DPW – Part 2

After my first email, I received a response from the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works stating that my account was being forwarded to the Adjustments Department and that I would be receiving a phone call from a Supervisor by the end of the next business day. 

January 12, 2018

Good Evening Ms. B,

While I was hopeful that someone would be in contact with me today as you had promised, I have yet to hear from anyone from the adjustments department as of this email.

Look, I get it. I read the newspapers and all the articles detailing the exorbitant mess that is the Water Billing System in the City of Baltimore.


I have read how understaffed your department is in correlation to the amount of accounts that are serviced. I am not here to make your life difficult. Am I frustrated? Yes. But I am willing to do whatever I need to to do to get this resolved as quickly as possible. I am sure that, at this point, you may dread hearing from disgruntled customers as much as I dread having to keep following up with the Department of Public Works.

I appreciate that you were the only person to reach out to me from your department and that you cannot make a colleague pick up a phone and call me, however, you are the closest contact I have to a resolution. Please do not abandon my account, contact me if there is anything I can do to help this along. I promise, I am easy to deal with. Although I am frustrated, I haven’t lost my sense of humor as I would hope you could deduce from my first email. 

If you would prefer to give me the contact information for the supervisor assigned to my case in the Adjustments Department, feel free and you can move on to another customer with a water bill issue. If you can’t, then you will get the opportunity to enjoy my charm for a little longer. I am sincerely hoping that you find this email after a wonderful, relaxing weekend. Looking forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,
Shannon Armenis

I gave her 2 business days but still nothing. So, I sent her another email. 

Robenia,
Is it okay if I call you Robenia? Although this relationship is beginning to feel a bit one sided, I am still getting the inclination that it will be a long term one. Therefore, it seems suitable that we be on a first name basis.

Moving on to the issue at hand. I will admit Robenia, I was feeling a little hurt that I didn’t hear from anyone on Monday. However, after breaking up somewhere north of 17 fights between my older boys, it dawned on me that your offices were also closed in celebration of the MLK holiday. My happiness and relief was short lived when I didn’t receive a phone call or email on Tuesday either.

I am starting to feel like the Baltimore City Department of Public Works just isn’t that into me but the fact of the matter is, Robenia, I’ve got 99 problems and a water bill is still one of them. It is also beginning to appear that the Adjustments Department Supervisor seems to have somewhat of a mythical existence.

So,where do we go from here, Robenia? What can I do to get the old ball rolling? To quote my good friend, Jerry Maguire, “HELP ME, HELP YOU!” Looking forward to your input.

Namaste,
Shannon

Department of Public Works – Part 1

This is the first in a series of email correspondence with the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works. The snarky emails have become a favorite among family and friends. The first email was sent  out of complete frustration, to a contact that I received from our local community representative, after making monthly phone calls for over a year. I will also be adding the additional emails that followed (that’s right, even 1 snarky email did not do the trick, it took several) to the humor folder.

