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Class action update -- Day 8 [April 13, 2001]
Cookeville's attempt to establish constitutionally palatable process for Electric Department is dismissed by Plaintiffs' lawyers
Proposed remedy would place Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley as contact for dispute, but he is not 'neutral and detached,' plaintiff's lawyer Samuel J. Harris suggests; City officials refuse to comment on case; Herald-Citizen ignores story for more than a week. Federal hearing to slap injunction on city is scheduled for Monday. O'Mara, Rader rack up legal fees as they drag out process that should have been resolved last year. City's response to request for temporary order

Finish the poem, and you could win a Putnam Pit T-Shirt

Loophole' O'Mara, insurance lawyer Rader, may not be free of court order 'til later
They whine about that, whine about this; but the requirements of law they continue to miss
'Poor folks don't matter, in this city; 'cause if they don't cough up we shut off their 'lectricity.
'Due process of law' means there's gotta be a way, to say it isn't right before you have to pay
Grogan says he's Christian, cares about the Bible.
But it's the Constitution's rules that will make his gov'ment liable.
If the Good Book says, "Throw poor folks in the street" . . . 
[Your line goes here]

Finish the last line and email it to

Electric Department crisis -- Day 7

'Lets make a deal that lets Dan Rader and me get our fees but that lets Cookeville City Attorney Mike O'Marathe city avoid paying damages for all the illegal acts it committed against poor people while I was collecting $50,000 a year as part time city attorney but not warning the city of this terrible mess I could have prevented,' Cookeville City Attorney Mike O'Mara might have pleaded in so many words in asking for a meeting on Wednesday with plaintiffs' lawyers to settle restraining order issues. City may have to put up $5 million to avoid injunction, lawyer says. Subscribers, Click here for story
Lawyers to field utility termination calls at taxpayer expense
Cookeville forced to deal  -- Story
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Why is this man smiling?
Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley
City has a process, will work with customers to pay off bills, Shipley says

Cookeville City Manager Jim Shipley told The Putnam Pit that utility customers facing cutoffs cash can come to the municipal Building, 45 E. Broad St., and negotiate a pay-off schedule for delinquent bills. But when a government doesn't notify customers of their right to appeal the government is violating the customers' rights to "due process," the Supreme Court said 22 years ago. The United States Supreme Court has found that when a utility fails "to provide notice reasonably calculated to apprise respondents of the availability of an administrative procedure to consider their complaint of erroneous billing, [and fails] to afford them an opportunity to present their complaint to a designated employee empowered to review disputed bills and rectify error," the utility deprives the customers of an interest in property without due process of law.
Cookeville City Attorney Mike O'Mara
O'Mara knew better
City Attorney Mike O'Mara has known the city was in violation of the due process guarantees for more than six months. In another case, Hargis v. AAA Collections et al., the city sought to collect money from a third party as a condition of continued utility service to a person who did not owe the money.
Other civil rights cases coming up naming City Manager Jim Shipley, Police Chief Bob Terry and the City of Cookeville are listed here
Federal judge grants TRO in C'ville class action civil rights suit -- April 8
Cookeville 'must be restrained' from depriving constitutional guarantees to utility customers 

More than 550 electric, gas users were threatened with service cut offs between Jan. 1 and March 22, 2001, records show
Putnam Pit editor
Nashville (April 8, 2001) -- U.S. District Judge William J. Haynes Jr. on Friday ordered the City of Cookeville to stop depriving its utility customers of their constitutional due process rights by slapping "arbitrary" fees on them and shutting off their service without a hearing.

In a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued in the case Linda Gamble, et al. v. City of Cookeville, Haynes said that until the city could defend itself at a full-blown hearing April 16, Cookeville must:

  • not temporarily shut off gas, water and electric service without first notifying customers at least seven days before terminating service; 
  • not use the decades old "orange tag" to notify customers of possible discontinued service;
  • not shut off utility service without first providing customers with notice of the procedure for disputing a bill and actually providing a dispute hearing;
  • provide a "neutral and detached hearing officer" with the customer able to have an attorney present;
  • allow a customer to present testimony and documents, "confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses, and allow an appeal to a higher authority so as to provide a fair and impartial opportunity to be heard" and
  • stop charging an arbitrary $10 fee to deliver notice that service is in jeopardy.
Samuel J. Harris, one of three Cookeville lawyers who brought the class action against the government, said that by giving the city 10 days' notice of a hearing to oppose the TRO Judge Haynes was "giving them more due process than they ever allowed their customers."

"If this was done the way the city collects money, we would have sent (City Attorney Mike) O'Mara a bill and said we're going to cut off your procedure after three days."

The Putnam Pit offered City Manager Jim Shipley the opportunity to answer questions about the case but he did not respond.

Harris said the city threatened to shut of utilities of Plaintiff Ruby Copeland for a 10-year-old bill it could not otherwise collect and which was unrelated to the account in force at the time. Complaint.

"It doesn't take a great leap of logic to surmise that if utilities were cut off in the winter, people endure hardship and sickness," Harris said. He said those losing their utilities can also lose their homes under the health code that prohibits, for example, living where there is no hot water. 

"I think about what Christianity teaches us, that Christians believe that innocent people shouldn't be kicked out in the street," he said.

"My client is mad."

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A temporary restraining order, or TRO, is an "emergency judicial remedy of brief duration which may issue only in exceptional circumstances." Click here to read the order signed April 6 by District Judge William J. Haynes Jr