Former Cleveland water top manager blows whistle on 'callous' system out 'to get money'

Exclusive investigation questions billing practice
Posted at 4:33 PM, Dec 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-23 19:11:49-05

A former top manager for the Cleveland Division of Water is blowing the whistle on what he call a "callous" system that is "out to get money" at all costs.

SeJohn Emmons served as the department's chief safety officer in 2014 and was responsible for ensuring the Cleveland Division of Water complied with state and federal safety regulations.

Emmons admitted he left the position after seven months when it became apparent to him that his safety recommendations were falling on deaf ears.

But as an administrative manager, Emmons said he witnessed first hand what he called a "callous" system that "hounds" water customers unfairly.

Emmons emerged as a whistleblower after seeing an exclusive News 5 investigation exposing questionable billing practices and poor customer service.

"I saw a lady on TV -- a lien had been placed on her home," Emmons said, referring to a recent News 5 report that highlighted water customers' experiences with the department's tactics of placing tax liens on homeowners' properties. "And to see that lady cry because of water -- nobody should have to do that."

Our investigation revealed the Cleveland Division of Water has placed customers water bills as tax liens on more than 8,000 customer homes from 2013 to 2015 in Cuyahoga County alone.

"If they don't get you one way, they'll get you another way," Emmons said, "and they will eventually get the money or your home."

RELATED: Cleveland Water: Drowning in Dysfunction

Emmons said there was a prevailing theme at the water department that included "get the money at all costs" and extended from the very highest levels of the department.

"It's a callous system and the most callous people I know are running the system," he added. 

Emmons called the water department "a cash cow" for the city that fails to "sit down and work out a program that is realistic"  for customers.

The Cleveland Division of Water was asked again for an on-camera interview, and again, declined to talk about its billing practices.

Instead, it released the statement referencing Mr. Emmons:

"He was responsible for employee safety and risk management and his responsibilities did not involve customer service or billing activities."