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Votes

Fight The Power

Pepco listens as residents vent their frustrations.

They must have drawn the short straws.

Three Pepco representatives sat before a crowd of approximately 200 at a public forum sponsored by County Councilmembers Howard Denis (R-1) and Tom Perez (D-5) to discuss the utility’s response to the recent power outages.

The forum had been set up after the late August thunderstorms which caused power outages, lasting several days for some residents in Potomac and many other parts of the county.

But by last week, residents could comment on Pepco’s response to Isabel as well.

Denis, Perez and the Pepco representatives all sat on stage at the Kensington Town Hall, in a forum that looked like a dysfunctional family dinner. Denis and Perez sat just inches from the people they were taking to task while Pepco’s contingent looked sheepishly at the table and fidgeted.

“Pepco has performed dismally,” Denis said.

“We have an electric company that is incapable of responding to the events,” Perez said.

Pepco’s representatives stayed on message throughout the evening, repeating what has become a familiar refrain in deconstructing their response to the storms.

“In terms of customers affected, this was the most damaging event in Pepco’s history,” said Michael Sullivan, vice president for customer care. Sullivan’s title drew snickers from the audience.

“Could we have done better? Yes,” Sullivan said. “There is always room for improvement.”

Most participants thought the main problem was a lack of communication. Anne Gavin of Silver Spring said she had to call Pepco several times.

“Every time we had to start from scratch,” Gavin said. “It’s like none of this [the previous calls] had ever happened.”

Many others present complained of a lack of responsiveness to calls of lines down or trees. “They have no idea how to treat customers because they are a monopoly,” said Helmut Wild of Silver Spring. “When you complain they get mad at you.”

Others were ready to overthrow Pepco.

“I grew up in post-World War II Britain with bomb craters, but we had power,” said one Potomac resident. “Is Pepco going to give us back the money to build our own power system?”

Many of the attendees left the meeting early, frustrated with the residents who simply wanted to tell their tales of woe from being without power.

“I think a lot of them are dealing in trivia and not really addressing the problem,” said Howard Byron of Somerset as he left.

Throughout the evening, residents demanded an apology.

“We greatly regret the inconvenience we caused everybody,” Sullivan said.

Perez was livid at that response. He liked it to a parent whose child has misbehaved. “I don’t want to hear, ‘I regret the problem.’ I want to hear, ‘Daddy, I’m sorry,’” Perez said.

The forum was a success, Denis said. “We wanted to connect the people to Pepco. We wanted Pepco to hear exactly what we’ve been hearing,” he said. “I actually did detect a gathering realism in Pepco’s response.”

Some of Pepco’s people on the scene acknowledged that communication was something they would have to strive to improve in the future. They stated that the complaints they heard at the meeting would be taken to heart.

“We need to start talking to our customers even on a one-on-one basis,” said spokesman Tim Brown.