Nov 162017

When it comes to Naperville and liquor, there isn’t too much that city officials have seen that they didn’t like. Naperville and liquor are synonymous. So when a resident made a pitch to the Naperville Liquor Commission regarding a pedal pub (a tavern on wheels) it came as a bit of a surprise when the commission gave it a thumbs down by a unanimous vote. The resident was seeking approval for a bring-your-own-bottle permit. The concept has been approved in other cities including Nashville, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Champaign.

The vehicle is an up to15-passenger bicycle-like vehicle with folks facing each other. The vehicle is powered by pedaling passengers with a back-up motor if necessary. It looks somewhat similar to a picnic table on wheels with a middle aisle, and individual seats or stools rather than a bench. Some would consider it a personal injury attorney’s dream, especially if a BYOB permit was allowed. No helmet, no seat belt, no harness. The faster you pedal, the faster you go. What could possible go wrong.

The liquor commission came up with a couple ideas of what could go wrong including overcrowding on downtown streets, passenger and pedestrian safety, and the ever-present over-consumption. Losing a couple of passengers during a right or left hand turn would be terrible if not tragic. Going in reverse to pick them up with reverse pedaling would require the ultimate in teamwork. Who knows, maybe Naperville could be recognized some day as the birth place for synchronized pedaling in reverse, while consuming an adult beverage, as an Olympic event.

The dismissal of the pub on wheels by the liquor commission did not dampen the enthusiasm by the resident, because plans are going forward to operate two or more vehicles in downtown Naperville without the BYOB concept, hence no liquor permit needed. Who needs alcohol when you can do birthday parties, graduation and prom parties, land AA meetings aboard the 15-seater.

The question remains, will the publess pub on wheels operate in the winter? Hot chocolate works. Maybe another Olympic event can be born in Naperville; snowball fights between pedestrians and passengers moving on alcohol-free pubs-on-wheels.

Nov 122017

If you want to get Naperville city officials a useful Christmas gift this year, get them a little cheap calculator. The one I use is a Canon LS-80Z made in Malaysia, it costs about $5.  It’s not made in America, but math is math and I’ve been using it for about 20 years, and it works. Whatever Naperville city officials are using to do math is definitely not working, or maybe it does work, but the city official using it isn’t working. In this case that person would be Naperville Director of Water and Wastewater, Jim Holzapfel.

Naperville raised the water rates in May of this year. Now word comes out that city officials grossly under calculated the numbers causing a shortfall of $3 million. Usually when Naperville city officials get the numbers wrong, it’s a decimal point, so a 1.4% increase is actually 14%, or missing a couple of 0’s here or there and a $30,000 expense becomes $300,000. For city officials it’s only numbers or a couple of dollars, but for tax or rate payers, it’s the difference between signing the kids up for hockey, or having them play whack-a-mole on the kitchen table. As councilwoman Judy Brodhead once said “it’s only $5,000” when referring to an expense.

When Naperville city officials blow it, they blow it big time. In this case some of the inaccurate numbers they used to determine water rates included:

  • Incorrect starting balances
  • Inaccurate revenue streams, some appearing twice
  • System leakage
  • Inaccurate meter readings
  • Non-metered water losses

Other than that, everything else was picture-perfect; what’s a few decimals or zeros.

Undoubtedly city officials will blame it on the company hired to do the rate model. That’s the problem. City officials spend money to hire somebody else to do the work, then they head downtown to pound down a few brews, come back to accept the report, then send it to the council for approval, and bingo, the new rates are inflicted upon residents and businesses.

Where is the oversight by city officials? Inaccurate numbers and conclusions move along the conveyor belt for approval, from Holzapfel, to city manager Doug Krieger, to the Naperville city council. Are there no checks and balances? In the business world it’s ‘trust but verify’, in government it needs to be ‘don’t trust but confirm’.

It’s also possible that Naperville city officials are attempting magic with a version of sleight of hand tricks with numbers.

It’s either by design or incompetence, neither of which are beneficial to rate payers.

To make matters worse, the new (supposedly corrected) numbers don’t add up. Holzapel said the average residential water bill would increase by $3.76 per month in 2018 (wrong, it would go up $3.67), and it would increase by $2.31 in 2019 (wrong again, it would go up $4.19). They still can’t get it right. How Naperville does their math vs. universally understood and accepted mathematical principles are two different things.

What needs to be done, won’t be done; someone needs to be held accountable. Someone needs to ‘disappear’ on a Friday, with someone new appearing on Monday to take over. You can be sure that will grab the attention of all those remaining in the Municipal Center. Accountability and accuracy at every level will increase and decimals and zeros will again have meaning.

If city officials find that sure-cure solution too difficult to execute, they can set up an ongoing ‘Go Fund Me Account’ to cover sure-to-be math shortfalls in the future. What’s currently being done is totally unacceptable.

Nov 092017

Word leaked out last week, that Naperville’s water utility miscalculated nearly everything possible creating a huge $3 million deficit in the water department’s rate model used to determine water rates. The Naperville Sun also confirmed and reported the story early this week, meaning that at least a handful residents are aware of the situation. Watchdog’s weekend posting will focus on this topic.

You won’t find anything about this on the City of Naperville’s website. Mum is the word. Also there was no mention of the issue during the city council’s November 7th meeting. Apparently the city council and city officials are hoping to avoid acknowledging the screw-up as though it never happened. Undoubtedly city officials will try to shift the blame elsewhere, but the bottom line is that it’s the City’s responsibility to trust but verify the numbers are correct and they didn’t.

