Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: Deal with a bad landlord

What do you do when you have a shoddy landlord?

The Dallas Morning News Watchdog columnist Dave Lieber has a solution.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute. Learn more about how to protect yourself at The Watchdog page at the Dallas Morning News.

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Bam

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: How to get open records

When a governmental body won’t share information you’re entitled to, what do you do?

Learn how to get open records from The Dallas Morning News Watchdog Desk administrator Marina Trahan Martinez.

Read more Watchdog reports designed to save you time, money and aggravation at The Watchdog Page.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute.

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Marina

 

The Watchdog: In the world of Texas electricity, free is not always free

TXU Free Weekends promises free electricity for 48 hours beginning at midnight Friday. But during the week, expect to pay 19 cents per kwh. Holy moly! It’s free, The Watchdog says, but it’s expensive when it’s not.

Can a company say something is free when it’s not? Can a company put the word free in the title of a product even when customers have to pay?

Or worse, can a company selling this product with the word free in the title actually charge the highest rates around?

As readers of The Dallas Morning News Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, that’s what’s happening now, according to some critics, with revolutionary new plans for free electricity on nights or weekends offered by TXU Energy and competitor Reliant Energy.

Some people tell The Watchdog they’re confused.

NB_10TXUBUILDING_3913560

Check this out: TXU Free Nights promises free electricity every day from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. But what about the rest of the time? A residential customer gets slammed with an outrageous 18 cents per kilowatt-hour rate, about double what anybody else would pay on a normal price plan offered by most companies.

TXU Free Weekends promises free electricity for 48 hours beginning at midnight Friday. But during the week, expect to pay 19 cents per kwh. Holy moly! It’s free, but it’s expensive when it’s not.

Both plans are 18-month contracts with whopping early cancellation fees of $295 that aren’t even prorated. The only good thing — and this is important — is that TXU gives you 60 days to bail out of these programs without a cancellation charge if you’re not happy.

Reliant’s Free Weekends plan tacks on an extra four hours on Friday night, starting at 8 p.m., but the cost is almost 15 cents per kwh the rest of the time plus an extra $6.48 a month, which is part of Oncor’s delivery charge.

A difference is that TXU says it waives the Oncor charge during free hours, but Reliant doesn’t, meaning electricity used during free time is not entirely free. Reliant also gives its customers a free Nest Learning Thermostat, a $249 value.

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With 1.5 million customers and more than 40 percent of the market share, TXU deserves credit for not running in place and shaking up its offerings. Let’s detour for a moment and give TXU even bigger credit for its remarkable turnaround in customer service in the last year or so.

Four years ago, state regulators received more than 4,000 complaints from Texans about their electricity company. Asia-based customer service centers frustrated customers, as did an antiquated billing system left over from when TXU’s legacy company was the region’s utility monopoly. Many customers jumped to one of TXU’s 50 or so competitors.

Every year since, TXU has cut its complaint numbers in half. This year, TXU has fewer than 400 complaints before the state Public Utility Commission. That’s a truly remarkable turnaround.

Sadly, or maybe not, this comes at the same time TXU’s parent company, Dallas-based Energy Future Holdings, could be weeks away from filing what would be — with more than $40 billion in debt — one of the largest bankruptcies for a company not in the financial industry.

In the midst of this, TXU brags that almost 100,000 customers — 1 in 15 — have signed up for a “free” electricity program.

Dick Bunting of Bonham tells me he studied the plans and says “this makes my blood boil.” The title sounds good, he says, “but looking into it, you will find it is one of the worst deals out there in electric provider land.” He fears trusting seniors will sign up for the plan not knowing what they’re getting into.

TXU spokesman Michael Patterson says company reps are trained to ask a lot of questions before allowing customers to sign up for a program. “We want people to really understand and be happy with their selection,” he says.

One TXU competitor, Entrust Energy of Houston, created a truth-in-advertising campaign to show that the Entrust rates would save customers a thousand dollars or more in comparison to the free plans.

Entrust spokesman Kevin West said, “It’s interesting that TXU is pitching that this is so ‘free’ when in reality customers on these plans will pay a lot more in the non-free period.”

(Note that the PUC announced last week that Entrust agreed to pay $60,000 to settle an investigation into alleged violations of consumer protection rules.)

An analysis by the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, which pushes for transparency in electricity pricing on behalf of member cities, also questions the plans, calling them “gimmick electric deals.”

“Let’s take free nights,” coalition analyst R.A. Dyer says. “If you work at night and sleep during the day, you’re still going to have to run your air conditioner during the day.”

