Commonwealth Journal

February 26, 2013

Citizens’ group trying to lower local gas prices

By HEATHER TOMLINSON, CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —  

A citizens’ group is taking things into its own hands in an effort to get to the bottom of what many are calling unfair gas price practices in Pulaski County. 
“There’s a community effort related to ... trying to find some answers (to high gas prices),” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler during Monday’s Somerset City Council meeting. “(They’re) trying to put some public pressure on getting our gas prices lowered.”
Mickey Williams, a representative of the Citizens United Advocacy Group, gave a few statements to city officials during the meeting.
“Right now, there’s people in this county who are getting bullied ... by these gas companies,” Williams said. “I know the answer (to the gas price problem), you all know the answer ... there’s no secret, but we’re not doing anything,”
Williams’ appearance Monday comes at the tail end of months and months of calls from city councilors asking that some answer be found as to why Somerset’s gas prices appear to be higher than in surrounding counties. 
Councilor John Ricky Minton has been one of the most vocal of the councilors in the gas price issue. In the Feb. 11 council meeting, he again expressed frustration that no answers had been found. 
“Are we going to do anything or are we going to sit here? ... I think it’s our job to speak up,” Minton said. “I think it’s time. I’ve brought it up for the last two years.”
City of Somerset Attorney Carrie Wiese told Minton and the other councilors during the Feb. 11 meeting that the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office will not investigate because price gouging can only be investigated when a natural disaster occurs. Only then can the attorney general’s office step in, as per state law. The Commonwealth Journal has received similar responses from the attorney general’s office in the past. 
“I think it would be more effective at this point for citizens to actually sign something and send it rather than the city ... because they’re sick of hearing from us,” Wiese said during the Feb. 11 meeting. “Last time I called up there they’re like ‘Look, we’re not doing anything, we’re not investigating, stop calling.’”
Wiese added that the city can’t file a lawsuit on behalf of Somerset and Pulaski County residents. She said that would have to be done by the citizens themselves.
“We as a city don’t have the standing to sue on behalf of the people out there,” Wiese said during the Feb. 11 meeting. “ ... so we’re kind of stuck.”
Williams said he and several others who make up the core of Citizens United have been working on the issue since July 2012. He also said there are many people watching the group’s progress in making headway.
And, according to Williams, the group has found answers to a question that has plagued the vast majority of Pulaski County residents for some time. 
“We’re right there, really close to having a lot of good answers,” Williams told the council on Monday. “This will be an ongoing saga.”
Williams said the group hopes to bring a presentation to the council at the next meeting. 
Williams also said the group is planning on holding a rally in protest of the local prices. He said a date hasn’t been set yet, but they’re hopeful the rally will show how many citizens are fed up with being “bullied” at the pump. 
“We will open that (the rally) up to all citizens,” said Williams on Tuesday. “It’s an issue that we believe everybody believes in.
“ ... Gas prices affect everything,” Williams added. 
Williams said he spent some time at local gas stations in carrying out research for the citizens’ group, and he said “it was remarkable how many people would come in and buy only $3 of gas at a time.
“That’s not even a gallon of gas,” Williams said. 
Williams also passed out a flier to the councilors during Monday’s meeting, asking that they aid in the effort. 
“The citizens of Somerset and Pulaski County have been experiencing consumer RAPE at the gas pumps,” states the bright red flier. “It’s time to STOP. This is one issue that’s affecting each and every citizen of Pulaski County!
“ ... As you’re reading this, the citizens that you represent are being bullied at the pumps. Our citizens deserve better representation,” the flier continues. 
Williams on Tuesday said the gas prices in Somerset is an “extremely serious problem” that has to be solved.
“You can relate that (rape) to this ... to doing something to someone against their will,” said Williams. “It’s a strong word, but to me, I think it makes a lot of sense.”
Several of the councilors said they were glad to see a group of citizens try to find answers to the gas price issue.
“I’m glad to see a citizen step up,” said Minton. “ ... I want the city to get behind them too, with what we can do legally.”