May 302014
 

It looks like the Naperville city council will be approving another a used car ‘lot’. The surprise is that, if approved, it will be located at a car wash on 75th St. just west of Naper Boulevard. The city, by design, has been able to ‘compartmentalize’ car dealerships around the intersection of Aurora and Ogden avenues; a one-stop shopping area for convenience and aesthetics.

So why would the city council want to deviate from this ‘working plan’ to throw in a used car lot on the other side of town, especially when city-staff planning operations manager, Allison Laff, deemed this location as inappropriate for selling used cars.

Occasionally, I’ve had my car washed there, though you can’t access it heading east bound, and when exiting, vehicles can only go westbound.  Each time a new owner comes in, he or she thinks they can do what previous owners couldn’t do, which is to maintain a sustainable and profitable business. It hasn’t happened yet.

While getting my car washed, shortly after new ownership bought the business, I mentioned that to one of the owners, and he was just as optimistic as previous owners. He also said that their goal was to sell high-end used cars from that location. Knowing he’d have to get approval from the council, he made it sound like it wouldn’t be an issue. I was surprised by his confidence or naivety about ‘bulldozing’ the Naperville city council. What you can do in other suburbs, you can’t necessarily do in Naperville, which is more selective.

The lawyer for the owners of the car wash made a compelling presentation to the council. Additionally, the president of the Hobson Oaks Home Owners Association, which is comprised of a group of 60 town-homes adjacent to the car wash, spoke in support of the venture. I was a board member of this association when the board first formed in 1988, and the car wash was there before the town-homes. Our thought was that sooner or later the car wash would ‘go away’ for lack of sustainability. Looks like we were wrong, in that we didn’t anticipate an unending line of new optimistic owners, and especially the addition of a used cars for sale.

What is intriguing, is how could the new ownership of the car wash be so assured they could get the City of Naperville’s blessing? Even McDonald’s couldn’t get the city to sign-off on the old Citgo location at Washington and Hillside.

The council voted 8 to 1 on drawing up the ordinance to allow the sales of used cars at this location. The one vote in opposition was councilman Joe McElroy. I’m guessing Joe won’t be getting a discount, if he’s looking for an upscale used vehicle while getting his car washed.

 

 

May 282014
 

Every month the City of Naperville provides a newsletter ‘Naperville Connected’ along with the electric/water/waste bill. It’s purpose is to tell residents what city officials want them to know, not what residents need to know. If residents didn’t know any better, they would think all is well in Naperville, and that city officials are ‘on top’ of everything. It’s part of the job description for Naperville city officials; to tell part of the story, but only the part that makes them sound competent.

City officials announced in the most recent ‘Naperville Connected’ newsletter that  ‘Electric Rate Increases Go Into Effect This Month’. Following is the newsletter,  along with some Watchdog commentary:

“In recent months, the City of Naperville has been evaluating several methods to address a negative cash balance in its electric utility. This negative balance is due to costs of purchased power exceeding what was originally projected in a 2011 rate study, which was conducted prior to the City beginning to purchase power from the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA).

Watchdog: basing a decision to purchase anything on information that is outdated by a year or two is a formula for failure as happened here. Who would purchase a home based on a two-year outdated home inspection.

The higher power costs are the result of several factors, including historically low natural gas prices, increased costs and lower efficiency at the Prairie State Energy Campus, which is one component of the IMEA’s energy mix, weather, and our energy efficiency.

Watchdog: Coming up with excuses seems to be part of city manager Doug Krieger’s strategy plan. Rather than demonstrating accountability, managing performance, thinking critically, and managing execution, excuses are the first and last explanations.

The utility as worked diligently to cut costs and has eliminated $7.6 million in capital and operating costs over the next two years. City staff recommended the City also consider potential rate options to help address the deficit. The recommendation to increase rates was not taken lightly and received significant discussion by the Council.

Watchdog: Cutting costs and eliminating waste should be standard operating procedure even without a negative utility balance. Rate increases typically are the solution to any City of Naperville need for additional revenue. Why? Because it’s easier than creative solutions or not having the problem in the first place. More time was spent discussing city council member compensation, than discussing electric rate increases.

