More than a dozen of the city of Harvey’s phone lines, including non-emergency fire and police lines, were cut off last month after several missed payments and numerous late payment notices.
The south suburban municipality still owes more than $14,000 in unpaid phone bills over the span of four months, a local phone service provider said.
The provider, Access One, said Harvey officials were given countless chances to pay up before about 15 of the city’s lines were disconnected in July.
“They have a history of slow pay,” said Access One’s general counsel, Joel Miller. “And we would try to give them the benefit of the doubt, but as time went on [it would become] two months, three months [without paying].
“We just gave them every opportunity, and I don’t know what else we could do,” Miller said. “This is unusual that somebody — especially a municipality, for god’s sake — would allow this to happen.”
Harvey Mayor Christopher Clark, a former alderman who was elected in an April runoff, said his new administration was unaware that Access One was one of the city’s three phone providers — or that the company existed at all.
Clark on Friday blamed his embattled predecessor, Eric Kellogg, who faced loads of criticism during his time in office and, according to a federal criminal complaint, spent years shaking down a strip-club owner for thousands of dollars a month and allowed prostitution to occur in the club in exchange.
“It’s one of many leftover debts from the previous administration. ... We came in to chaos,” Clark said. “When the previous mayor left office, we were about $156 million in debt. So if we’re $156 million in debt, it makes sense that this was just a piece. There’s a lot of debt out there. There are a lot of people who haven’t been paid.”
Kellogg couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
Clark, elected in April and sworn in May 13, said his team sorted through “thousands and thousands” of documents in an attempt to determine what phone lines the city actually pays for. Through that effort, they learned they also have lines with AT&T and Comcast, Clark said.
“Why did we have three phone companies? I don’t know. Where do all the numbers go? We don’t know. And that’s what we’re trying to find out,” Clark said. “One of the numbers, I called there myself, and it went to a church. Some went to cell phones that are still on with people who said they used to work for the city of Harvey but don’t anymore. But the phone is still on.”
Officials at the police and fire departments, which had their non-emergency lines disconnected for a few days last month, couldn’t be reached at their working phone lines. Those lines, Clark said, have been restored, but not all have the same numbers as before.
“It’s a shame, I feel bad,” Miller said of the disconnected police and fire lines. “I’m not sure when the new administration took over, but they must have inherited a hell of a mess, from what I’ve read. But this all happened on their watch, the latest delinquencies.”
Miller, who said he last heard from city officials in May, said he didn’t expect the city to come up with the money owed to the provider. He said he wasn’t sure if he would take additional steps to recoup the thousands due.
“What are the odds? Not good,” Miller said. “In the normal course, we’d send it to a collection agency. ... Would I authorize a lawsuit to go after the city of Harvey for this delinquency? No. Once in a while it just happens, you write it off, and you move on.”
Clark said he would work to sort out the phone payments, but that the problem is just one on a long list of them.
“Will we try to pay those bills? Of course,” Clark said. “But when will that happen? Who knows?”