He continues, “The main webpage of TXU’s pricing page doesn’t mention the 18-cent price for daytime hours. You have to go to the Energy Facts Label to find that.

“Also, these are 18-month, fixed-rate deals with a $295 early cancellation fee. Once you’ve figured out you can’t live the vampire lifestyle forever, or you figure out that the [kwh] rate is too high, you can’t walk away from this deal without paying a pretty hefty cancellation fee.”

TXU’s Patterson doesn’t agree that information is withheld from consumers. That’s not the way the new, improved TXU operates, he says.

“We always want to be the ones that are trustworthy and transparent in our pricing. We don’t hike fees. We’re straightforward, and we’re competitively priced.”

Bottom line: Texas retail electricity pricing is needlessly confusing. Every company has its own way of presenting its prices so numbers can’t easily be compared. Early cancellation fees are outrageous. Marketing is sometimes confusing, if not downright misleading. The fine print is everything.

And free? In the world of Texas electricity? Come on.

Follow Dave Lieber on Twitter at @Dave Lieber.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

The Watchdog: Be careful of hucksters at a state fair

Kim Crossley of Keller glides through the State Fair of Texas with a skeptical eye and a hand on her purse. She won’t fall for any midway fakery or crazy creams or signs that promise everything but deliver very little.

Good thing. Kim won one of the Dallas Morning News Facebook contests to go to the fair with a newspaper staff member.

First prize? She goes to the fair with The Watchdog. (Not my idea, but I’m game.)

The first unofficial Watchdog Day at the State Fair. The one and only!

The winner could have been a sucker, falling for every come-on there is.

Instead, this contest-winning mom, who runs her own business and brings her college-age daughter Carrie with her, is a natural watchdog. She sees. She questions. She moves on. I like her.

“Why do mattresses come with 25-year warranties when they recommend you buy one every eight years?” she asks at the Embarcadero at the very first sales exhibit we see, a mattress gallery. “Replace Every 8,” a sign says, but yet …

A step or two away, the next offer comes — a San Antonio trip, two nights in a Riverwalk hotel (“Buy now, travel later”), river boat tickets and more. $99. Oh, there’s a catch, a salesman says. A 90-minute sales presentation to learn “what Wyndham has to offer.” See ya.

She pushes past “Clean Your Shower with No Scrubbing” and “Lower Your Cholesterol with Greaseless Frying.” She turns a corner and makes eye contact with a woman hawking an all-natural cleanser.

“Let me show you something,” the hawker says into her headset microphone.

Kim Crossley and friend at Texas State Fair

Kim Crossley and friend at Texas State Fair

Kim moves in close. She watches the lady with the microphone spill, dab and rub. Kim looks at the label. There’s no listing of biodegradable ingredients. “What’s in it?” she asks. The woman is three feet away. But the answer comes in an amplified shout, “COCONUT OIL AND SEAWEED KELP!”

Turn around and listen. From every direction, there’s more of the same.

Someone making promises into a headset microphone. Late-night infomercials come to life. A cacophony of Big Tex chaos. Stretch lids. Ultra vitamins. Skin wrinkle removers.

The sign says “BOTOX.” The letters are big. In tiny print underneath, it adds “Effect.” Kim snorts her dismay. The salesman defends, “You’re never going to know if something works unless you try it.”

“Does it last?” she asks.

“If you do it every two days, it lasts,” the salesman says. She snorts again.

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She sees the Bionic Band display. Helps back pain, numbness, poor circulation, carpal tunnel, arthritis, sleeping disorders, attention deficit disorder and much more, the signs says. The multicolored bands in shapes and sizes are alluring. The salesman seems quite sharp. But Kim’s eyes wander to small print on the bottom of a display sign. The words are partially obscured by a lamp.

“These products have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or illness. Individual results may vary.” She bolts.

More signs. “Lose Fat. No Hunger!” “Soft Cotton Dream Sheets, Feels Like Egyptian Cotton.” “The Lamp That Can Change Your Life.”

“Do you need windows?” a man asks. Another asks her to fill out a coupon.

Win a 1967 Camaro.

“Who are you with?” she asks.

“Silverleaf Resorts.”

“They bug you to death with phone calls and emails,” she says. Bye bye.

She walks along the midway, where it’s a different kind of sale. The rhythmic words are hypnotic.

“Come on. Don’t be shy.”

“Two credits to play, two credits to win.”

“Always a winner, always a prize.”

“Come on up, come on in.”

“Winner gets any prize, any size.”

