- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

He lives in fear of bureaucratic retribution inside his Victorian row house on Vermont Avenue NW, fighting the lonely fight against the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.

Mr. Chris, who asks that his last name not be revealed, tells the frustrating tale of a two-year ordeal with the public utility, of repeated phone calls, letters and hearings that lead nowhere.

It is the tale of a water bill that more than tripled two years ago after WASA installed new meters in his Logan Circle neighborhood. It is the tale of an unresponsive, unfeeling public utility that has cut service to his residence, piled late charges on his bill and made no attempt to confirm the accuracy of its high-tech meters.

Mr. Chris has maintained a meticulous file on all his bills and official exchanges with WASA over the last two years and gave them to this newspaper. Mr. Chris has another hearing to attend later this month. Or it could be changed to November. He is not certain, because you never can be certain with the minions of WASA.

Mr. Chris does not want any trouble. He knows that. He just wants closure. He just wants to be free of the more than $3,000 in charges hanging over him. He just wants the truth from the agency and a meter he can trust again.

“I don’t want the city sending someone out to take pictures of the public space in front of my place,” Mr. Chris said one night this week over dinner.

Mr. Chris, not unlike so many other residents of the city, is leery of city inspector Cleveland Ray, the camera-toting bureaucrat who rarely meets a blade of grass that satisfies his highly trained eye.

Mr. Ray is a one-man beautification project, the Rembrandt of our times, prowling the streets of the nation’s capital in the interest of aesthetics. He is the public works insult to the city’s tax injury. If his itchy trigger finger snaps a photograph of your place, the notice of a fine is certain to be soon in the mail.

Mr. Ray serves as a metaphor for a city that works in mysterious ways, as Mr. Chris knows only too well.

In his last hearing, with mediator Samuel Sharpe doing WASA’s bidding, Mr. Chris said he was able to resolve only three bills. At this tedious pace, Mr. Chris said, the pursuit of a resolution is going to be costly, both financially and emotionally. Every time Mr. Chris is granted a date to be up close and personal with WASA, he loses a day of work.

Yet this is his principle. This is his nightmare.

Mr. Chris is left to hope against hope that one day he will be able to retire his ever-growing file from active duty and resume his life. He seeks to return to the good old days of a WASA bill that required, perhaps, five minutes of his time each month.

Those were the days of a water/sewerage bill that averaged $55 a month. Then, with the installation of a new meter that takes automatic readings, his bill jumped to $179 a month. And so began his struggle with the bureaucratic beast two years ago, with no end in sight.

“What I think is really going on here is, they have found that the new meters do not work, and if it got out, there would be a class-action suit,” Mr. Chris said.

So he lives with the ever-growing file that is stuffed with notices from WASA executive assistant Nakeysha Minor, e-mail records noting this or that appeal, newspaper articles that cite the complaints of other residents and a detailed listing of various phone conversations with WASA employees.

His is the file that has come to be a ball and chain. It is the file that tugs on him each day. It is a tiny symbol of a bureaucracy that too often is unresponsive to those it is supposed to serve.

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