Electric rates will increase by 6% in May 2014 and 7% in May 2015. This action does not completely erase the utility’s deficit; however, it will ensure further losses are not experienced and does not run the risk of over-collecting from the City’s rate payers. Naperville’s residential rates are anticipated to remain below those of ComEd’s. The average Naperville household that currently pays $92.69 per month can expect to pay $97.69 a month starting May of this year and $103.75 starting in May 2015.

Watchdog: The City can’t ‘ensure’ further losses. ‘Ensuring’ is a guarantee, and based on city officials miscalculations, they can’t guarantee anything. A prime example is their own calculations in the above paragraph. Increasing $92.69 by 6% is $98.25, not the $97.69 stated. And the 7% increase would make it $105.13, not $103.75. The City might respond, ‘Hey, what’s a couple bucks here or there.’ Well for residents, it’s the difference between trusting or not trusting city officials ability to do the right thing. If they can’t get this simple calculation correct, how can they competently get anything correct.

A pilot program for the City’s 20 largest utility customers to try time-of-use rates was also approved and will begin this summer. These customers, who use 25 percent of the City’s electricity may be able to lower their overall electricity charges by adopting these rates and shifting some of their usage to off-peak hours, which also benefits the utility by lowering demand charges it must pay. The pilot program will be evaluated to consider expanding it to other commercial and residential customers.

Watchdog: The pilot program will include about 100 tests out of about 53,000 users; that’s less than 0.2%. No successful corporation would base a fiduciary decision on a pilot program of less than 0.2%.

If city officials want to build trust with residents, here’s an opportunity. Include the City of Naperville, along with each member of the city council, and the city manager in this test program. Develop and share their  plan to lower their electric consumption, by shifting their usage to off-peak hours. City officials can lead by example, and please, no excuses this time.

May 252014
 

Having been raised and going to school in Chicago until the age of 11 was no day at the beach. One of my daily goals was to avoid getting beat up after school. By the time I moved to the suburbs, my fighting record was no wins and 13 defeats, with one tie; and none of those 14 dust-ups did I initiate. The one tie came against a kid a year younger than me and a foot shorter. I quickly realized at a young age, that one-on-one combat was not my calling.

Fast forward to high school and gym class where I was required (for a four week period) to wrestle during second period and then shower, quickly dress, and while still sweating, go directly to speech class where I had to stand under the hot lights and give a 3-minute speech, almost like public forum. To say that was miserable was an under statement. That’s when I quickly realized (again) that I needed to come up with a game plan to not allow that to continue. My wrestling opponent was an all-state halfback (Bill Potter) and he was my battery mate on the Barrington baseball team. He was the catcher and I was the pitcher. Knowing that I couldn’t win the wresting match, and didn’t want to work up a sweat, we arranged that he would make me look good for about 30 seconds, and then take me down for the count of three. The plan worked, mission accomplished. No sweating on the mat, and no sweating under the hot lights in speech class.

So during last Tuesday night’s Naperville city council meeting, it almost appeared as though the council members had rehearsed (in the inky shadows of city hall) their bantering back and forth while discussing the next city council’s compensation package. I quickly realized (again) that couldn’t possibly happen, because it would require thinking critically to develop a strategic plan on their part, and then the ability to execute that plan, none of which is a Naperville city council strength.

At issue was one of two choices (as they see it), 1) keep their salary at $12,500 per year with the option of health insurance for an approximate total cost to tax payers of $170,000 per year for all eight council members, or 2) raise their salary to $20,000 each with no health insurance option for a total tax payer cost of about $160,000. So they spent hours and hours, during meeting after meeting, huffing, and puffing, and flexing about a total difference of $10,000 which equates to $3.24 of compensation per day per council member. Basically they worked themselves up deciding if they wanted six eggs, or a half dozen. When all the dust settled, they decided to do nothing, keep it as is, status quo. That means the eight council members, who work part-time get what other part-time city staff employees don’t get, which is, 1) health insurance, and 2) the ability to determine, basically, their own salary if they choose to run for re-election in 2015 and get elected. That’s a sweet deal that any city staff employee would love to have.