She scoots past a basketball game with the deceptively small rims, ignores a man with gold teeth offering her a baseball to toss.

At my urging only, she lines up at Scooby ring toss. “I’ll show you how to win,” the man behind the counter says. He shows. She tosses. Lots of clinks.

Not one solid clank.

The worker offers her extra advice. Lady, when the other countermen scan your game tickets, make sure they punch in the right number of credits.

“They ain’t crooked,” he says of his colleagues. “Just some of the boys — you got to watch ’em.”

Her daughter sets up at the water pistol shooting gallery. The kid strikes a pose. “Aim. Set. Shoot.” She points a straight line into the clown’s mouth.

The kid wins. Heck, somebody does. She chooses the appropriate prize for Watchdog Day at the State Fair. A giant wolf.

How come? Because at this wonderful place, a sheep can easily get slaughtered.

[This story originally appeared in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column at The Dallas Morning News. Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.]

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: What to do when employer won’t pay you

What do you do when you work and your employer won’t pay you on time? The Dallas Morning News Watchdog Desk Administrator Marina Trahan Martinez has the answer.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute. Read more interesting Watchdog reports that show you how to be a smart consumer at our main Watchdog page here.

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Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

Watchdog 

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Marina

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: How to fight when your car gets towed

A tow truck drags your car away. You want to fight it, but how? Here’s one way from The Dallas Morning News Watchdog Desk Administrator Marina Trahan Martinez.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute.

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

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Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

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Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

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Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Marina

The Watchdog: Lon Smith Roofing loses suit over contract’s legality

A company that calls itself “the largest residential roofing company in Texas” is in a legal fight that calls into question the legality of its basic roofing contract.

Lon Smith Roofing & Construction was ordered earlier this year by a federal magistrate judge to pay $275,000 in damages and attorney fees to a Fort Worth couple who claimed the company failed to keep its contractual promise to arrange with the couple’s insurance company to pay for a new roof.

As readers of the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News first learned, a lawyer for Lon Smith, which has offices in Fort Worth, Garland and Austin, says he is appealing that ruling. The lawyer says there’s no contract problem.

The gist of the case is that Lon Smith’s signed contract with Gerald and Beatriz Reyelts promised to make all arrangements with the Reyelts’ insurance company to pay for a new roof. Lon Smith installed the new roof, but Lon Smith never made contact with the couple’s insurance company.

When the insurance company received a $15,000 bill for the new roof, it refused to pay, saying no one had showed its adjusters the old roof for inspection before it was torn down.

Lon Roofing

(Dallas Morning News photo)

Lon Smith was supposed to do that but didn’t. When Lon Smith billed the couple for the entire amount and sent three demand payment letters, the Reyelts hired a lawyer and sued. They claimed that Lon Smith didn’t keep its promise to make arrangements with the insurance company. The judge agreed and issued a default judgment in the couple’s favor after representatives of Lon Smith failed to show up for a scheduled hearing.

Lon Smith’s standard printed contract, which the Reyelts signed, is clear in its promise: Lon Smith agreed “to pursue homeowners’ best interest for all repairs, at a price agreeable to the insurance company” and to work out “the final price agreed between the insurance company” and Lon Smith. The homeowner is responsible for paying the deductible and for any upgrades. “The final price agreed to between the insurance company and LSRC shall be the final contract.”

Under Texas law, someone other than a homeowner who negotiates a price with an insurance company is considered a public insurance adjuster.

The problem here is that under state law, only a licensed public adjuster can do that. Lon Smith is not a licensed public adjuster. A public adjuster is someone who, for a fee, negotiates with insurance companies on behalf of homeowners or business owners who don’t like an insurance company’s initial settlement offer. There are about 600 active ones in Texas.

Lon Smith violated state law, says the Reyelts’ lawyer, Charles W. Fillmore. In court papers, Lon Smith admitted it lacked the required state license but stated that because it did not charge the family for its services, there was no violation. State law does not mention that providing insurance-adjusting services by an unlicensed adjuster is permitted if the service provided is free.

The case appears to have wide-ranging ramifications for other Lon Smith customers since the basic language of its contract has been called into question.

Rick Disney, lawyer for Lon Smith, responded to The Watchdog in a written statement: “Lon Smith Roofing provided the Reyelts a high quality roof, and they have never complained, even once, about the workmanship or quality. The trial court ruling is the first step in a long legal process, and Lon Smith is confident it will prevail.”

The lawyer adds, “One more fact: except for, I think, $1,176, neither the Reyelts nor the insurance company paid anything to Lon Smith Roofing for their roof.”

