Joliet City Council hangs up on firm’s free-phone pitch
BY BOB OKON email@example.com September 18, 2013 9:22PM
Shake it up: Elvis Presley, pictured here in 1957, caused quite an uproar when he thrusted his hips while singing "Hound Dog" on the June 5, 1956, episode of "The Milton Berle Show." | File photo
Updated: October 20, 2013 7:42AM
Elvis Presley never imagined that he would get in the way of people getting free cellphones.
But his name was invoked this week as the Joliet City Council resisted a pitch to put up tents to promote cellphone giveaways.
A representative from Life Wireless urged the council to amend a zoning ordinance to allow low-income residents to get phones as part of a government program.
City Manager Thomas Thanas said the city limits tent sales in parking lots because of the proliferation of vendors in the past who would show up with various merchandise, such as sports team memorabilia and “velvet Elvises” — a reference to artwork, considered gaudy by some, of the rock idol.
Thanas said city staff referred Life Wireless to about a dozen social service agencies that could put the company in touch with people who would be eligible for the free cellphones.
“We thought that’s a better way of approaching it,” he said.
The city council agreed, citing the “velvet Elvis” issue and noting that Life Wireless makes money from the government program.
“The bottom line is it’s a for-profit company,” Councilman Larry Hug said. “I’m not prepared to change an ordinance for one for-profit company and not others. Otherwise, you become a city of velvet Elvises.”
Adrienne Cook, a representative of Life Wireless, made a case for the tents, saying the company can reach more needy people by setting up shop in parking lots than through social service agencies.
“When they see that canopy, they know the free phones are coming,” Cook said, adding that some people would have no phones if not for the government program.
“A lot of people out there cannot afford AT&T or even prepaid phones,” she said. “A lot of senior citizens do use this phone for emergency calls.”
While Cook described Life Wireless as a service, council members insisted that it’s a business.
“My guess is you are paid by the government to provide the phones,” Councilman Robert O’Dekirk told Cook at one point in the debate. “If you’re being paid by the government, it’s a business.”
Cook acknowledged that Georgia-based Life Wireless “is not nonprofit. But we are working with the government to provide the phones for free.”