By John Schaffner

The Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods (BCN) May 14 used an unusual voting technique to move forward with a petition to Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management (DWM) on behalf of Buckhead residents struggling to get timely resolutions to complaints about incorrect billings and service deposits illegally withheld by the city.

Some cases have dragged on for more than eight months. Kristy Gillmann, the president of the Peachtree Hills Neighborhood Association, urged the council to support the petition drive.

Gillmann said many Buckhead residents have felt pressure from the city to pay bills regardless of their accuracy or run the risk of having their water disconnected. In some cases, the city cut off service even after bills were paid.

DWM officials have acknowledged issues with billing processes, meter equipment and estimated meter readings. In addition, an outside audit by KPMG found that DWM is experiencing problems with billing and is inconsistent in resolving complaints.

The Council of Neighborhoods voted to collect signatures of Buckhead residents on a petition to DWM and the Atlanta City Council, demanding that the department establish an outlined procedure for dealing with customer complaints and assuring a resolution of complaints within 120 days.

Not enough dues-paying neighborhood representatives attended the meeting at Peachtree Presbyterian Church, so a member joined in the unanimous vote via telephone, judged legal under the organization’s bylaws.

The petition requests DWM to:

• Assign a departmental representative to spearhead the resolution of the complaints from the residents included in the petition, with that representative to be named within 30 days of the receipt of the petition.

• Commit that DWM representative to report monthly on the previous month’s activities and resolved/closed cases to Gillmann, the BCN representative.

• Issue written confirmation to each account holder represented in the petition that DWM recognizes the account is in official “dispute” status and verifies the resident is not at risk of having service disconnected during the dispute period. The city should mail written confirmation to residents within 45 days of the receipt of the petition.

• Commit that the assigned DWM representative will work diligently to resolve billing and deposit disputes of BCN residents within 90 days of the receipt of the petition.