This past March Steve Barret, a former Opa-locka city commissioner and vice mayor, filed a class action lawsuit against the city after finding he was charged the equivalent of a 126.5 percent APR in water bill penalties from September to November of 2002.
Opa-locka charged more than 10 percent compounded interest, per month, on late water bills. Worse, when matter went before a judge this past July, it came out that the city had instituted a special “friends and family” plan.
City employees and their friends didn’t have to pay the same late penalties as everyone else, according to testimony from the city’s assistant finance director, Faye Douglas: “The city regularly waives the late penalty/interest for some account holders, who have failed to timely pay their utility bill and whose services have not been discontinued.” Everyone else gets their shit turned off and has to pay $25 to get it hooked up again.
The city declared that it “reserved the right” to establish “payment plans” with individuals unable to pay the city on time. But a judge ruled these practices were “capricious, arbitrary, and discriminatory.”
So Riptide put in a call to the utility billing department and asked the operator how we could get on the city’s friends and family plan.
“We don’t do that here sir,” she said. “We have no idea about that.”
When reminded of the lawsuit, she forwarded us to Faye Douglas, who said she would call right back, but never did.
Steven Hadley, a detective with the Miami-Dade Schools Police who owns a laundromat a few blocks from city hall, says he pays between $1100 and $1200 monthly for water. “I’m not always on time and I accrue a lot of fees,” Hadley said. He’s thingking about selling the place. He was happy to hear about Barrett’s victory in the class-action lawsuit.
The judge has not yet ruled on exactly how much may be paid back to Barret and the rest of the town’s residents. Hadley says if there’s money coming back to him, it will be a lot. --Calvin Godfrey
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