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Luna trustee says he wanted to resolve overcharge

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By David Giuliani

Tony Valdez, a member of the Luna Community College Board of Trustees, said Tuesday that he didn’t get any favors when he sought a resolution for a huge spike in his sewer bills.

He was responding to a controversy about his utilities account that is developing between Mayor Tony Marquez and Councilman Andrew Feldman, a Luna employee.

According to a Sept. 26 e-mail from Marquez to then-City Manager Sharon Caballero, the mayor requested that the city manager work to resolve a problem with Valdez’s account.

“He (Valdez) gets mixed information. This has been ongoing for over a month. Please meet and resolve,” the mayor stated in the e-mail. “Also, ensure he gets a customer service letter. Let me know the end result.”

On Oct. 8, Marquez wrote an e-mail to both Feldman and Caballero, informing them that Valdez and another customer continued to call saying the city was not responding to their concerns.

In the e-mail, Marquez asked Feldman to try to resolve both customers’ problems.

Valdez said he had approached the city because he had been paying for 14,000 gallons a month in sewer service. He said there was no way that he and his three children were using that much, adding that the number is usually around 3,000 to 4,000.

Valdez said he met with Feldman and then-Utilities Director George Du Four last fall. He said he was upset because he had tried to get a resolution to his bills for several months — to no avail.

Valdez said the city had violated its own policy in not informing customers when they were going way over the typical amounts of usage.

He said during the meeting with the officials, they agreed to reduce part of his bill, but he didn’t remember exactly how much. Valdez said he didn’t see it as any kind of favor. He said he still paid more than he should have.

The city had already determined that there were no leaks in Valdez’s system, participants in the meeting have said.

Valdez said he wasn’t sure who made the decision to reduce the amount of his bill.

For his part, Marquez  has said that he wanted Feldman and Du Four to provide customers service, not favors, in cases such as Valdez’s.  

Du Four has maintained that he gave customers credits when they were overcharged, while Feldman has denied making any decisions on customer accounts, saying that’s the job of the utilities department.

Marquez said he is seeking an attorney general’s office investigation into the credits given to customers.

In a Sept. 29 e-mail, Marquez asked City Attorney Carlos Quiñones to look into all utility bill waivers from July 1, 2007 to Sept. 1, 2008.

The mayor stated that he wanted Quiñones’ opinion about whether any laws had been broken and whether all methods used were in fairness and the best interests of the community.

“I want to know the process, procedure and allowable actions of any city director or employee to decide on waiver actions and formula or methods utilized in waivers granted,” Marquez wrote.

The city has yet to release the records that the mayor said demonstrates violations in city ordinance in granting credits and waivers.

City officials have also suggested that Du Four gave a favor to Luna Community College as well with its utility bills.

Luna on Tuesday denied that’s the case. In a statement, Luna President Pete Campos promised to cooperate with the attorney general’s office if it were to launch an investigation.

“The general public can rest assured that Luna Community College takes its responsibility in paying its bills seriously,” Campos said.