January 11, 2018
Dear Ms. W and Ms. L,
I was given your contact information from my local representative’s office, in the hopes that one of you may be able to assist me with a water billing issue I have been attempting to have corrected since July 2016. Yes, you read that correctly – 2016. Dozens of phone calls and several promises, here I am 1 1/2 years later, still waiting. 
After receiving a bill for more than 4 times my usual amount, I contacted the City of Baltimore in July of 2016 concerning the billing period of 04/26/16-07/19/16 in the amount of $288.66. A technician was sent out and upon arrival, found running water at the street meter. He informed me that I must have a leak inside my home. He advised me to have a plumber come out and submit a bill of any repairs to the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works and my bill would be adjusted. 
Sounds pretty easy, right? I had a plumber, at my expense (and we all know those bad boys aren’t cheap), review my entire home and although he was unable to find any indication of plumbing issues, he did locate one toilet with a flapper that was slightly loose. He replaced the flapper and I submitted the bill to the Adjustments department on 08/12/16. While waiting for the adjustment, I paid the $288.66 bill to avoid my account becoming delinquent (probably my first mistake) and assumed (my second mistake, you know the old saying!) I would just have a credit balance posted to my account upon the adjustment becoming finalized. 
In November of 2016, I received my next quarterly bill for the billing period 07/19/16 – 10/21/16 and eagerly opened it like a kid on Christmas morning in anticipation of seeing my lovely credit balance. However, you can imagine my let down, upon reviewing my bill and finding that in addition to not having credit, I now had been issued a bill for $356.15. My bill was now 5 times its usual amount. I contacted the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works again, and was told that they had never received the fax that I knew had been sent because I saved that handy little sheet that fax machines shoot out, letting you know that your fax has been successfully sent. In any case, I re-faxed my first fax to the Adjustments Department and was assured it would be corrected. 
Guess what I received in January 2017? A delinquency notice for the $356.15 from the November bill because at this point I am not paying a second incorrect bill. So, I make yet another phone call to my new found friends over at the City of Baltimore on January 17, 2017, all while my 2 year old is crying and requesting fruit snacks as I attempt to relay a detailed account to one of the representatives for probably the 6th time. This time, she informs me that the credit will not be issued to my account because my water usage has increased and not decreased since I submitted the repair order from the plumber. I think she takes pity on me mostly because she can hear the tantrum taking place in the background, but in any case, offers to send another technician out in the morning and gives me a Work order #377938. 
The technician comes out the next day and has me turn off my water from inside… and tells me that I must have a small leak because the meter is still moving slowly after my water is shut off. I plead with him for an answer. I explain that I have already had a plumber inspect my home, inside and out. That there are zero signs of any leaking water anywhere in my home. I invited him to come inspect my home himself. At which point, I may have scared him a bit, because he told me to have a plumber come back out and seriously high tailed it out of here. I stand defeated in the cloud of dust left from his vehicle and although I am positive that the issue is not our plumbing or water usage, I am becoming desperate so I call the plumber, again. He agrees to come back, again. He inspects the house, again. He hooks up a valve to my faucets inside and out to detect any running water… Zilch, Zero, Nada, Nothing. Just as I had expected. I spend the next few days in a haze, trying to do the calculations and realizing that if my bill continues to increase at the rapid rate it has, I may need to start dipping into my kids’ college funds to pay for it.  
A few days later, I receive a new quarterly bill and although the delinquent amount of $356.15 has not been adjusted, it does show that my current quarter water consumption rate is back to that of a normal customer and my current charges are only for $69.34. After 6 months, a dozen phone calls, two technician visits, two paid plumbing visits, and two faxes my water consumption returned to normal just as mysteriously as it had increased previously. 
