More than 200 people turned out Tuesday at East St. Louis City Hall seeking help from Ameren-Illinois with their utility bills to avoid having their service turned off.
They met with Richard Mark, who is president of Ameren-Illinois and a former chairman of the East St. Louis Financial Oversight Panel. Residents said they were very thankful that he took time out of his busy day to come to East St. Louis. Others said that Mark, who is black, should serve as a role model for black males that they, too, can aim high and achieve similar opportunities.
“His presence here was huge. Plenty of people wanted to take pictures with him and get his autograph,” said resident Frances Hues, smiling.
Several people talked about how nice and friendly the customer services representatives were. They said they preferred the face to face encounter as opposed to ta phone conversation in which all of their questions may not get answered. One woman said the face to face “makes it more personal.”
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Organizer Paula Matthews-Nixon said she was not surprised at the long line because last year, the first time Ameren partnered with the city for a similar event, 600 people came out.
“We had a really cold February. It was the seventh-coldest on record. We understand customers happen to get behind. This was an opportunity for them to come here and meet with customer service representatives face to face. They were given the option of paying 10 percent of their bill and then setting up payment arrangements over a 12-month period. Why wait until your service gets turned off?” Nixon said.
East St. Louis has an on-site bill payment station that was set up by City Treasurer Joe Lewis.
Some residents said they received grants of up to $100 from Ameren, which was a big boost for them in light of the economy, they said.
The goal of the event was to talk to as many people as possible and let them talk about their Ameren bills, Mark said. He mingled with, shook hands and held conversations with many of the people who came out. He said the event in East St. Louis was one of four events the utility has done.
“We had one in Decatur, Peoria and Danville,” he said. Mark said everywhere they go they find the need is great and the people are grateful for the opportunity to talk and receive assistance.
Anastasia Petty said she was more concerned with getting some help than she was with the long line and the amount of time she was going to have to wait. Petty learned about the event on Facebook.
“It’s nice that they came to us. They didn’t have to come. It shows that they really care and want to help us,” she said. Petty was also delighted at receiving a bag of goodies from Ameren officials. The bag included: energy-efficient light bulbs, shower heads, hand sanitizers, crayons, coloring books, and information about how to make homes energy efficient, and more.
Kavin Gathing was there to get some help as well. “It’s worth waiting It’s a great program for the people. I want them to continue doing whatever they can to help us out,” he said.
Marks, whose been the president of Ameren-Illinois for three years, said he was flattered by the response he got from the people.
“I hope some of the kids look up and say they want to be president of Ameren or create a company that they are president of. That’s what life is all about. I have had a certain amount of success. I want little kids to grow up and have the same opportunity.”
To that end, he said the keys are staying in school and working hard.
To talk to an Ameren representative or make payment arrangements, call 1-800 755-5000.