Lon Smith is lucky in one respect. Last month, a new state law went into effect that specifically states that roofing contractors cannot serve as both contractors and public adjusters on the same roof deal. The idea is to avoid a conflict of interest.

But that law wasn’t in effect when the Reyelts’ roof was replaced. The law that pertained to them at that time stated that public adjusters must obtain a state license, which Lon Smith didn’t have.

Lon Smith’s lawyer says that because the company failed to keep its promise to contact the insurance company on the couple’s behalf, it can’t be accused of acting as an unlicensed public adjuster.

However, in court papers, Lon Smith President David Cox stated that, “Lon Smith does, if appropriate, assist the homeowner with his negotiations with his insurance company.” He added, “Lon Smith has been using this form of an agreement for years.”

Under the original law passed a decade ago, unlicensed work is a misdemeanor crime.

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The Reyelts’ lawyer says that alone is enough to void a contract, which the federal magistrate did in this case.

Under the revised 2013 law, the language is even clearer, specifically citing that roofers cannot negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of a homeowner. That specific point was added to enforce that the roofing industry is included.

Cox also states in the court papers that he didn’t learn about the default judgment against his company until after the ruling. “I was and am very upset that our attorney did not keep us apprised.” He added that he hired a new lawyer “to try to repair the damage that has been done.” Cox did not return a call from The Watchdog.

Bottom line here for all future roofing customers: Roofing companies are not allowed to negotiate with insurance companies on behalf of their homeowner clients. Lon Smith, as have many roofing companies, participated in this process for years. Now, most definitively, it’s no longer allowed.

Follow Dave Lieber on Twitter at @DaveLieber.

[This originally appeared in the Dave Lieber Watchdog column in The Dallas Morning News.]

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

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Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

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Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: What to do when your warranty expires and your problems remain

Watchdog Video Tip of the Day: What do you do when your contractor is gone but problems remain?

The contractor you selected was good, but now he’s gone out of business and your roof is leaking. Are you out of luck with your warranty?

Maybe. Maybe not, says Marina Trahan Martinez, The Dallas Morning News Watchdog Desk Administrator.

The Watchdog Video Tip of the Day, produced by DallasNews.com, is designed to solve a problem in less than a minute. 

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More Watchdog Nation News:

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Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

Visit Watchdog Nation Headquarters

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Like Watchdog Nation on Facebook

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Watch Watchdog Nation on YouTube

twitter icon 3

Twitter @DaveLieber

Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

AVAILABLE IN HARDCOVER, CD AUDIO BOOK, ON ITUNES (AUDIO), KINDLE AND IPAD.

Marina

The Watchdog: A watchdog tends to the meaning of life at a historic Texas cemetery

For the last half century, Jack Cook prepared for the day he would die. He thought about it, he prayed about it, and more than anything else, he tenderly cared for the sacred and historic cemetery grounds in which he knew he would spend eternity.

The land is Lonesome Dove Cemetery in Southlake, and it serves as the final resting place for some of the original settlers, including early government and church leaders who began arriving in the 1840s.

As readers of The Dallas Morning News Dave Lieber Watchdog column first learned, Cook served as president of the Regular Lonesome Dove Cemetery Association, which meets once a year and is probably the oldest institution in Tarrant County. More than that, he designated himself the official caretaker of the grounds. He and that Cub tractor. The reason for this speaks of Texas.

Caretaker1

[Image courtesy of The Dallas Morning News]

If there’s one little piece of land that shows the meaning of life, not death, it’s ironically this patch of Southlake cemetery land, a century away from the bustle of a place that’s now a boomtown. A quiet 2.3-acre square that hardly looks important because only a few of its original tombstones survive.

For 166 years, Lonesome Dove Cemetery and landmark Lonesome Dove Baptist Church, one of the earliest churches, have existed side by side, one feeding the other. And yes, that’s where Larry McMurtry borrowed the name for his classic Western tale. But unlike Woodrow F. McCall and Gus McCrae, Jack Cook is real.

There are watchdogs for banks and watchdogs for government. But there are also watchdogs for the land, and in Texas that ought to be a most sacred duty.

Caretaker2

[Photo by Dave Lieber]

Jack’s ties to the land go back to his relatives, who arrived in the Grapevine area in 1849. But his connection to the cemetery was burned into his soul in the early 1950s when both his wife of 10 years, Corrine, and his son, Tommy, who was 2, died in a house fire. After they were buried at The Dove, Jack staked out graves for himself and other family members. Then he spent the next five decades learning every blade of grass around them up to the fence on all sides.

