At some previous council meetings, Mayor Don Lyons made the statement that he did not know why some people “choose” not to pay their bills on time. That is why, I, Sue Miller, visited council tonight and enlightened him and council on why I was not able to pay my utility bills on time. I never planned to be disabled—I planned to be working for many years. However, now that I am disabled, and my income is very limited, I am one of those who cannot pay my utility bills.
I was a teacher, earning a good living. I never planned to be severely injured trying to prevent a blind student from falling on a slippery gym floor. I never planned having a bomb placed in my yard. I was the victim, so I hadn’t planned on the city attorney suing me on behalf of the city for $800,000. Neither had I planned on the legal fees to defend myself because I was the VICTIM. And, Mr. Mayor, when you are accused of something, you have a chance to defend yourself, to tell your side of the story in the media. I never had that chance. I am just fed up with mistreatment, and I will not take it anymore. No, I didn’t plan any of this, but here I am.
When I told the city my utility bills were out of sight--$400 per month sometimes, they told me I must have an underground sprinkler system. I do not. No one from the city has told me why my bills are so high. I have to pay these bills plus my mortgage. Currently, my house is up for sale as I can no longer afford to live in Dowagiac.
I had to apply for public assistance for the first time in my life. The caseworker said I had to submit a second notice from the city regarding my utilities, which I did. The monthly bill was $310 this time. A city worker came to my home when I was out of town on my way to a doctor’s appointment. My son called and said they were going to shut off our power. I got on the phone and asked them to wait until I could come home to resolve this situation. They said they could not—that they had orders to shut down the power. I canceled my appointment and came home. What had happened is that my regular caseworker gave the case to a new employee who had not taken care of this with the city. I called the caseworker, who called the city—still they said they would charge a reconnect fee of $200. The city would not waive the fee although none of this was my fault that this payment was not made. This is in addition to charges of $310 + $25 + $40. I called the city and I was not offered any payment arrangements. In fact, they informed me that I only had one-half hour before 4 p.m., as after 4 p.m., I would be charged an additional $100 for penalty. The caseworker finally resolved things with the city so I was reconnected.
So, Mr. Mayor, some people “choose” not to pay their bills on time for a variety of reasons—many of us wish we didn’t have to resort to public assistance for anything.
Since the bomb incident in 1994 I feel I have been targeted by this city—my city, I was born and raised here—the city where I pay taxes and the city that is supposed to protect me. Seldom have I had to dial 911, but when I have, often this is ignored. One time, I spoke at the council meeting concerning my 911 calls going unanswered. This particular call was concerning a young boy being kicked and punched in the head until he was unconscious in the middle of the road. He was bleeding, and no one came. After that, councilman Laylin came to my home unannounced and did inform me that he wanted to tell me that it is known around the community that I am crazy. My daughter has been approached by a police officer several times at her place of employment. This officer said that they know who I hang out with and know what cars come and go, and they check license plates. This is when I was dating a Chicago policeman. He also told my daughter that they were watching him. This police friend of mine once went to city hall to get a yard sale permit (I understand I am one of the few in Dowagiac who are required to get such a permit), and they were going to refuse to give him the permit for me because they could not read his signature on the $2 permit, and the reason given was: “someone could take out a yard sale permit in your name and hold the sale in your yard, without you knowing about it.” Now does this make any sense at all? Also, my Chicago police friend was doing me a favor during my illness and went to the cemetery to care for my parents’and brother’s graves when he was approached by a policeman who asked him, “what do you think you are doing here?” So, I really wondered why he would be under such scrutiny for just taking care of some graves.
Then there is the blight problem. I have had many people say they’d like to nominate me for the annual garden award because I take pride in my yard and flowers. Yet, I am the recipient of blight notices every year since 1994. Why? As an example, I brought to City Hall tonight some of the things I was cited on—so I have witnesses to show how ridiculous this is. Also, they told me I cannot have my trashcan by the road all the time—I don’t—only for garbage pick up. Yet, the church across the street and at least two other neighbors have their trash cans out all the time. They are never cited. I don’t want any special treatment—just fair treatment, like everyone else.
I had to leave the council meeting early, as it was a very stressful thing for me to do to address these concerns with council. I have tried to ignore the harassment and poor treatment for years, but it has gotten to the point that I have nothing more to lose. I have lost everything but my self-respect. I refuse to be treated this way anymore.
As I was leaving tonight, I drove past the Mayor’s Jaguar in the parking lot, and the thought hit me that it must be difficult for someone like him to really understand the concept of why people “choose” not to pay their bills on time. That is a real “disconnect” with many citizens who are struggling in the city of Dowagiac.
I was told that Councilwoman, Lori Hunt, asked that the City look into the allegations I have made and wished to have a report on resolution. I thank Lori Hunt for that. Every councilman should care enough to ask why any citizen would be treated like I have been treated. I am grateful that one of them actually cares enough to ask to have a report.
P.S. These are just a few of the incidents I have had to endure since 1994. As I compose this right now, I observe the police going past my house five times in the past two hours.