Meter tampering charge against utility critic dismissed


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, May 18, 2017

An Elizabeth City resident who has been sharply critical of the city's handling of utility issues was herself charged with utility meter tampering two years ago.

The charge filed by city police against Sarah Ownley on Oct. 3, 2015 was dismissed, however, police and court documents show.

Documents cite the grounds for dismissal on Nov. 30, 2015, as "everything paid/witness request."

In an interview Thursday, Ownley claimed the meter-tampering charge was the result of a city error.

Ownley said she was current on her bill at the time, but somehow city officials thought her meter had been shut off and reactivated. She denies ever tampering with a city meter. She said the city was at fault in the matter.

Court documents do not provide further details of the incident.

Asked about the incident, City Manager Rich Olson said Thursday that Ownley did pay a $50 meter tampering penalty and, in so doing, accepted guilt for tampering with the meter. 

Ownley is among the city residents who have spoken out in recent months about the city's problems with backlogged utility bills. City officials are working to catch up those bills, offer customers flexible payment options, and try to get things back to normal by July.

Ownley has criticized the city and Olson for mismanaging a software conversion that caused the backlog problem. During a town hall at Knobbs Creek Recreation Center on Wednesday, she called for City Council to fire Olson.