I meant to add a second story based on an experience associated with AARP that I experienced today which prompted me to write this piece. But this first tale has become quite lengthy, so, perhaps I'll delve into the other one another time. By then, maybe it will have been resolved.
Just when I thought my life couldn't become more insane, it has! I'm not talking about the economy, political madness or my personal life. The latter is quite sane. The former two are in frantic upheaval as we all know.
My story begins last year, when I received a reproduced letter from a company located in Central California -- I live in Southern California. The letter writer stated they had been designated to represent a city near to my own. This letter hardly looked official and I almost shredded it as more unwanted advertising solicitations. Had I been really busy at the time that's probably what would have happened to this letter, since I receive advertising letters all the time that have a similar schlocky appearance. This company wanted me to phone and advise them if I had worked in the-city-I-will-not-name here that they represented, and noted a city license to work there was required.
The letter appeared to be of the mass mailing variety, possibly some sort of scam, I thought. Or, maybe the city was so desperate for funds this company had obtained a mailing list of various professions and made blanket phishing mailings to those in the city's immediate surrounding area who might possibly work there. I could have phoned that city I'm not naming to see if this company was legitimate, but decided to phone the company directly, see what they had to say, and determine then what action might be appropriate.
I was aware of, and sympathetic to, the poor financial status of many cities, though I had no knowledge of the one in question. I knew many cities resorted to all sorts of strategies to acquire money. I decided if this company was acting legally that I would be responsive and make their job easier in their efforts to inform people who might need a city business license. I also knew there might be scofflaws, but I was not one of them.
A young-sounding woman's voice answered the company phone when I called. Identifying myself, acknowledging receipt of the letter, I stated I didn't work in that city, hadn't and would not be doing so in the future, since I'm semi-retired, working on a very limited basis; therefore, I was not a candidate for a city business license. I was politely thanked, so I thought the matter was closed. NOT!
Periodically, in the weeks and months ahead this company has sent me letters in what has now become a harassing mode, assigned me a "Case No. ____", and began to enclose various forms for me to complete. The next letter included a form to apply for a city business license. I thought there must be some mistake that I had been sent this letter -- perhaps, the person taking my phone message had not reported accurately the information I gave her. I have this trusting bad habit of giving people the benefit of the doubt.
No good deed goes unpunished, so my call to re-state my earlier message proved later to accomplish nothing. In time, another letter arrived with another city business license form and a form I was to sign under threat of perjury that I hadn't worked in that city. That latter form raised my hackles! An expectation that I should have to sign such a form without just cause I viewed as an assault on my rights.
We lose our rights and freedoms by small government actions. This was one such assault I could not and would not roll over to mindlessly accept.
I phoned the company again, finally asking how they obtained my name in the first place to lead them to think I worked in that city. I was told this was "confidential." I asked to speak to a supervisor with whom I repeated I didn't work in that city, so this effort intimating otherwise was erroneous. He, too, cited "confidentiality" preventing him from telling me the source of my name causing this mailing.
More letters, forms, with insistence I sign a statement I had not worked in that city. Guilt until I proved my innocence, apparently, without knowledge of how I had come to be accused in the first place.
An additional phone call to that company and supervisor toward the end of last year was civil but firm on my part, until he became verbally obnoxious and offensive. I became frustrated and angry at his irrational demanding attitude. I was reminded of TV expose' stories I had seen about abusive collection agency personnel using unacceptable tactics harassing people they believed to owe money to whatever business represented. Many of those people being pursued actually owed money, but my circumstance was quite different. I owed nobody, no company in the city of question, or the city itself, anything!
The New Year came, months passed, then in May came another letter with more forms. I phoned the city-in-question, asking to whom I should speak about my being harassed by this company representing them. It was too late in the day to reach any official. The person to whom I spoke initially presented as knowing nothing specifically about my matter, but as we spoke revealed more knowledge, including how the source of accused names was "confidential."
I briefly reviewed my experience with this company, requesting the information be reported to whoever the appropriate city official(s) were. I stressed that they should be concerned that this company was wasting taxpaper money pursuing me (and others?) and damaging the city's image. If the company employees worked on commission, based on monies they could coerce from people for licenses, etc., their tactics were deplorable. Another futile effort to end this harassment.
Another letter, more forms including a copy of a letter from the city-in-question's Treasurer authorizing the company to seek the information they were requesting -- again, poor print appearance that looked anything but official. I phoned the City Treasurer leaving a message on his answering machine, stating I did not work in that city, requested the letter harassment cease, briefly alluded to wasting taxpayer money and added I would not sign the form being demanded. Finally, I erroneously thought, the matter will end.
The next morning the City Treasurer phoned me. The only new information was his revelation as to where they obtained my name -- from an individual who happens to live in their city for whom I work in another city. Furthermore, I was told I would be offered this one time opportunity to avoid what their city had now concluded I owed them, amounting to about $200+, if I signed the form I have refused signing. I recall the word "tax" being mentioned, but it did not register with me as being pertinent to my city license issue. Based on other numbers quoted to me, he clearly had access to information regarding my meager part time income that year, and probably had my social security number and other data to which he has no right.
(Curiously, at one point in our conversation, the Treasurer injected the subject of Afghanistan. I quickly squelched that distraction by stating I wasn't interested in talking about that matter. Strange!)
Nevertheless, none of this alters the fact that I didn't work in their city and I owe them nothing. No satisfactory resolution was reached with the City Treasurer. Instead, I received only intimations I could expect more problems, leaving me frustrated and angry.
Another letter arrived -- this one a copy with changes made to a letter previously received in Spring 2011. It is accompanied by an itemized form claiming I owe the city $200+, which includes interest fees that will continue to accrue for late payment. I am admonished that I have 15 days from the letter date (then "letter postmark" has been inserted) to pay the amount due. That due date based on the letter postmark comes up before this month ends.
I phoned the company one last time, prefacing my statements to the person who answered the phone that he should take my information and report it to whoever because: 1) I will not speak to his supervisor based on the unacceptable manner in which he previously spoke to me, 2) This was the last phone call I would make to this company. The message was, once and for all, I did not work in their city, therefore owe nothing. I was told to sign the form. Also, I was repeatedly told by the man I spoke with that he could not change any information on his computer, whatever that meant.
I've begun to think this has only partially been about requiring me to purchase a city business license. I'm still awaiting being told where it is in their city that I am alleged to have worked. There is no such place. Instead, I'm suspecting this city/company collaboration has adopted a stealth approach to try to assess some sort of city tax from me based on the fact the person who pays me to work in a different city from theirs happens to reside in their city. Whether or not such a tax, if that's what this is about now, is legal -- it's not my tax. It was only in final letters and forms that the issue of a city tax was even mentioned -- sneaky!
I'm unable to discuss this whole situation with the person for whom I work since she's presently out of the country. I know I could consult an attorney. I know I could roll over, play dead and sign the form. Of course, now, that City Treasurer said I had lost that right to sign such a form in order to waive the $200+. It just seems to me that my rights are being abused.
I persist in believing we relinquish our freedoms and rights little by little, when well-meaning or unscrupulous officials in power attempt to achieve a desired end by any means, possible. They often totally disregard what is ethically and morally right. Sometimes, in other aspects of their life they are fair and just; sometimes, not! Perhaps none of this matters. What do you think?