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Elections make a difference

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By The Staff

It’s a wonderful thing about democracy: During an election, voters can elect someone who will more closely represent their concerns. Last month, that’s exactly what happened in the municipal election. Despite widespread concerns about high natural gas rates and cutoff of services to hundreds of residents, former Mayor Henry Sanchez’s response was consistent: We’re doing everything right. But that wasn’t the case, as the community found out when the state auditor issued a critical report just before the election, when Tony Marquez handily defeated Sanchez. Despite the controversy throughout the last year, the issue of cutoffs had never been placed on the agenda. Indeed, most of the council seemed unconcerned about people’s outrage over the disconnections and mishandling of the rates. But that changed last Wednesday, to the credit of our new mayor. He requested that finance and utility officials present a report on how the handle the cutoff of natural gas service. Last year, our utility disconnected gas to 321 customers from Jan. 1 to March 22. Many contended that this affected poor and elderly residents. Last week, the city staffers presented a flow chart that showed how they gave customers a few days’ notice before disconnection. But the city’s new attorney, Carlos Quinones, said state law requires utilities to give 15 days’ notice along with information on assistance programs before services are cut off. The flow chart doesn’t indicate 15 days. Was the city violating state law?Interim City Manager Jeff Condrey instructed Quinones to conduct a review to determine where city ordinances relating to natural gas disconnections don’t comply with state law. That’s the kind of action people like to see — a big difference from the previous administration. Those were the days when the city manager argued that a public record — the calculations that determined the gas rates we paid — were not a public record. Say what? Fortunately, a lower-level employee released the information anyway. That’s why a change in mayoral administrations was so important. We need to make sure the city is following laws that protect the poor and elderly from illegal cutoffs of services. Happily, the days of denial are over.