If you’ve done something dumb and bad publicity results, the quickest way to make the story go away is to apologize.
But not in Attleboro, Mass. where the city has threatened to place a lien on the home of Eileen Wilbur, a 72-year-old blind woman because she has failed to pay a past-due water bill of 1 cent.
The charge was from the previous fiscal year, which ran from July 2007 to July 2008. A computer automatically prints letters for accounts with an overdue balance, but no human reviews them before mailing them. The city paid 42 cents to send the letter which also warned of a lien and a $48 penalty if the bill isn’t paid by Dec. 10.
City Collector Debora Marcoccio said she received a fax from the woman’s daughter but it didn’t include a phone number. “If I had received a phone call, I would have been able to talk to the resident and hopefully resolve the issue,” Marcoccio said, “But I wasn’t given that opportunity.”
Why not just check the computer records, find out who had a past-due bill of a penny, and do something about it?
Imagine the goodwill that could have resulted had Marcoccio, or the town’s mayor, hand-delivered a food basket to the elderly woman on behalf of the city, along with an apology. Talk about a great photo op! The TV cameras could have been there and it would have been on that night’s evening news.
Instead, the city let this story grow legs until it became the kind of David vs. Goliath saga the media love. The story first appeared in the Sun Chronicle of Attleboro. The Associated Press picked it up and distributed it nationwide.
Former Attleboro City Councillor Antonio Viveiros stepped forward and paid the bill, but he did so with a check to underline the absurdity of what he termed an “idiotic” bureaucratic snafu.
A doggie treat to Viveiros and to Publicity Hound Sonia Coleman for tipping me off to this one. And a trip to the dog house for the folks at Attleboro City Hall.