Not surprisingly, the one option that city council members wanted no part of, was keeping their salary at $12,500 and eliminating health insurance. That would have been a good deal for tax payers and an equitable deal with other part-time city employees. City council members voted to keep the extra $10,000 and slam tax-paying residents to the mat.

 

 

 

May 152014
 

It seems like local Naperville officials are always thinking of ways to squeeze more money from residents. Apparently Naperville must be desperate for revenue. One of the newer members of the Naperville city council, Dave Wentz, came up with what he thinks is a brilliant idea to require pet owners to obtain a license for their pets. I’m guessing that councilman Wentz has decided not to endear himself to pet owners during the next city council election in March.

Naperville currently has an ordinance requiring a fee of $4 per year for animals that have been spayed, and $8 for those who have not been spayed. Wentz would like to see this changed to a one-time registration fee, which likely would be far more expensive. The city wins on that deal. And who loses? The pet owners lose because the city relentlessly chips away at family finances. More importantly, pets lose. Maybe it’s fewer pet treats, maybe less food, and worse yet, maybe less pets.

Police Chief Bob Marshall, who really isn’t a police officer, but likes to bounce back and forth to different departments within the city, apparently for pension purposes, said Animal Control is OK with the new revenue generator. If councilman Wentz can get enough support from other council members willing to disenfranchise pet-owner voters, all that would be necessary is to amend the current ordinance. Police Chief Marshall, who really isn’t a police officer and apparently has no desire to become ‘one of Naperville’s finest’ said this would include domesticated pets, including dogs, cats, and get this, “whatever you have”.

Wow, “whatever you have”, think about that for a moment. Are you thinking? So exactly what would that include? Turtles, fish, birds, chickens, Naperville already has an ordinance for chickens. Seems like a huge net of potential revenue, doesn’t it. If Marshall was a police officer, he would probably tell Wentz that one of the last things his police officers need add to their full plates is to stop every resident walking their dogs for proof of registration. Then what. If the resident can’t show proof at that moment, the resident gets cuffed, hauled down to the slammer, while pooch is taken to the animal control’ slammer.

Let police officers do what they do best, and that’s to protect citizens from the bad guys. The current ordinance is working just fine; revenues increased 38% from 2011 to 2012, and then increased again 27% from 2012 to 2013. If it’s working, and it is, there is no need to ‘fix’ it. Unless of course, councilman Wentz feels a need to let residents know that he is doing something, and then pet-owner voters can let Wentz know next spring that he no longer needs to be doing something on the council.

May 112014
 

Naperville councilman Fieseler made it official, well as official as a politician’s word can be; he said he is not running for re-election to the Naperville city council in next spring’s 2015 election. Much can happen between now and then, including a change of heart on his part by tomorrow. However if he truly does take his bat and ball and goes home, both he and the Watchdog will agree, it’s for the best.

Recently Fieseler has been supportive of Naperville residents when he voted against the electric rate increase, and he is one of the very few who have questioned the leadership and performance of city manager Doug Krieger. While the vast majority of the city council allow Krieger to skate free without being accountable for huge missteps in judgment and decision making, Fieseler has had no problem in calling him out.

Fieseler’s problem is that it was too little, too late. And the major speed bump that Fieseler couldn’t navigate was the not-so smart-grid and not-so-smart meter fiasco. He along with councilman Grant Wehrli  lead the ill-advised charge forward which has and continues to cause all kinds of problems for Naperville residents and businesses.

It’s doubtful whether or not Fieseler could have been re-elected; smart money would say most likely not. With fewer perks for council members, and the realization of likely defeat, Fiesler knows that it’s time to go, and Watchdog agrees.
Another stumbling block that often times faced Fieseler is that even though he ‘had the right to remain silent’, he didn’t have the ability to do so. Numerous times during public forum, his interactions with residents were less than cordial. Rather than simply listening to the concerns of residents, he turned it into a wrestling match, determined to win a take-down.

Watch and listen as resident Jeff Anderson speaks during public forum regarding ‘council member compensation’

This is followed by Fieseler taking a couple of ‘shots’ at the Naperville resident…

and then Hinterlong taking issue with Fieseler.

Now watch and listen as Fieseler goes for the ‘take down’ of resident Kristin Jungles during the same topic and boils it down to a round of golf.

