After MLGW and smart meter opponents had made their presentations, townhall organizer Janis Fullilove opened the floor to questions. Ms. Fullilove went out in the audience with a microphone to attendees who raised their hands.
MLGW chief Jerry Collins had long since left the meeting room. Eliza King of MLGW came to the front to answer the barrage of questions people had. Union chief Bill Hawkins was up front as was Yvonne Burton. Council member Myron Lowery had entered and was sitting not far from the podium, legs sprawled, listening.
It soon became apparent that answers would not be forthcoming. One person asked about the utility company’s ability to control individual’s energy flow. The only answer he got was a promise “we won’t.” Another asked about the opt out choice. MLGW officials assured us “there is an opt out…for now.” On the time of use rate he said “you can opt out of the time of use meters until we say you can’t.” Hardly reassuring.
One person recounted the story of a Napierville, Illinois, resident who refused to let a smart meter be installed in her home because of her heart condition. The utility there insisted, called the police and the woman was arrested. “What will stop that from happening here?” To that, an employee said it won’t happen and was greeted with cries of “liar” from the audience.
MLGW spokesman had told us that analog meters are no longer being manufactured. When asked about this, Hawkins insisted they are. To the question of meters causing fires, Ms. King flatly denied it and said “smart meters don’t cause fires.” Hawkins had pictures of burned ones he showed to the audience.
Others mentioned cost issues. “Software costs are not included in the presentation,” someone said. He estimated that the cost would be $700,000, a cost not mentioned in their presentation.
Asked about hacking issues, Ms. King denied that the meter has a computer inside and can be hacked. At that someone in the audience went to the front and confronted her. He insisted they are mini computers and Hawkins pulled out the insides to bolster the man’s argument.
Another woman said she lives in an apartment where smart meters are congregated together and asked about interference on her TV. Hawkins again stepped forward and said that probably was the problem for her.
As the closing time of 8 p.m. neared, Ms. Fullilove let Lowery speak. His stance was that computers get hacked, but so what? He believes that Memphians present were fighting progress and indicated his deep support of expanding smart meters in Memphis.
As people began to leave, some kind of word exchange erupted between Lowery and an elderly woman. One says the woman wagged her finger at Lowery; other accounts said he did it to her. Her elderly husband intervened to tell him not to speak like that to his wife and things escalated. Minister Yaweh got between the two to stop an altercation.
Although the newspaper account acted as if the smart meter supporters in the audience were intimidated, that would be hard for anyone who was there to agree with. The audience was not all union people. Maybe a third were connected to the IBEW. There were more elderly people there than young people, so it was hardly an aggressive crowd. Probably there were more whites than blacks there, but all found themselves – for once in this city – on board with each other. I later heard on the union radio show many black people object to the disrespect shown the older people – black and white – in the audience.
No one thought MLGW had any truthful answers to questions raised. They came thinking they would be convincing. It didn’t happen.