He took on all the duties of caretaking. Folks kept asking if he wanted help. He always turned them down. He was in his 70s, then 80s, then 90s. He never wanted pay. He didn’t talk about the fire. Instead, he mowed.

“Nobody has as much invested in it as I do,” he explained.

“This is my life. I was born here. My grandparents, parents, wife and child are buried here — and aunts and uncles galore. Half of all the people in this cemetery were kin to me some way or another.”

Twenty years ago, at age 76, he was asked once again if he wanted a break.

“I hope to be able to do this for many more years. I enjoy it. It’s not hard. I used to mow it and weed it all in one day. Now I stretch it out over two.”

The next year, at age 77, he was still good to go. “One of these days, I’m not going to be doing this,” he said. “What I have is terminal. Old age.”

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Two years after that, when Jack was 79, another man was allowed to come aboard. Mark Tucker, 40 years younger than Jack, lost his 4-year-old daughter, Emily, in a 1996 car accident. The cemetery doesn’t do much business anymore, not with 1,700 graves crammed into those 2 acres. But somehow Mark found Jack and The Dove.

Jack found room for Emily’s gravesite. He also counseled Mark. One grieving father to another. You never stop being sad, Jack explained, but then there’s this land.

Mark understood. “I’ll do anything that you need me to do, sir. Anytime you need me to do it.”

For once, Jack said yes. After that, it became the Jack and Mark Team. For the same reason. When Mark was offered an out-of-state job, he wouldn’t go. “I’m staying right here,” he said, pointing at that ground.

Ten years ago, Jack was 86 and mowing away when he found a gravesite for a mother. At the next meeting, with the grave still fresh, the mother’s surviving 14-year-old boy was in attendance. An odd sight. But that night, the meaning was passed from Jack to Mark to the boy, and the boy responded.

“I don’t mind coming over here to help,” he offered to Mark the way Mark had offered to Jack.

“Come over anytime,” Mark said.

“How did your daughter die?”

“Car wreck. And your mom?”

“She got sick.”

The boy looked away for a moment and asked, “When does she, uh, change?”

“Think about what God has planned and go with that.”

“OK,” the boy said quietly.

“And remember,” Mark said, “this is the most peaceful place on earth.”

A few years later, Jack was 93 when Southlake issued an official proclamation and held Jack Cook Day in honor of his work at the cemetery. He stepped down as president the next year because he had difficulty keeping track of the agenda. He was 94.

On Oct. 9, at age 96, Horace Weldon “Jack” Cook found that peace he sought for so long. Two days later, his funeral was held at the church, then his enormous family, which includes 10 grandchildren, 26 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren, gathered around that special space.

Mark was there for the burial. He remembered the years he and Jack were a team. “One year rolled into the other,” he said, telling the story of this place.

With the coffin about to be lowered, retired church pastor Coy Quesenbury said, “Nobody deserves a plot in this cemetery more than Jack did.”

Considering who is buried there, that says a lot. A watchdog for the land, in the most peaceful place on earth.

Coming Sunday: The death of a con man

Follow Dave Lieber on Twitter at @Dave Lieber.

Dave Lieber's Watchdog Nation won a 2013 writing award from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists

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Are you tired of fighting the bank, the credit card company, the electric company and the phone company? They can be worse than scammers the way they treat customers. A popular book, Dave Lieber’s Watchdog Nation: Bite Back When Businesses and Scammers Do You Wrong, shows you how to fight back — and win! The book is available at WatchdogNation.com as a hardcover, CD audio book, e-book and hey, what else do you need? The author is The Watchdog columnist for The Dallas Morning News. Visit our store. Now revised and expanded, the book won two national book awards for social change. Twitter @DaveLieber

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Subject of Watchdog Nation report convicted of theft

Malachi Crump, subject of a previous Watchdog Nation report, has been convicted in New Orleans of stealing more than $100,000 from families who sought to rebuild their homes destroyed in Hurricane Katrina.

Crump, 64, was found guilty in November 2013 on three counts of felony theft, one for each family he swindled, the New Orleans Advocate reports.

Crump, on parole and never licensed in Louisiana, owned Chimere’s Builders. He signed contracts with three elderly women promising to completely renovate their homes. They gave him thousands in down payments and some wrote additional checks for supplies, according to published reports. Authorities say he did some work at some houses and nothing at others. When the homeowners began asking questions, he disappeared.

Watchdog Nation first reported Crump’s similar activities in Texas. Read that Watchdog Nation report on Malachi Crump here.

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Malachi Crump

Malachi Crump

 

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