A Day With Constituent Services

May 1, 2009 by Lisa Krempasky  
Filed under Politics

Today I had a banking problem. Bank of America which got my TARP money…well, I’m not going into all of the details. But watch out for them. In fact, if you can, you might want to switch from them as I’ve heard from many their practices are, well, questionable. Since BOA got TARP money I figured the government had authority to try to rectify the situation.

But to start at the beginning. I called Bank of America customer service about the problem. They have no supervisor to speak to. There’s no fax number to fax a letter to. There’s no overnight mail address. There is only a PO Box. The poor customer service representatives certainly do not get paid enough to be the sounding board for all of these problems that their hands are tied to address.

My next call was to Treasury. The number there is (202) 622-2000. A machine picks up. There are no option for speaking to a live person. In addition you cannot even leave a message. The answering machine says something to the effect of “We are experiencing a high volume of calls. Call back later. Click.” I’ll fax them a letter, but don’t actually expect anyone to answer it or get a response if they cannot even answer the telephones.

So I decided to try the White House. The main switch board gets you no where. You have to speak to the comments section at 202-456-1111. The customer service representative was polite but had nothing she could offer me. They had referral information for people related to foreclosures, but not other banking problems. She did take down the details of my problem and would pass it along, but that was just for general information. She did not take my name or contact information. Instead she referred me to both the White House email system (she gave the wrong url) and the White House fax 202-456-2461 and suggested I use both so that there would essentially be a 3-prong attack on the problem, the first prong being her general information reporting.

Now it was time to get my Congressmen involved and I was going to do this in person. My first stop was at Senator Bond’s office. As seemed appropriate, his local office was in a gleaming office tower in the central Clayton business district. I was happy to see Fox News playing in the background. Lane Koch, the office manager, was pleasant and helpful. I explained the problem to her and she immediately produced a Privacy Authorization Form that would give the Senator’s constituent services liaison the ability to speak with Bank of America on my behalf. The liaison worked out of the Jefferson City office so I would need to fax the information to her, but she would start working on it for me. Lane offered to let me complete it there and fax it for me, but I needed additional account information that I did not have with me so I said I would fax it myself. She gave me the fax and phone for the direct contact. When I returned home I gathered the information and faxed it to Melissa Ortega in the Jefferson City office. A couple of hours later I called to make sure she had it. I did not get confirmation then or a return call confirming before the end of business.

Next I went to Claire McCaskill’s office. It was located at the very edge of the artsy Loop abutting the hood. You walk up to the building and have to be buzzed in. Then they talk to you through a glass window. I spoke with Joeana Middleton who couldn’t hear me sufficiently until she came out from behind the glass. She was patient listening to my story, but not especially compassionate or helpful with my dilemma. She kept saying there was nothing she could do since BOA is not a government agency. She said the Senator could not contact a private company. When we discussed that as a taxpayer I was one of their owners that did not seem to phase her and she kept reiterating there was nothing Anyone could do. She suggested I go to a local bank branch. She would not take my contact information, refer me on or even tell McCaskill my story. Instead she referred me to the Senate website to send an email. Having just come from Senator Bond’s office where they at least had a program to make an inquiry I knew McCaskill’s office was really not doing their job for me. This was confirmed by my visit to the next office.

My last stop was at Representative Lacy Clay’s office. It was on the edge of the elite Central West End. I walked into the office and had to laugh. There were papers and newspapers and stacks of stuff everywhere. It looked like a real government office including that there were no staff to be found except for the woman who was too busily engaged in conversation to help for a couple of minutes. After my wait, I was directed to Dawn Fuller who was the most helpful person I met all day. She was very friendly, concerned and compassionate about my problem and immediately knew what to do. Working for a representative meant that she was to go to person on these problems and I did not have to communicate with a distant city as was the case with Senator Bond’s office. Dawn immediately printed out a Privacy Authorization similar to the one I had received at Bond’s office. She had me fill it out right there. When I needed additional information I called her with it later and she put it in for me. I called to give the information, left a message and she returned my call within the hour AND apologized that it took so long. Knowing how urgent the problem was she sent the information off this afternoon and again apologized that she would not hear anything back today and that it might acutally take a few days to get any assistance from the liaison. She offered a very valuable insight that if there is a lobbyist involved anywhere in the process there is a contact that can get things done. She had several ideas and avenues for how to attack the problem. I must also say that in addition to the help she provided me on my particular problem, Ms. Fuller offered me information and help about stimulus programs that might be available for various situations and gave me a comprehensive linked document with detailed information on the programs and how to apply for them. I was pleasantly surprised with my experience in Rep. Clay’s office. As one who does not generally hold his political views, his office was still there to help solve my pressing problem.

This was Day 1. I’ll keep you apprised of what comes from it.