How a petition shows an electric company who’s the boss

The right to petition for a “redress of grievances” is guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. Although it applies to the right of Americans to petition the government, The Watchdog showed a neighborhood how to use the concept to prompt a company to fix a problem lasting more than 40 years.

Since the mid-1960s, when homes on Wosley, Winifred and Woodway drives in Fort Worth’s Wedgwood East neighborhood were built, residents have complained about regular power outages.

“It just went on for all these years,” Lanelle Phipps told me. “It was reported and reported, and they would say they fixed it, but it didn’t take more than 10 drops of rain for the power to go off.”

Last year, Phipps and a neighbor, Karen Erickson, decided they had had enough. The last straw for them was the February 2010 snowstorm.

“We sat here for 53 hours in the dark freezing when all of our neighbors around us had power,” Erickson said.

She called Oncor Electric Delivery, which services power lines. “You can’t get anybody. You can’t get a human voice,” she said.

Dave Lieber column looking at Oncor Electric

One time she did. “He laughed it off and said, ‘Oh, we deal with that all the time.’ He was no help. He just told me to keep calling, keep calling.”

When Erickson described the problem to me, I wrote back with a plan:

“Easiest thing to do is organize your neighbors. Get everyone to sign a petition. Send the info to me, and I will pass it on to Oncor. … With the fuss you will kick up, Oncor will realize that they need to come out and actually fix the problem. It most likely will work.”

Phipps wrote the petition and cover letter, which stated, “Surely in all these years with all the reported outages, the problem has been (or could be) identified. …This petition is a formal request for the electric service companies to fix the problem — whatever it is. It has gone on far too long for any neighborhood to simply sit back and wait for the next inconvenient event.”

Erickson walked the petition door to door. She worked hard to catch everyone but eventually she did: 29 homeowners. Everyone signed the petition. It took seven months.

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In November, I passed the petition on to Oncor. Good things happened after that. Oncor staffers held a meeting and reviewed the neighborhood’s power history back to the beginning. When an Oncor employee contacted Phipps, she told Phipps, “I guess your petition got in the hands of the right people.”

An Oncor representative told me that the neighborhood had eight outages in the past year, five caused by weather and three for other reasons.

In December, Oncor began trimming trees. Oncor said that’s the easiest and best way to minimize weather-related outages. But the neighbors knew that it was more than that.

Once the trees were trimmed, there were still outages, Phipps said. She insisted that other measures be tried. More workers showed up.

As Erickson wrote to me, “They admitted that a lot of our equipment is out of date, and they will be updating with new equipment. They went back to Day One, and based on the number of complaints and outages, have decided that the equipment has always been defective.”

Oncor trucks remained in the neighborhood for several weeks. Among the work they did: Damaged lightning arresters were replaced; wiring was replaced; new cross arms and holding arms were installed.

Since then, there hasn’t been a problem.

Oncor says that if you have a problem, visit AskOncor.com and send a message from that site. Or call the Ask Oncor Hotline at 888-875-6279.

But I like the petition idea. If the story of excessive power outages in this neighborhood rings true to what’s happening in your neighborhood, why not try it same way? Get everyone in the neighborhood to sign a petition.

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Dave Lieber shows Americans how to fight back against corporate deceptions in his wonderful book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong. Are you tired of losing time, money and aggravation to all the assaults on our wallets? Learn how to fight back with ease — and win. Get the book here.

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