging.

But that's the most positive thing we can say about the August mailing. And when we found out that the city billed for 34 days in what is almost always the hottest and from a power standpoint the most expensive month of the year, we got hot under the collar. Simple mathematics tells you that a billing period should fall in the area of 30 or 31 days. Why would anyone run a business like that? You don't make your customers mad for no good reason even if they are captives.

We can't answer our own question, but somebody at City Hall should. Those somebodies are our five neighbors who sit on the City Council. They're all fine people and we admire them a great deal, but when it comes to managing the city manager, they have failed. And unless something intervenes, they are soon scheduled to consider Mr. Thompson's contract for the coming year — and three of the council members are lame ducks who won't serve more than a few minutes during 2011. We have already urged them to find a way to pass that decision along to the incoming council because the new people will have to deal with the decision. Will they do that? Who knows?

Now we would like to have the following questions answered:

Why does the city not have a backup plan at billing time? Mr. Thompson says one of the reasons the bills were late and covered 34 days rather than 30 or 31 was that a key employee was away for training. If there really is a million dollars in his "rainy day" fund, isn't it worth spending $30,000 to $50,000 a year to hire and train somebody else to keep this from happening? We understand that some or all of money probably eventually will have to be spent to comply with a state treatment mandate, but wouldn't having a backup be worth the cost? In our business, we call that managing the cash flow. Answers, please.

Was any consideration given to adjusting these bills to cover the time overrun? Simply ratcheting them down mathematically and carrying over the difference would have eliminated the 10 to 13 percent disparity between what they were and what they should have been. Eliminating the late-payment penalty for one month was only a gesture ... and it meant that the real penalty fell on those who pay on time rather than those who don't. Is that the Thompson fairness doctrine? Again, answers, please. Since the August bills covered 34 days, will the September bills be for only 26? Seems fair to us. Answers, please.

Why is the computer always the culprit in these little sagas? Why is there always some kind of glitch? We think we'll scream if we hear another excuse about that now-famous crash. Every time we hear that, we think of President Obama blaming everything on George W. Bush. Can't the city run its computers? Please, please, please, some answers.

Finally, the big questions: Why is Jim Thompson still the city manager of Tecumseh and will he continue in that job? If he does, will there be better oversight? Is there a final straw? Didn't the election speak for itself? For goodness sakes, give us answers, council, and do it in the light of day, not from behind closed doors.

Mr. Thompson has accomplished some good things. But he also has had these lapses and those almost always involve the power system and lack of appreciation of predictable public response. He's the manager. The buck stops at his desk and the second buck goes straight to the council. The people of Tecumseh need answers.

Provide those. Please.

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