By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
After hearing the story of one Birmingham resident’s exorbitant water bill and ongoing complaints from many other residents, Mayor Randall Woodfin on Monday called on the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) “to get out of the way” of the body’s general manager, Michael Johnson.
In a video posted to Facebook, Woodfin said, “[City resident] Miss Prater was out of town 15 days in a 30-day billing window recently. She received her bill when she got back for $451.12…It’s only a 30-day window, her not being at home 15 days of that 30 days. No sprinkler. No leaks. Got a $451.12 water bill, which is crazy when you think about it. Something’s wrong with that.”
Woodfin said the issues at BWWB are “manifold” and that residents have continually had billing problems with the utility.
“The number one thing all the board members need to be focused on is figuring out a way to make this work, not just for Miss Prater, but thousands of customers who continue to receive either no billing, or when they get a bill, it’s extremely too high or wrong,” Woodfin said.
The BWWB has held up Johnson in his attempt to improve the utility’s billing system, Woodfin said.
“We need this board to get out of the way and allow the general manager and their team, the people [that] are responsible for the day-to-day operations to do their job. The general manager, as I understand it, has a process he would like to recommend to this board or request for proposal for a more efficient billing system, and this board has not allowed that,” the mayor said.
Woodfin urged residents to put pressure on the board to work with Johnson.
“Please, encourage this board to . . . allow the general manager to be responsible for and do the work of the day-to-day operations, so the customer can be taken care of because that’s the only person and people I am concerned about. [I’m] tired of board politics, tired of the Water Works being an issue, just as you are, so please fix it. Get out of the way,” Woodfin said.
At its Aug. 10 meeting, the BWWB also approved a contract to hire the utility’s former general manager Mac Underwood as a consultant to help solve the billing issues, which include customers not receiving bills, customers receiving multiple bills and customers receiving estimated bills, according to AL.com.
On Thursday, a day after WBRC Fox 6 reported that the majority of the BWWB’s purchasing department were approved to retire in one day from reportedly unethical practices in the department, the mayor also blasted the utility on Twitter.
“I will not allow our most vulnerable residents to be victimized by mismanagement by this board. I will continue to push for answers until our residents receive the accountability and customer service they deserve,” the mayor wrote.
Also, last week BWWB announced that the company would soon be rolling out newly designed bills as part of their plan to address longtime issues that have been plaguing customers.
AL.com has reported roughly 13,000 of the utility’s 200,000 customers have been experiencing issues with missing bills, multiple bills, and wrongly estimated bills, some since October of last year.