City admits actions inadequate in water-leak dispute
BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
7/22/09 at 3:37 AM
The city agreed Tuesday to credit a midtown couple's utility bill by $401.20 to address what the couple said was a gross injustice in how a water leak was handled.
In essence, Cheriny Herring and her husband, Chris Annis, had to pay to prove to the city that the leak was its responsibility and not theirs.
The city agreed to the credit immediately after a City Council committee meeting during which councilors expressed dissatisfaction with how the couple were treated.
Public Works Director Charles Hardt told the Tulsa World after the meeting that the situation was unfortunate and shouldn't have risen to the level of a letter to the mayor and a discussion before the council "because it was our mistake."
Herring said she sent a letter to Mayor Kathy Taylor on April 9 about the situation but never heard back and then contacted her city councilor, Eric Gomez, who tried helping her with no success.
Herring said after the meeting that she and Annis, are pleased that the Public Works Department decided "to do the right thing, since the mayor didn't seem to want to."
Gomez said after the meeting that he brought the issue before the council to get a "satisfactory resolution" and to try to prevent similar situations.
Herring told councilors Tuesday that she and her husband have had ongoing discussions with the city about a water leak in front of their Maple Ridge residence since last summer.
On four occasions the city went to try to fix the leak, but on the final visit, Herring and Annis were told that the leak was on their side of the water meter and that they were responsible for fixing it.
Herring said the city employee suggested that they hire a private plumber and, if it was determined to be a city problem, to file a tort claim for reimbursement.
In December, the couple hired Roto-Rooter, which excavated the area and found that the problem was coming from a city line, she said.
The city was notified and crews returned out and fixed the leak, but Herring and Annis were left with a $401.20 bill from Roto-Rooter.
They filed a tort claim to recover their cost and even suggested that it be credited to their utility bill.
But the mayor, on advice from the Legal Department, denied the claim. The Public Works Department had recommended to the Legal Department that the claim be denied.
The city's denial was based on a tort claims law that states that cities are not liable for damages resulting from "inadequate or negligent inspection."
"I don't think this is right," Gomez said during Tuesday's committee meeting.
"On more than one occasion they had our employee at their residence, and upon excavation, it is clear it was our problem and not theirs."
Councilor Bill Christiansen said the mayor needed to make an exception in this case because of the circumstances.
"It's a no-brainer to me," he said.
Councilor Rick Westcott said that in his opinion, nothing in the law says the claim
can't be paid, just that the city doesn't have to pay it.
Clayton Edwards, the city's deputy director of environmental operations, apologized to Herring and Annis on Tuesday and said the treatment they received is not what is expected from his staff from either an operational or customer-service standpoint.
"We did not respond appropriately," he said.
P.J. Lassek 581-8382