However what we did learn from last Tuesday’s council meeting was that Naperville city councilman John Krummen gets to do “a lot of fun things” being on the council, and that being a council member is a “great gig”, in fact, as Krummen puts it, “it’s the greatest gig in the world”. Krummen stating it in two words describes it as “wicked cool”.

The good folks of Naperville are probably delighted that Krummen is having a blast, however they would probably be happier if someone would have caught the numerous errors in determining the water rates. That ‘someone’ could have been Krummen. There is probably not one city council meeting when Krummen doesn’t mention that he is a ‘numbers guy’; he likes to look at the numbers. Well he wasn’t looking at the numbers on this one, nor were other city officials.

I’m sure no one begrudges Krummen having a good time on the taxpayers dime, but the least he could do is tell the rest of us what he learned on his field trip. I remember taking field trips in kindergarten and first-grade and being just as giddy as Krummen, but I couldn’t wait to tell my folks what I saw and what I learned and how cool it was, maybe not ‘wicked cool’ like Krummen’s field trip, but still cool.

Nov 052017

I have lived in Naperville for almost 40 years, and for most of those years I never noticed the leaf pick-up process. There would be a pile of leaves in the street and they would magically disappear by the time I came home from work. Now that I have retired the leaf guy always seems to come by when I’m getting the mail. It’s difficult to miss him; the truck sounds like a German Panzer Tank rolling through the neighborhood.

I live on a circle, at least that’s what the street sign shows. It’s more like the letter ‘C’. There are probably 20 homes on the ‘C’ (circle). Most of the homes rake their leaves onto the street. I take it a step further. I make sure the leaves are about 18 inches from the curb, and then I water them down to make sure they don’t blow around. A good number of my neighbors do the same thing. Last week the second round of leaf-pick-up occurred. A little snow-plow-like vehicle came around and plowed the leaves about five feet from the curb to the street. No longer did the leaves adhere together, and they became ideal targets for younger drivers to drive through.

A few days later, here comes the same guy, again plowing the leaves, a few inches towards the middle of the street. About an hour later I hear the sound of the German Tank approaching our street. It takes about five minutes for the truck to appear and it’s pulling a leaf sucker upper with a guy sitting on it looking like a statue, no movement, just trying to stay warm.

Here is where it gets interesting. The leaves are getting sucked up into a chute with many leaves not making it to the chute, they are flying out. The leaves that are making into the chute are then blowing out into the truck, with half of those leaves blowing out of the truck. It reminded me of when I mow, and the grass catcher gets full, the clippings begin to fly out.  I’m guessing 25 to 30% of the leaves on the street actually make it into the truck. The other 70 to 75% make it back onto the street, except now they are evenly distributed all over the street, rather than in a pile.

No doubt that the company contracted to pick up the leaves is doing the work, but not with the intended results. Another classic example of socially acceptable non-productive work, paid for by the good folks of Naperville.

Nov 022017

Another uneventful Halloween has come and gone in Naperville without any need for an ordinance restricting the hours that Trick or Treaters can appear on your doorstep, banging on your door, or ringing the doorbell in search of free handouts.

Most communities surrounding Naperville have ordinances limiting the hours from 3 PM til 8 PM for Trick or Treating. Naperville has no such ordinance, proving that allowing the good folks of Naperville the opportunity to do the right thing, they do it, without the need for another unnecessary ordinance. Good for the city officials of Naperville for either not doing it, or not thinking of doing it. Unfortunately when one community comes up with an idea of separating taxpayers from their money, other communities jump on the idea like white on rice.

I have thought how cool it would be to be the guy that gets paid to come up with ideas for extracting money from residents for government’s insatiable consumption. At that person’s annual review time, the salary increase is based on how many ways taxpayer’s were screwed into paying more for what they used to pay less for. Some of the recent great ideas were:

  • Cook County’s Soda Tax
  • Chicago’s bag tax
  • Rainwater Tax

There is no limit to the wild creativity of pounding people with new taxes.

So hooray to the Naperville city council for letting the kids trick or treat without carrying an alarm clock. However it did occur to me that I may have inadvertently provided a reason for the council to create an ordinance for Halloween.

In the past I have handed out little hotel shampoos and conditioners (gathered when I traveled), fortune cookies (from my favorite restaurant), and little bags of coupons from local newspapers or mailers, along with a bite-size candy bar. Occasionally not wanting to promote an entitlement mindset with the older little ones, I would ask them to do a trick for the treat, but my wife thought that I was promoting bribery so I stopped that one.

For the last few years, I have been sitting in my little yellow VW Beetle in my driveway intercepting trick or treaters before they get to the front door and giving them a ‘handout’ (piece of candy) of their choice. It beats getting into a wrestling match with my two poodles every time the doorbell rings. Prior to that, Halloween night was pandemonium at the Watchdog residence. Trying to be a person of solutions, I decided to use the car in the driveway idea and it’s worked. I simply take a bowl of treats with me to the car, along with a non-spill-able cup of hot chocolate, and the car keys to occasionally warm-up the car, and watch the parade of kids roll by being surprised that they don’t have to walk all the way up to the front door and wait for a treat.  It’s worked perfectly.

However, I am beginning to think that maybe it’s not such a good idea; an old guy (me) sitting in a car summoning kids over for some candy. Bingo, could I have given the council reason for an ordinance. Maybe next year I will sit in the garage, but that seems a little unsavory too. Maybe until the city comes up with an ordinance requiring me to participate in a poodle vs man wresting match to see who can get to the front door first, I will ask the city for forgiveness rather than permission, and utilize the comfort of my little yellow 2000 VW Beetle.