Saturday, November 18, 2006

Yes, boycotts can work.

Entry for Friday, 8 July, 2005


Today's entry is going to be short, because I'm running behind getting ready for Shabbat.

I posted a restaurant review on Yahoo a few days ago which was removed by them shortly thereafter. So I thought I would give it again here on this Blog. The review was of the restaurant Johnny Corrino's. We went there the first week they were open and were not really impressed, but the kids enjoyed their meal. So, a few weeks later we went back, and things had greatly improved. We ate there fairly regularly for a while, and then we stopped going.

Why? We decided to boycott the restaurant and I would like to encourage you to do the same.

You see, one of the owners of the restaurant is Mike S., the vice-mayor. Mike S. has been implicated in more than one issue of unethical dealing. He and one of the other council members are currently suing one another, I understand, over one of the issues. The other issue is the one I want to discuss here.

Mike S. has been accused of taking money from RWE, a foreign conglomerate and current owner of our Water Company. The majority of cities in the US own their water resources, by the way, just so you know. Ours used to be locally owned and operated some years ago, and then was bought by an American company (which had run the company well for as long as we have been living here), which was itself bought by RWE. Our Local Government voted to begin proceedings to use their power of eminent domain to purchase the water back from RWE.

The reasons for this are clear and compelling. First and foremost, as a for-profit stockholder company, RWE's priorities are not water quality or providing service to the poor or elderly, it is making money. RWE didn't buy our water resources because they wanted to get warm fuzzy feelings from distributing water. No, RWE intends to make millions (if not billions) of dollars in profit, and they intend to make it off of us. Part of the assets of the water reservoir is an adjoining park area that has playgrounds and other facilities that were paid for and still are maintained by the city for the use of the public. RWE as a corporate owner can now sell off this park for development to the highest bidder, although they claim they won't do that. Their claims, however, have not been proven reliable. RWE also promised the city that no jobs would be lost in our area and that no operations would be outsourced. Both of these promises turned out to be lies. People have lost their jobs, and you can't even speak directly to a local person if you want service or have questions.

I have heard that tests and anecdotal evidence also show that the quality of water has gone down considerably as RWE has implemented "more efficient" measures to save money. We did not used to have any qualms about using tap water to cook or make coffee or tea. But about six months after RWE took over, I noticed that water heated for tea left some kind of orange-yellowish residue in the bottom of the pot that clumped together into little balls. When I complained, I was told it must be that my pipes were old. I told them the pipes were the same ones we had before they bought the water company and I never had any problem with contaminated water when it was locally owned. Needless to say, the problem never went away and we now only use filtered or bottled water to cook with and make drinks.

And there are other community issues that cannot be addressed by a for-profit foreign conglomerate. Namely, that water is a basic human right - not a privilege of the wealthy. The millions of dollars of profit RWE is ciphoning out of the county could and should be used to provide a reasonable amount of water free of charge to families and elderly persons identified as qualifying by local social service agencies. The water belongs to the community, and the city should not be charged for the water the fire department uses in the fire hydrants. (That issue I find particularly irritating.) And the city even had to close some of the small local public pools because RWE was charging the parks department exhorbitant rates for the water. It has been estimated by people better in math than I am that implementing these reforms would not even use all of the money RWE has been lining their pockets with - the rest should have been refunded back to the residential users of the water who have been overcharged by RWE for the purpose of profit.

So, needless to say, the residents of our County complained to their councilpersons, and the resolution was made to buy back our water resources. In the natural course of events, it became time for local council elections. Enter Mike S. Mike and several other council members are accused of receiving funding for their campaigns and other favors from RWE to persuade them to make a new resolution to stop the buy-back proceedings. RWE flooded the airways with propaganda and "polls" supposedly showing that the citizens of our area wanted to continue being price gouged and having water to the poor and elderly cut off without mercy and finding orange sludge in their water. No actual names and addresses were ever attached to these "polls," of course. But surveys taken door-to-door by local pro-buyout groups showed just the opposite of what RWE claimed. So the councilpersons that ran on a pro-RWE platform should have been defeated.

However, they received money and help and advertising and had name-recognition events all sponsored either openly or under the table by RWE, critics claim. And all of the employees of the water company were told if they didn't support RWE's position and convince their friends and family to also, they would be fired, it is alleged. Businesses were supposedly told their rates would go up if they didn't vote to support RWE, and so on and so on.

So, the councilpersons who ran on the one-issue platform of "no hostile takeover" won the elections. And, of course, a resolution was made to stop the buyback, which passed by only one vote, and it was no surprise to anyone who voted to support RWE. All the same councilpersons whose campaigns were previously alleged to have been supported by RWE voted for RWE.

However, the story is not over.

The people who live in the districts of the allegedly bought-and-paid-for councilpersons got together and figured out that the majority of them did in fact support local control of the water. So how did these guys "win" the elections? No one is sure, but this time they decided to drop the tactic of using "polls" and instead start a legal and official petition drive to duly have the issue put on the ballot at the next regular elections. This way, the number of people by council district who feel one way or the other can be finally registered and counted accurately. And of course, RWE is not happy.

Meanwhile, the one-trick-ponies now on the council are proving quite inept at governing. Many people are not happy. The petition drive is going strong, with well more than minimum number of people required to legally have the question put on the ballot. And Mike S. continues on as vice-mayor, arrogant and disliked, and intending, he says, not to run for mayor. (gee, really?)

In my opinion and that of many others, the city could already have been well on the way to having our water resources back if it weren't for Mike S. and his cohorts. Therefore my family has decided not to have meals at any of his restaurants. Besides Johnny Corrino's, Mike S. is also involved with the local Applebees franchise and the local Huddle House franchise. I urge you all to boycott these restaurants, and to buy bottled water for cooking and making tea or coffee (or kool-aid or whatever) because the water is now surely contaminated with who-knows-what since RWE began their "cost cutting" and "outsourcing."

It's the principle of the thing, don't you think?

On Monday, if nothing else exciting happens, I hope to continue talking about globalism and the G8 Conference and capitalism run amok - Economics 102, let's say.



Post Script (February 2007) - It is a tradition in our home that on or near our children's birthdays, we allow them to pick any restaurant of their choosing to go out to eat, either with me and my husband alone or with the whole family. My middle son picked Johnny Carrinos, since he remembered liking the food and we hadn't been there in a while. So we went, and again decided never to return. The entree's that we ordered were overpriced for the unimpressive amount of food that we received. The service was annoying and not prompt, and the area where we sat was noisy and not 100% clean. So although Mike S. is no longer on our city council, we will still not be patronizing Johnny Carrinos. It has gone downhill.

Interestingly, a friend of mine took me out to lunch one day and unbeknownst to me had decided upon Applebees - this was the summer of 2006. We talked to the waiter there, and I casually mentioned that I hadn't been to an Applebees in ages, because we had decided to boycott Mike S.'s businesses. The waiter told us that apparently we weren't the only ones, because business had been way, way down since the water company purchase fiasco, and that the other partners/business-owners frankly blamed Mike S.'s involvement for the drop in business. Isn't that interesting, class? Boycotts can work.

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