Heartless (Bay) City

by Michelle Lasley

Michelle Lasley is a mother, wife in Pacific Northwest learning to balance green dreams with budget realities.

January 28, 2009


Categories: Family

Michigan Blue Sky

Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Peter and I go back and forth with who gets irked about what news.  Last night on the news, he heard a story about the top ticketed vehicles.  He tracked the story, and then he realized that the news station got their facts wrong.  So, he began perusing their website and he found this article.  So, now it’s me who’s irked.

A 93-year old man, Marvin E. Schur, couldn’t afford to pay his electric bill.  The story doesn’t say, but we can speculate.  He’s living on a fixed income, rates are rising, and damn, It’s Cold Outside.  He ends up with $1,000 in unpaid electric bills.  So, in the middle of January, the City goes out and does its job.  They installed the required limiter on Mr. Schur’s home Jan 13th.  The limiter is designed to blow a fuse (turning all the power off) if the requested power exceeds where the limiter is set.  On Jan 17th, a neighbor found Mr. Schur dead.  The neighbor is quoted saying the windows inside the home were covered in ice.  The city’s chief medical examiner said Mr. Schur must have died a slow and painful death.  In a home with no power, in the middle of a freezing, Michigan winter, for FOUR days.

The City Manager‘s response is that he should have been responsible and paid his bill and the neighbors should have looked out for Mr. Schur.  Six days later, the city commissioners approved a 3% rate increase to the electric/heat bills.


If we really want to know what’s wrong with our society, it’s stories like these that epitomize the wrongness.  Where does the neighbor boundary end, Mr. Robert Belleman? Does it extend to the end of our street, to the next street?  How shall we define neighborhood?  Couldn’t the entire city be considered one large neighborhood?  And, if so, wouldn’t that make you, Mr. Belleman, Mr. Schur’s neighbor?  Why didn’t you check on him yourself?  Oh, you’re busy you say, you have a job to do, running the city (killing it’s fragile residents), looking after solely your immediate family.

When will we act more presidential (Harry S. Truman in mind here) and stop passing the buck?  We are each others responsibility.  It’s our responsibility to ensure our neighbors are taken care of and healthy.  It’s our responsibility to ensure that the least of us are provided for.  We do this in many ways.  Some people work as case workers and advocates getting into the nitty-gritty dealing one-on-one with folks with serious problems (mental illness, dementia, unemployment). We have others who donate to causes that do this dirty work.  Others refer folks in need to agencies and organizations that can offer that help.

Bay City claims they are looking at reviewing their policies now that a lot of people are angry that an old man died.  I would suggest they put referral to outside agencies in their review.  If it takes $300 a month to heat a home to 68 degrees during the day so that a person can stay comfortable, and a person is having problems keeping up with their bills, how hard is it when that courtesy call is made that you’re overdue to say, “Call this number.” And, of course give the number.

Or, are we so heartless that we forget this recession is affecting everybody.

If this bugs you, call the City Manager’s office.

Robert Belleman
301 Washington Avenue
Bay City, MI 48708

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  1. Mackenna

    The state has help available for people who are in financial trouble, like Mr. Schur. However, that person has to be mobile enough to get out and to the offices where help is offered. A 93-year old person is not much more mobile than my 7-month old son, but sure received a great deal less attention and support.

    I don’t blame his neighbors for not looking in on him every day. If he was someone who never wandered out much alone (and who does, at 93?), then they really had no way to know… So I don’t think that it is that simple. The City Manager sounds like he was copping out to me.

    I hope they implement a process wherein someone attempts 2-3 times to come face-to-face with the resident before installing the limiters… There should be a best-practice in place: first, notify the resident via telephone. Next, by registered mail. Finally, with direct personal contact prior to shut-down. Once contact is made, a two-week notice should apply. This gives an individual or family time to find alternate shelter. If the individual or family states there is no alternate shelter available, they should be given the information for a credible shelter where they can stay warm until a portion of the bill is paid. This really isn’t that hard.

    If this process continues without interruption, it could also claim the lives of young children, babies, the mentally handicapped and other elderly without daily visitors.

  2. Mackenna

    Also, if money is (and it undoubtedly is) the issue, maybe some of these steps should begin after a few months of non-payment. I mean, $1,000 in electricity takes a little while to incur… They could have done something a little more intermediate than go from allowing him to rack up charges forever to Boom! no electricity. Seems a little absurd.

  3. Michelle

    My friend, Elizabeth, who grew up in Wisconsin informed me after I spread the word of this tragedy that Green Bay has a policy of no electric shut offs from October to March. After the cold season is over, then they would proceed with due shut offs, but not during the coldest months.

    Your idea sounds like a great one. A three-step triage to ensure that the city has done their part to ensure, as you said, best practices. Sure, it’s about money, but it’s a city, and cities are supposed to serve their residents. And, I got the same annoying feeling that the City Manager was just passing the buck when he should have been accepting responsibility.

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