I am feeling pretty victorious at this point, I patted myself on the back for my diligence and ability to follow up. Just to be safe though, I make a quick call to the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works to discuss the little issue concerning the past due amount (remember that $356.15) and the $288.66 that I had paid 6 months ago and had never been credited. Well the call wasn’t really quick because I apparently had called during a time they were receiving “high call volumes” so I pushed the key to have the Water Gods call me back when it was my turn. I guarded the phone, actually stalked the phone would probably be a more accurate term. I had to fend off two kids that had now arrived home from school and wanted to call a friend, but I prevailed and about 20 mins later the phone rang, which I mistaken briefly for the sound of angels singing in my naive hopefulness that I was getting closer to a resolution. I spoke with another representative who was quite lovely and she told me that she could see that my account was being reviewed and to simply wait for a new bill to be sent to me after the adjustments had taken place, or I could call back in 3-4 weeks and the review/adjustments would be done. I thanked her and quickly let her off the phone because I certainly did not want to waste anyone’s time at the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works and I definitely did not want to anger the Water Gods again. 
Just for reference, our family averages around 250 for our average daily gallons use, however, your meter readings had us using a little over 1,400 gallons for our average daily use. Seems legit. To give you an indication of what we would need to do to consume that much water, I have researched a few items. We would need to fill up an average sized swimming pool… every two weeks and we don’t have a pool, become the daily, local watering hole for about 28 elephants – as elephants can consume up to 50 gallons of water a day or flush our toilets about 280 times a day. I could go on and on but I think you get my drift. 
I make phone calls a few more times over the next several weeks to follow up, because at this point, I am a professional follow upper of the City of Baltimore Department of Public Works, which I have now added to my resume under the skills section, as well as, a reference under previous employer. Each time, I am told it is still in review and should be finalized in 3-4 weeks. A few months pass and I am still patient and hopeful as Spring begins and the weather starts getting warmer, that is, until I receive yet another quarterly bill for 01/20/17 – 04/26/17 which still has 0 adjustments, the delinquent amount of $356.15, the now delinquent amount of $69.34 that I was told to not pay and wait for a corrected bill and my current quarterly billed amount of $69.34. I call, again. 
This time a representative says that she can see a credit coming through my account, Hallelujah!!! but that I need to pay $78.74 to keep my account in good standing. I agree and pay online that evening. A short time later, I receive a bill reflecting the adjustments that have now been applied to my account, it is for the quarterly bill for 07/19/16 – 10/21/16 which was originally for $356.15 and has now been adjusted to the amount of $67.46. We are finally making some progress!!! I double check the envelope to be sure that there isn’t another statement because I still haven’t received credit from the 04/26/16-07/19/16 quarter, which is the bill that sounded the alarm but I had paid in full and started this entire process. So guess what I have to do, again? That’s right, make another phone call to “you know who” and spend another 30 minutes of my life that I will never get back speaking to a representative and explaining this saga One. More. Time. 
The representative, this time, is a real hoot and she explains to me the very strict rules and guidelines the City of Baltimore has concerning water bill adjustments. She tells me that I can only have one adjustment in 1 year, and since they adjusted one quarter, I am not eligible to have my 04/26/16 – 07/19/16 quarterly bill corrected. I put the phone on mute, screamed to the Water Gods for mercy, collected myself and uttered out ‘Huh? I am sorry, what?’ believe me, it was much better than the words floating in my head. She reiterates that I am not “eligible” to receive an adjustment for another year. I explain to her that I am not asking for an adjustment because of an error on my part but, instead, simply requesting to pay for the actual amount of water that I have consumed. I try to explain how this business model of “Our first mistake is on us but all other mistakes made in a year are on you” is absurd. She isn’t getting it, so I ask to speak to a manager. I am told that a Manager is not available and that her Manager’s boss is also “unavailable”. I tell her that we can just hang out on the phone until a manager becomes available because I have about 6 episodes of Paw Patrol on the DVR and a bag of Goldfish to keep the 2 year old happy so the world is my oyster. 
Magically, a manager becomes available and I yet again get to repeat my water journey for maybe the 15th time. She understands my issue and says she will submit my account to the adjustments department for a “special review” because of the unique circumstances but will be sure to follow up with me in a few days – that was about 3 months ago. I have now been forced to contact my local representative’s office to ask for help which leads me to you. I have grown a child in my body and given birth in less time than it is taking to make simple adjustments to a bill with an error that is not my fault. I am now told that because my water consumption rate was way off, my property taxes have now also erroneously increased. I am out of options and begging for any assistance. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via email or phone.
Thank you
Shannon Armenis