Yes, it’s time for Naperville councilman Bob Fieseler to go. Next year at this time, instead of Fieseler enjoying one-on-one combat with residents, we’ll probably find him at the Ultimate Fighting Competition in Naperville.

May 092014
 

At the most recent Naperville city council meeting, last Tuesday evening, during Roll Call, eight of the nine city council members were present, and the meeting began just a few minutes after 7:00pm. The council is getting better at starting meetings almost on time, however they still struggle at getting to the starting gate exactly on time; 8 of 9 managed to show up to do the people’s business.

The meeting lasted about 2.75 hours, and the main topic of the night was city council member compensation. I’m not saying it was the most important topic on the agenda, but if time spent discussing a topic is the benchmark of importance, then Naperville city council member compensation was the most important topic since it lasted 81 minutes of the 164 minute meeting.

Council members bantered back and forth about whether or not to include health insurance, or if they should scrap that perk and simply double their salary to $24,000, or maybe just increase it to $20,000. None of the council members seemed as though they wanted to bring a motion to vote, and one (Grant Wehrli) was quite content delaying the decision for about 8 to 10 weeks. Procrastination is a political ploy, when no one wants to take charge.

It wasn’t until the meeting was 75% over, that missing Naperville council member, Judith Brodhead arrived and took her seat at the dais. Looking a little disheveled, she said……well let’s watch and listen to council member Brodhead’s own words:

So while the other 8 members of the council are doing what they were elected to do, councilwoman Brodhead is out and about having fun. Hey I’m a Garrison Keillor (Prairie Home Companion) fan, but business is business. Apparently Brodhead is confusing ‘doing the peoples’ business’ with monkey business.

Chances are, that everybody attending the Naperville city council meeting had other things they would rather be doing, but there they were, in council chambers, while Brodhead was out on the town. Councilman Steve Chirico was on vacation, but made it a priority to be back in time for the council meeting. In fact, councilman Chirico has not missed one Tuesday night council meeting since he was elected. That’s demonstrating accountability.

In fairness to councilwoman Brodhead, her creative participation during council meetings is often understated to the point of invisibility, since she invariably votes with the majority. However the least she can do is show up for meetings, and at least make it look like she’s involved.

May 042014
 

Just as Pennsylvania has Punxsutawney Phil telling us how many weeks of winter are left before spring, Naperville has a much more accurate method of determining when spring has arrived; a proliferation of liquor-fueled bar brawls busting out in downtown Naperville. Like a fine-tuned Swiss watch, it happened Easter weekend when seven people were arrested during three separate brawls in a period of 24 hours.

What better place to have spring arrive than near the municipal parking deck, when the first official fight broke out at 2:35am April 19. Then with just 3 minutes left in the day at 11:57pm Saturday night, there was another dust-up by Potter’s Place on Jefferson Avenue. By the time that settled down and everybody got hauled away, 30 minutes later on Easter Sunday morning, the final ‘recorded’ fight of the weekend erupted near Bar Louie.

Brawls in downtown Naperville have become common place. It’s actually more of a news event if no one gets arrested in the 14 square block area of downtown Naperville. City officials for the longest time, denied that anyone was getting over-served in that area, but they could only do that for so long, before residents openly questioned whether city officials had lost their collective minds. City officials apparently thought, that if they didn’t acknowledge reality, then it wasn’t really happening. Brilliant on the part of city officials, but it didn’t work.

City officials have now changed their strategy, by admitting that some folks are maybe getting over-served a bit, but boys will be boys, and it did get warm (almost 60 degrees), and it was Easter weekend, and the Cubs almost won a couple of games, and global warming (or cooling) is happening, and the Earth is spinning at 1,000 miles per hour, and gravity is relentless, and you get the idea.

What’s really disturbing about the whole situation, is not that city officials were warned about this happening, and chose to do nothing to curb it, but that they continue to make excuses for its cause, which is too many people, in too small of an area, having too many choices for liquor consumption, too late at night, with too few police officers to show a presence. Let’s face it, what Naperville city officials are doing, isn’t working. Isn’t that the definition of foolishness….doing the same thing over and over and over, and expecting a different result.

Here is the scarey part, throw in a completed Water Street Project into the mix and then every night will be Easter weekend.