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Glad we could be of service

Illegal cold-weather utility shutoffs ended earlier this month in Rock Falls, after a resident complained and Sauk Valley Media investigated. See? You can fight city hall.

Published: Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 7, 2014 1:49 p.m. CDT

Earlier this month, the Rock Falls city administrator thanked Sauk Valley Media's news department.

Why?

For pointing out through news stories that the city had violated state law and city ordinance by turning off residents' power, for nonpayment, on three occasions when the temperature was forecast at lower than 20 degrees.

Robbin Blackert told a reporter: "Any shortcomings like that need to be brought to our attention. It's good that this has come out."

Our response?

You're welcome.

All our reporter did was look into a complaint from a reader.

The Rock Falls resident said he had been threatened with electricity cutoff on a day when the temperature was forecast to be below zero. Three children and his fiancée also live in the house.

That didn't seem right to us, so a reporter began asking questions. As city administrator, Blackert was called upon to answer.

At that point, she later said, she was not aware that city employees mistakenly were continuing to carry out the cutoff of utilities for nonpayment, no matter the temperature. She said no issues had been raised in the past, and wrote that "perhaps only unhappy delinquent customers" were complaining.

However, a Freedom of Information Act request by Sauk Valley Media produced redacted documents from the city regarding the disconnection of customers' utility services.  By comparing cutoff dates with temperature records, the reporter concluded that three cutoffs had indeed occurred when it was too cold to legally do so.

That practice, Blackert said, has halted.

City utility customers need no longer fear utility cutoffs when it's colder than 20 degrees – like this week's bone-chilling temps.

The moral of the story?

You can fight city hall.

 

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