Commencement Address to the Class of 2020

Some of you may have the chance to walk across stage, collect your diploma and pose for a photo. Maybe even say goodbye to your teachers and friends. Many of you may not be afforded this opportunity. In either case, this is for all of you.

“If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”
– Winston Churchill

Through no fault of your own, you are graduating in the most uncertain of times. A time when hand shakes are forbidden and the term “social distancing” has become a part of the vocabulary in nearly every language, in every country and every continent.

You may be looking to your parents for answers to questions that, if I am being honest, we do not have answers to. This is uncharted territory for us all. Our parents have never been here, even our grandparents, with all of their experience and wisdom, would not be able to provide us with guidance. A collective pause button has been pressed on the world, as we know it, and no one knows when we will be able to hit play again.

What I do know is that with silence, comes reflection and while you are looking to the older generations for answers, we are all looking to you for hope.

Hope that, in this instance, your generation will open your eyes wider than they have ever been before. That you will not focus on the ever present chaos but use your lens to capture a glimpse of  the kindness and compassion, the willingness to help, the ingenuity that surrounds you right now. That you will be able to extract the good in a heartbreaking situation.

Hope that you will ignore arguing politicians, finger pointing and misplaced anger and instead choose to observe the teachers finding a new way to inspire and reach you, car factories finding a way, overnight, to make medical supplies, small business owners continuing to pay their employees before themselves, the medical community working tireless hours to care for their patients.

Hope that you will be a generation of doers and not talkers. The ones ready to roll their sleeves up and get their hands dirty.  A generation of forward thinkers and problem solvers. Perspective can change a situation and a positive mindset will help you to overcome any problem. We are ready to see all of your grit and determination.

Hope that your generation will find a way to make sure this never happens again.

We know it is a lot to ask but we have faith in all your abilities.

We have faith that you will be able to forgive all of the debts owed to you, that you were never able to collect. The last walk down the halls, the last game on the field, the last dance, watching the prideful eyes from the audience as you walk across stage in your cap and gown and the goodbyes we never realized would not have a chance to leave your lips.

We have faith that you will continue to understand the importance of a firm hand shake and will not abandon it. That you will never forget the feeling of being unable to hug your grandparents and that you will begin to hug them more often and for a little longer. We have faith that you will never take for granted the ability to work, to sit down and enjoy a meal inside a restaurant, or a visit with a friend.

We are looking for you to unite us.

We want you to see “social distancing” as temporary, not a permanent solution. In fact, we hope you never social distance ever again. We hope you hug your children, hold the hand of a friend, and kiss your spouse more than any generation before you. If I can promise anything, it is that the world needs so much more of this.

We want you to show us that opinions are just that, opinions. They are not the guidelines to base friendships upon. They can vary and differ but not alter the bonds we have formed with people. We want you to always be willing to listen to anyone and not only find, but stand together on common ground.

And through all of this, we want you to remain humble. To show the world what your generation will be remembered for, not tell us. No personal documentation, no boasting. Leave it for the history books because remember, a lion doesn’t need to tell everyone he is a lion.

Again, we know it is a lot to ask.

And in that moment, when our paths cross, we will look you in the eye and extend our arm for a hand shake but I have a feeling that you will say you’re welcome by wrapping your arms around us and holding us a little tighter.

Letter to a 2020 Cooperstown Player

Dear 12 year old,
You just received the news that you won’t be going to Cooperstown. It hurts, it is disappointing, but I promise it does not define the baseball player you are or are destined to be.
You see, unfortunately, life isn’t fair. Life isn’t fair when you are 12, and life isn’t going to always be fair when you are 40.
What WILL always be fair are the choices you make when things don’t go your way, whether that be a cancelled trip to Cooperstown, a bad pitch called a strike, limited playing time on a high school team or being passed over for a promotion when you are an adult.
This is a crash course in all of the lessons your coaches and parents have been trying to teach you through your baseball career. Not the stats, or the home run to win the game… the big lessons. How to keep your focus and composure and move on when you’re frustrated and disappointed and how to learn and grow from adversity. Will you stomp back to the dugout and pout? Or will you take a deep breath and grab your glove to hit the field?
None of us wanted you to have a crash course in life lessons but if we all did our job well, you will shine in this moment. You and your team will come out on the other side of this stronger, because you will be forever bonded by that time you were forced to stop playing a game you loved.
When you do finally get the chance to take the field together again, you will have a greater appreciation for your teammates, your coaches and the opportunity to play the game of baseball.
Sincerely,
A baseball mom
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photograph by Dawn Kearney Photography