Detroit City Council grills water department official over shutoffs, help for customers


DETROIT – Unacceptable.

That's what Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones called the situation surrounding the recent and controversial water shutoffs by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Water was cut off to about 7,200 homes and businesses in June. About 90,000 active customers in the city are delinquent on their bills to the tune of about $90 million. The shutoffs are suspended until Aug. 6 to educate customers on payment plans.

Deputy DWSD director Darryl Latimer showed up to a council meeting Tuesday to give an update about the shutoffs, but wasn't welcomed with open arms.

"The first question to you, before you even begin, is why isn't the director here?" Jones asked.

Latimer explained that director Sue McCormick had another engagement.

"That's unacceptable. I requested that the director of the water department be here," Jones responded. "I find that very unacceptable. I will be informing the mayor now. You can let the director know that when we ask for the director to come, that's who we plan to see."

Latimer moved forward answering the council's questions about customer service and shutoffs. He said anyone who pays their bill gets service restored within 24 hours.

"We work the crews overtime to restore everyone that has come in and had paid their bill," he said.

Jones said she knew "that's not true."

The council pressed Latimer about a lack of accessibility to the DWSD. Jones said she had heard from customers trying to pay their bills who had to stand in long lines at service centers or waited 45 minutes on the phone to try to talk with a DWSD representative.

"If you're going to cut someone's service off, or threaten to cut their service off, you have to give them a means to be able to contact someone or to be able to come in and pay their bills," Jones said.

Latimer said he would work on getting more customer service representatives.

"I will work with the mayor to implement a plan so these shutoffs can stop," Jones said. "It's unacceptable to the citizens here, but it's unacceptable that we have to continue to get a black eye nationwide in regards to water shutoffs and all of the other things that are happening in the city."

[Web extra] Timeline of water shutoffs

Detroit water department placed in mayor's hands

Also on Tuesday, state-appointed emergency manager Kevyn Orr signed an order handing control of the system over to Mayor Mike Duggan.

Orr said the move is in "the best interests of the city."

Duggan said he expects to have a "new plan shortly" on how to approach delinquent payments.