Private Eyes?

Couriers to act as self-appointed gouging "watchdogs"

ATLANTA -- Todd Tibbetts, a Republican candidate for the Georgia State Senate, has announced that to stop metro Atlanta station owners from doing what he claims would be "arbitrarily" hiking gasoline prices, he is partnering with a courier service, asking its drivers to serve as "price gouging watchdogs."

Tibbetts, working with Georgia Couriers, an Atlanta-based service, is issuing cameras to drivers, instructing them that if they "see a gas station marquis with an outrageous price, take a picture of the sign, write down the location, and call it in [image-nocss] to the Georgia Couriers headquarters."

A supervisor will then email Tibbetts' campaign office and next, according to Tibbetts, "Our campaign will make a phone call to the station so fast it will make their heads spin. We will file an official complaint with the state and forward the info, along with pictures, to the Georgia governor's consumer affairs office."

Tibbetts' effort, he said, is aimed at preventing "unscrupulous" stations from "outrageously" hiking prices as he claims some did in Georgia following Hurricane Katrina.

Before launching his campaign, Tibbetts called Governor Sonny Perdue's office. The governor's office liked the business-government partnership aspect of protecting Georgia consumers at no additional cost to taxpayers, said Tibbetts. "Nobody covers metro Atlanta area like courier drivers do, and when gas prices go up, they feel it first. When a station gouges consumers with high prices, courier drivers know it, and they can report it to our campaign. We'll let the state of Georgia know, and they can fine and prosecute the scammers," he said.

Brent Hilburn, Georgia Couriers' general manager, said, "Our policy is to help people wherever we can. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we donated time and resources hauling supplies to the Atlanta Community Food Bank. While we were helping, oil companies and station owners were gouging. That's not right."

The campaign failed to provide details on how it would determine that a given station that raised prices was doing so illegally or unethically.

Georgians are particularly sensitive to high gasoline prices now, as the state has justreinstated its gasoline tax, which had been temporarily suspended for the month of September, saving motorists approximately 15 cents per gallon while the moratorium was in effect. Perdue and othersurged motorists to stay calm and avoid a rush to the pumps like the one that followed Hurricane Katrina when fears of shortages and price spikes triggered panic buying in some places, said the Associated Press.

And on Friday, Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin took a step to improve the state's gasoline supply by permitting sale of winter gasoline blends a month earlier than usual. Irvin said that will help extend the state's gas supplies because refiners can produce more of the winter blend per barrel of crude oil than of other blends.