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Ohio City, Poverty, Social Services

Hearing addresses problems with customer service at Cleveland Public Power

Plain Press, December 2015 United Clevelanders Against Poverty held a public hearing on November 17th at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Church Avenue to address problems Clevelanders are having with Cleveland Public Power (CPP).

Legal Aid Attorney Phil Althouse explained the City of Cleveland Ordinance, which governs Cleveland Public Power’s actions in case of a delinquent bill. Althouse explained that Cleveland Public Power is governed by ordinances passed by Cleveland City Council, not by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio like other utilities.

Althouse noted that the Cleveland Ordinance requires Cleveland Public Power to provide notice prior to termination of service. Residents have a right to appeal termination to a Board of Review. This is called procedural due process, said Althouse.  Utility service is a property interest and the United States Supreme Court has ruled that residents can’t be deprived of it without due process, he said.

Customers are also entitled to a moratorium on termination of their electric service if they give a medical certificate to Cleveland Public Power. If required by the City of Cleveland, the person or household may need to seek recertification on a periodic basis, said Althouse.

Tim Walters served as moderator of the hearing and four community members served as a panel of judges. Cleveland Public Power customers testified about their problems with Cleveland Public Power. Following their testimony, Cleveland Public Utilities Director Robert Davis and Joy Perry of the Customer Service Department of Cleveland Public Power responded to the testimony of Cleveland Public Power customers.

Among the CPP customers testifying were members of a family whose electricity had been cut off despite having a medical certificate on-file at Cleveland Public Power. The family members told of their medical conditions that required oxygen and a C-Pap machine to run on electricity. They told of the difficulty they had in getting their service turned back on despite the life-threatening situation created by the lack of electricity.

Others present testified to being treated rudely by CPP employees when calling about a problem, or being on hold for long periods of time.

Public Utilities Director Robert Davis, who has just been on the job for six months, apologized to everyone who has had a bad experience with Cleveland Public Power. He urged those experiencing rudeness by CPP employees to report the problem. He offered statistics on the CPP medical emergency program, saying out of 360 customers participating in the medical emergency program, 36 had been disconnected for noncompliance of a payment arrangement. He said, if the program is not working, he would work with the community to change the codified ordinance at Cleveland City Council.

Cleveland Public Power’s Joy Perry offered her number for people to call to report rude treatment by customer service personnel. She said to call her directly at 664-3297, ext. 154.

After reviewing the testimony by customers and hearing the responses from Cleveland utility officials, the citizen panel made eight recommendations for action. 1) To address phone wait times, the panel suggested that a separate line be used for residents to report power outages so the other customer service lines would not be tied up in the event of a power outage. 2) Suggested that managers or supervisors should be able to listen-in to monitor conversations of customer service representatives. 3) Cleveland Public Power should have a computer program that records which customer service representative is dealing with which customer so if there is a complaint – it can be addressed. 4) Better marketing and publicity is needed for the medical certificate program – the panel believed there should be more than 360 people in the city of Cleveland that qualify. 5). Proper notification of residents if their medical certificate is about to expire. 6) Better training of employees – including benchmarks to meet. Also all employees should be ultra aware of the medical exemptions so service is never cut off to a vulnerable person. 7) Separate phone line for senior citizens that is circulated at the Department of Aging. 8) Implement a Percentage of Income Payment Program (PIPP)  – Recommended that United Clevelanders Against Poverty work with Cleveland City Council to pass an ordinance requiring this change.

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