Cell phone blues....Youíve heard me fuss in this column about internet shopping. Iíve always been very up front about why I disapprove of internet shopping.
I work for local businesses. Local businesses bring you this newspaper every week. They also do a lot of other things. The sales taxes they generate funds the city budgets of several Fort Bend cities. Local businesses donate to local charities, they sponsor sports teams,
and give to the myriad of fund raisers that are held in Fort Bend every year.
Iíve had readers argue with me about how easy it is for them to buy things on the internet, especially when they are mobility challenged or wear odd sizes or hard to find styles. Iíll grant you that, but I still have a first loyalty to local businesses.
However, Iíve recently had an experience that makes me feel I ought to rethink my attitude in some cases.
I have been a customer of Verizon for about 20 years--however long cell phones have been popular (I started out with a cell phone that weighed more than a newborn baby). In those years of being a Verizon customer, Iíve seldom taken advantage of the free phone every two
years. I donít like to change phones because I would have to relearn all its little buttons plus I might have to change my saved phone numbers which I have spent hours entering.
So this past week when I dropped my six year old phone in a mud puddle and fried its insides, I went to the local Verizon store at the corner of Hwy. 6 and U.S. 59.
When I walked in, several sales people descended on me like a pack of hungry time share salespeople who hadnít made a sale all weekend.
One asked me nicely, after he complimented my clothes, and hair, what I needed. I said that I needed a new phone. He asked what kind and I told him a free one.
I explained to him that I hadnít had one is many years. I did mention that a couple of years ago I put my granddaughter on my account and bought her an expensive ($275) telephone that she just had to have. It was her birthday. After I paid for the phone, we had to send it
in twice at $100 a pop to get it repaired. After it went out the third time, we gave up and just bought her another type, still from Verizon.
So I felt like I was due a free phone.
I was informed that I had a couple of months on my contract before I could get a free phone. I re-explained my past purchase and adding my granddaughter to my account, but he was unmoved. I asked to see the manager. The manager was also unmoved.
I asked him if he thought it was good business to lose my business, the business of a good customer, over two stinking months when I was due a phone several times in the past and turned them down. I pointed out that I could change my carrier and get a free phone from the
new company. He still was unmoved.
I flounced out and went to another store which had few sales assistants and a bunch of customers waiting. I decided to go home, check for a plan on the internet, then go back to a store after I knew what I wanted.
Checking on the internet, I discovered they had as many plans as the population of China. Plus I didnít know if I could keep my number or transfer my saved directory or if my granddaughter would have to change her number too.
Finally, I decided I would check Verizon on the internet and then call the 800 number listed there and see if I could talk them into keeping my business.
The young lady that helped me was sweet and readily agreed to continue my contract and give me a new free phone. (I had to pay $4 tax). She understood the logic of keeping my business and I understood the logic of staying where it would be easy to continue.
So this great load on my mind was relieved by my internet shopping. I refuse to believe that internet shopping is better. In this case, I havenít gotten the phone yet so I donít really know what it looks or feels like, plus I had to wait a couple of days to get it--no
instant gratification like if you buy at a store.
I would prefer to believe that local shopping is still better unless you happen upon a local business that has an attitude and doesnít care about working with the customer.
Another chapter on campaign finances.....This week Grady Prestage, Pct. 2 commissioner, is in the barrel. First off, Prestage is to be complimented for posting his finances on the countyís Public Information Center on Fort Bendís website.
Iíll bet you didnít know that long-time commissioners like Prestage collect a lot of money each year (more so on the year leading up to their reelection). For example, Commissioner Prestage reports that from July 2007 thru July 2009 he has collected a total of $156,466 in
campaign contributions. Thatís about $75,000 per year. Unlike most of his fellow commissioners, Prestage gets a lot of small donations, about $5,000 to $7,000 each year of donations under $50. But like his fellow commissioners, he received the bulk of his donations from engineers,
architects, developers, CPAs, and law firms; in other words, non-bid county vendors--some as high at $2,500 per company.
Commissioner Prestage also spends a lot of money that he does not have to itemize because the amounts are supposedly under $50.
In one 6-month period, 1/1/08-7/1/08, he claims $11,470 non-itemized expenses.
Other items in this sample 6-month period include $4,366 to various cell phone companies. I asked him how many phones he used and he laughingly said, ďToo darn many!Ē According to Commissioner Prestage, he doesnít have a county cell phone because he doesnít want to have to
fill out the monthly paperwork. I think he just doesnít want us to know who he is calling, so all of his phones are paid by his campaign. He said he gives them to people working for him on his campaign because he often needs to get in touch with them immediately.
He spent $5,976 for office rent. When I questioned him about this, he said he shared a campaign office with his business, but since his business is very slow right now (land development), his campaign was paying the whole freight. Commissioner Prestage said he believed in a
campaign office because it allowed him to meet with people in his non-county office, and he thought it kept him out in the neighborhood more. ďI donít ever want to be caught flat-footed by an opponent. I run a campaign all the time.Ē
He paid Eric Prestage and James Prestage (relatives?) a total of $1,164 for campaign help. This isnít much but Commissioner Andy Meyers was questioned about just such an expense.
He also paid $7,674 to FES Campaign Solutions, which lists a post office box in Stafford. When questioned, Prestage said FES was owned by his administrative assistant Felicia Evans Smith. I questioned how we knew that she wasnít campaigning for him on county time. He didnít
answer, but I remember when Marilyn Glover worked for Commissioner Andy Meyers and was paid by the county when he was running for office. She went to a lot of community events during office hours and suspiciously quit working for him after the election.
Politicians can spend their campaign money most any way they want to (within reason and according to state laws), but it really gets sticky when employees pull double duty, being paid with taxpayer money and campaigning for the boss.
Actually, at least Prestage paid Evans-Smith from his campaign. Meyers didnít pay Glover a penny from his campaign account.
Prestageís reports were handwritten by himself, meaning he really knows who gives and who doesnít. I would like that if I were one of his big contributors. However, on several of the reports, he left some amounts blank on the reports.
All in all, his reports are pretty straight forward--not perfect, but seemingly honest. But thereís a lot of money that goes through his campaign account. On years when he isnít running, he does give most of it away to charity. Of course, that makes him look good to the
charities, but there are worst ways for him to spend his money.