The Watchdog wants to share happy endings. Ready for a smile? But first, if you know someone whose house was damaged by tornadoes or storms, please share my Watchdog Nation rules with them as they go about hiring a contractor or roofer.
Do an online search of the name of the company and any individuals under consideration for a job, along with the words "ripoff" and "scam." Learn if others have complained about them.
Check backgrounds using an online search engine that reveals criminal records. These databases usually carry a subscription cost, but they're worth it.
Ask if the business owner is a member of a local association. Check if the company operates out of a storefront with a physical address, or if it is one guy with a cellphone, a truck and a website.
Get local references. Get bids. Don't get fooled by a low bid. Find out why it's low. Don't get conned by a slick talker either. Remember, in Texas it's illegal for a company to offer to pay a customer's insurance deductible. Make sure there's a proper written contract. And don't hand over that insurance check until a good portion of the work is completed.
Do this, and you won't need The Watchdog.
Happy Ending I
A business owner whose company drivers dumped dozens of truckloads of construction debris on a homeowner's property was a day away from getting tossed in jail, he says.
Mike McGlothlin, owner of Mac's Excavating of Fort Worth, admits his drivers did it, but says it was a misunderstanding. They thought they had permission.
After a March 4 Watchdog report, the Parker County fire marshal's office launched an investigation. But when told jail was in his future, McGlothlin met with the homeowner, Chris Moore of east Parker County.
At first, McGlothlin didn't want to shake Moore's hand because of all the trouble. But then McGlothlin went to work.
He removed most of the 70 mounds of debris from Moore's property. He used the rest to reshape the contour of the land to improve the property.
Moore says the final product is much better than when he bought the property. Grateful, he has asked McGlothlin to put in a bid to pour a new driveway. In return, McGlothlin promises to get his next haircut at Moore's hair salon. If only they all ended this way.
Happy Ending II
Mark Hedlund, a rookie Arlington roofer, took $7,000 from Debbie Rimmerman, but didn't do the work. He told her she wasn't getting her money back because she was too pushy.
Her last contact came when she texted him: "I'm sure the prosecuting attorney would love to hear about what you did to me."
She was right. On Feb. 26, The Watchdog shared the story. A few days later, the Tarrant County district attorney's office made an inquiry. The roofer hired a lawyer and repaid the $7,000.
Hedlund, who has served time in prison for burglary and robbery, says it was a misunderstanding about the cost of materials. He says the publicity was a blessing in disguise because he took the opportunity to restart his roofing business in San Antonio.
This week, one of his sales prospects searched his name on the Internet, found my column and balked at hiring him.
Hedlund called me, and then he put her on the line. He wanted me to explain that he had repaid the money to the customer. I did, but he lost the sale.
I'm rooting for him. Everybody deserves a second chance. But this happy ending goes to the customer. Rimmerman got a new roof from somebody else. Hedlund left town.
Happy Ending II
If you're like me and you've had something stolen in the mail, let's rejoice for a moment and thank U.S. postal inspectors for the conviction last month in a Fort Worth courtroom of Stephen Dale Moore.
The former postal employee was found guilty of mail theft and sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. He has to pay $4,600 in restitution.
Happy Ending IV
In 2010, I chastised Oncor Electric Delivery because the big league electricity distributor was bush league when it came to providing online outage information during storms.
Utilities around the nation offer alerts and real-time information as a free service. Customers can check cellphones and search by ZIP code to learn the number of customers without power and the expected time of restoration.
A week ago, Oncor finally rolled out a similar service for mobile phones. Good timing, too, because four days later the big storms hit.
The new site is stormcenter.oncor.com. That's worth memorizing, or at least bookmarking.
The site shows what's happening across North Texas. Why not play with it now on a smartphone before it's actually needed? It works on iPhones, Androids and BlackBerrys.
Of course, in an electrical outage, aside from phone and tablets with a 3G or 4G connection, only desktop computers on a backup battery or charged laptops with a wireless Internet card could bring up the website. That's why the new mobile site for cellphones is noteworthy.
Good for Oncor.
Next step: Follow the example of Kissimmee Utility Authority in Florida, which sends text alerts or e-mails to customers who sign up, specific by ZIP code, with pertinent information.
The Watchdog column appears Fridays and Sundays.
Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043