• City leaders have been getting crammed. A new report from City Auditor Michael Eglinski found that the city is paying about $200 a month on its phone bills for services it didn’t sign up for or does not want. The practice is known in the phone industry as “cramming.”
The services show up under terms such as voice message monthly fee, webhosting service, PC tech or efax monthly service. The fees are placed on the bill by third-party providers, not the actual telephone service provider. Eglinski said the third party providers often are able to put the charges on the bill because they’ve gotten someone in City Hall to sign up for what sounds like an ubiquitous offer, or they offer a service for free that then converts into a paid service unless the city specifically opts out of the program.
City Manager David Corliss said the city is in the process of having the fees removed from the bill, and also is having meetings with department managers to ensure they are on the lookout for cramming practices. Eglinski said the city may want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
• A Lawrence landlord that was the subject of a Journal-World article on over-occupancy of homes is still attracting attention at City Hall. Since the article ran on Lawrence landlord Serina Hearn, the city has confirmed that it is reviewing six of Hearn’s properties for possible code violations. Four of the cases involve whether too many unrelated people are living in the home, while two others are related to other zoning issues, said Scott McCullough, director of planning.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority also confirmed that it is reviewing whether Hearn’s properties are still eligible to be part of the Section 8 housing program. Director Barbara Huppee said there is a provision in the federal regulations that calls for Section 8 providers to comply with all local codes and ordinances. Hearn has disputed that her properties are out of compliance.
• Candidates in races across the area on Tuesday filed reports showing how much money they’ve collected in donations. One race that was absent, though, was the bond issue for the Lawrence Public Library. Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said that’s because of an oddity in state law. Campaign organizations that are advocating for the support or defeat of a special question have until the end of the year to file their finance reports. In other words, groups like the Vote Yes for the Library campaign are not required to show their list of contributors prior to the election.
But Brad Finkeldei, treasurer of the Vote Yes for the Library group, said he did have information he could share. Thus far, the group has collected $20,733. The largest donations have been $2,500 from the Friends of the Library group and $3,500 from the Lawrence Public Library Foundation. A PDF list of all donors accompanies this article.
Vote Yes for the Library donor list ( .PDF )
• Also on the library front, City Hall leaders gave more details about a library bond flier that was included in October’s city utility bills.
Megan Gilliland, communications coordinator for the city, said the one-third sheet of paper was placed in utility bills at the expense of the Lawrence Public Library. The library paid $600 for the printing of the flier. The city’s mailing costs were not increased because the one-third sheet did not push the billings into a new weight category.
Gilliland said the city felt comfortable placing the flier in with utility bills because it was deemed an educational piece, not one advocating for the passage of the $18 million bond issue. The flier provided a summary of what the expansion would include, but did not ask residents to vote for the project. It did include sections titled: Why is this project needed? and What happens if the referendum does not pass?
Gilliland said the Vote Yes for the Library group did not provide any of the funding for the mailing. She also said the mailing was consistent with an information flier that was inserted in utility bills during the 2008 election season when infrastructure and sales tax questions were on the ballot.
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