Tollway authority on the defensive

The North Texas Tollway Authority responded to my report about a single mom who spent 27 hours in jail last month over an unpaid toll bill she said she never received.

The authority informs me that it sent letters to an address it had for Carole Denise Butler and that they were not returned by the post office. So to the NTTA, that's proof enough that the letters were delivered.

"None of the invoices or notices were returned to us, indicating a bad or incorrect address," spokeswoman Susan Slupecki writes. If that had happened, the process would have stopped.

Good to know that post office reliability can keep you out of jail.

The authority says it has so many ways to verify an address it can't believe that Butler didn't get the notices.

"The unfair story that resulted is just another example of many generated by the media that perpetuates the misconception that the NTTA is solely responsible for some situations customers like Ms. Butler find themselves in."

Wrong address

Thanks to reader Julie Burroughs, who sent me this note: "We just received a bill yesterday from the NTTA and it included an invoice for another person. Obviously, we will put it in an envelope and forward to the individual, but you have to wonder how many times this happens and the invoice does not get forwarded."

Fines too high

Fort Worth traffic attorney Basil St. Clair (great name for a lawyer) says any NTTA problems are the tip of the iceberg.

He writes: "Traffic fines these days are ridiculously high, prey on the lower-income citizens and are being used as a revenue source and not as a justice system. This needs a long-overdue correction. ...

"Warrants and arrests for such matters just clog the legal system and the jails and waste valuable police time."

Court and police personnel "need to stop acting as revenue collectors and revert back to being administrators of justice. Unfortunately, justice, fairness and safety are not priorities in our system anymore. It's all about the money these days."

Metro phone line

Readers have called and written about my report on how I changed my AT&T phone service to lower my rates. Here's a clarifying note from AT&T spokeswoman Meredith Adams:

"In the column, you mentioned that you 'switched' from your EMS (Extended Metropolitan Service plan or Metro) line, but got to keep your number. I'm concerned that this wording may be a bit confusing to your readers.

"Current EMS customers who are interested in signing up for our AT&T All Distance voice package, which includes unlimited local and long-distance calling, are offered a discount on their EMS line. However, the EMS line is still active on the customer's account, which is how they are able to keep their current phone number.

"If a customer chooses to entirely discontinue service on their EMS line, they will not be able to keep their current phone number."

Several readers said that when they called AT&T to inquire, they were not told about any discount. So remember to ask for one.

Electric co-op scrutiny

A quick salute to John Waters, publisher and reporter for the Big Bend Gazette. He and I are members of an exclusive club: newspapermen who got kicked out of electricity co-op member meetings while trying to cover them. I got tossed a year ago from Tri-County Electric Cooperative.

Waters was recently tossed out by Rio Grande Electric Cooperative. A unanimous vote by co-op members to allow him in the room was overridden by bylaws, Waters says.

A bill that would have opened co-op meetings to public scrutiny died last year in the state Legislature.

Scam nation

I can't stop thinking about the nation of Benin, between Togo and Nigeria.

The New York Times reports that a Ponzi scheme there "ended in disaster for tens of thousands of families on this sliver of the West African coast, wiping out savings, shaking the economy and threatening the president in a nation of nine million that has long been a regional exemplar of stability."

Can you imagine an entire nation brought to its knees because of a scam? More than 100,000 people lost $190 million.

"No family has been left untouched by this," one former official said.

The nation's democratic system is said to be at stake because high government officials were involved.

Fire hazard

Alert: If you have a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok electrical panel, these breaker boxes are fire hazards, The Dallas Morning News reports. The federal government hasn't issued a recall, but engineers say the boxes can overload and cause fires.

Houses built from the 1960s through the 1980s often have these boxes. They can be replaced.


Citizen watchdog

Finally, a Watchdog Nation farewell to Jim Moore of Colleyville, who died last month. For years, Moore attended every City Council meeting he could and even had a seat in the audience with a nameplate in his honor.

He attended a marathon session Sept. 7, then died two days later of natural causes at his home. He was 88.

Moore, a former councilman, kept an eye on things. I can't help thinking that if a Jim Moore had been in the audience at every meeting of the council in Bell, Calif., the city manager wouldn't have made $1.1 million a year, his assistant wouldn't have made $540,000 and the council members of the city of 37,000 wouldn't have been paid $96,000 a year.

Authorities investigating there say the lack of oversight by residents contributed to the abuses.

Dave Lieber, 817-685-3830

Twitter @DaveLieber