Years ago a major accident occurred on the Union Pacific Railroad a hundred miles from Omaha. Two trains, one eastbound and the other westbound, collided head-on, causing many deaths and injuries. At the inquest that followed, the not-very-bright towerman responsible for switching trains to their proper tracks, took the stand.
“Please tell the court what you observed on that fateful day,” the district attorney asked. “I saw the westbound City of San Francisco streamliner barreling down Track 2 at about 65 miles and hour.”
“And please tell the court what else you saw.” The towerman replied, “I saw the all-Pullman Overland Limited heading eastbound on the same track at about the same speed.”
“And what did you think about that?”
“What did I think? I thought it was a helluva way to run a railroad.”
Croton-on-Hudson also has some not-very-bright towermen. Recently 34 residents of the village were sent phony water bills—all in the randomly chosen astronomical amount of $1,096.45. Their purpose, conceived by non-elected, non-resident officials of the village, was, in their own words, to “get taxpayers’ attention.” In order to create the offending water bills, the figure of $1,096.45 was arbitrarily selected by Abe Zambrano, Village Treasurer, with the blessing of Richard Herbek, Village Manager. Presumably, too, a fictitious amount of water usage also had to be calculated to justify the fictitious dollar amount.
Crotonblog thinks that this shabby, heavy-handed action is a helluva way to run a village or to treat residents. The village created spurious billings for the sole purpose of coercing residents in whose homes the village had not installed electronically-read meters to make arrangements for such installation. The village’s elaborate scam—and there is no better word to describe it—resulted in rapid response from about half the number of residents who were concerned, upset and angry. They had every right to be unhappy.
But before the officials involved throw their shoulders or spines out of joint patting themselves on the back and require the Mayor’s chiropractic ministrations, Crotonblog would like to point out that mailing inflated invoices demanding payment for undelivered goods or services is a fraudulent act. False billing is a clear violation of law and is adamantly prosecuted, most notably in the health care industry. If the village’s computerized billing system can be so wittingly manipulated by officials, what protection does the village have against felonious acts?
Politicians are fond of making campaign promises to run government “like a business.” But any business that did what Croton officials did would quickly find itself enmeshed in the toils of the law. What the village did resembles nothing more than a mindlessly malicious Halloween prank belatedly played by village officials on residents. The technique has all the subtlety of a whoopee cushion or an exploding cigar. In keeping with the tone set by this low-class performance, perhaps we can open Village Board meetings with a round of fart jokes. Surely the village had not exhausted conventional avenues of communication before embarking on this elaborate swindle. How about the old-fashioned method of ringing a bell or knocking on a door?
We’ll skip the mention of the mental anguish or fright that intentional false billing could cause in elderly, infirm or ill residents. The village can collectively breathe a sigh of relief and count itself lucky if no recipient of one of these phony inflated water bills brings an action against the village for its callous, intemperate act. To underscore that Crotonblog is not alone in being concerned about this unhappy incident, the story has already been picked up by major newspapers and news services (see: Google News), making Croton the laughing-stock of the entire country.
Crotonblog has to wonder whether this official scam was put before the Mayor, the Village Board of Trustees or the Village Attorney before being carried out. The inherent deceit underpinning this sorry affair is bad enough, but the unseemly public chortling and exultation at the effect their scam had on unsuspecting residents was inexcusable. We repeat: This is a helluva way to run a village. Perhaps the proper coin of the realm with which to pay counterfeit water bills would be counterfeit money.
What is unintentionally humorous about the whole affair is that in the past the village has frequently overbilled water users erroneously for incorrectly calculated water usage. Now that the village has given its blessing to the creation of intentionally fictitious water bills for punitive purposes, residents cannot be blamed for wondering whether future village-generated bills are authentic or only another example of creative municipal accounting—mere figments of Abe Zambrano’s imagination.
Under the circumstances, Crotonblog is again compelled to ask Mayor Doctor Gregory Schmidt, “What’s Up, Doc? Who’s minding the store?” Your attention to this municipal embarrassment that took place on your watch would be appreciated at the next Board meeting.