I met Deborah Reynolds-Nash on Friday afternoon when most of our news team had left the building for a well-deserved break from non-stop reporting on the winter storm.
Renee, our editorial assistant, and I were tying up loose ends, posting stories on the web and preparing for the next week's production.
That was when Melissa, our media sales consultant, peeked in my office and said, "There's someone here to see you. She has a complaint."
That's unusual, I thought. But I took deep breaths, headed toward the reception area and braced myself for the unknown. As it happened, the complaint had to do with a power bill. I sat down to listen to Deborah's story, about how she felt she was overcharged and how she brought $223 in pennies to Crestview's Gulf Power office.
She wondered if she could write a letter to the editor or somehow express a grievance in the News Bulletin.
Anyone who knows me knows I try to tell it like it is. I'll tell you, "I'm human — perfectionist to a fault but prone to error," which I think is more respectable than filibustering for years before issuing a correction about something minimal. Similarly, I'll tell you, respectfully, what I think of your story.
"This is an unusual story — and I'd like to tell it," I told Deborah. "But I don't think this is a problem-with-Gulf-Power story. They have the right to set and change their business practices. I believe this story is much larger than that. It tells of the struggles many people are experiencing in this economy."
Still, you don't see seven bags containing thousands of pennies every day. It's an unusual story for this area. And it brought the most unusual photo opportunity I can recall. Honestly, how often do you handle someone else's money? Especially when it's a significant amount?
For some people, money is a personal matter; it should be handled with care and it is meant to be spent wisely.
As Deborah defended her decision to buy Scott toilet tissue over the generic brand that doesn't last as long, and said she used the fireplace — now mere decoration for many households that trade higher power bills for convenience — I knew we shared similar values.
Her penny plan was understandable. Not necessarily justifiable — that's not for me to say — but understandable.
If your bill is higher than expected, sometimes the only option is to pay. So some people civilly express dissatisfaction with that.
People like Julann Roe in Dade City, who in November paid her $11,075.44 property tax bill in $1 bills and pennies, according to the Tampa Bay Times; Larry Gasper in Redding, Calif., who paid nearly $15,000 in late property taxes last year with two buckets full of coins and cash, according to ABC News; and a number of others, from England to China, who apparently wanted to send a message.
Right or wrong, such symbolic acts are becoming a trend, and say a lot about the shape our economy is in.