Oct 212018

Wouldn’t it be nice if Naperville residents had an advocate to represent them during city council meetings. Someone who could ask questions and get answers.

It’s become apparent after watching Naperville city council meetings for eight years that unless you are a resident with a bee in your birdbath, or unless you live on the same street as a council member, your voice is nothing more than background noise to city officials.

It happened again at Naperville’s most recent city council meeting on October 16. The meeting lasted 3.5 hours and during the meeting the city council approved a two-year, $100,000 agreement with S.B. Friedman and Co. to represent the city as an advocate in negotiating and securing agreements with Ryan Companies for the development of the Fifth Avenue Project. In addition to providing service as an advocate for the city, it will be a buffer for city officials giving them another degree of separation for bad decisions that may result in the development of the project. One of those “hey, I didn’t do it” excuses that city officials like to use when something goes wrong. Utilizing an advocate for city officials is useful. Wouldn’t having an advocate for residents be useful for residents?

Watch and listen to Napeville resident Jim Hill as he uses his 3-minutes to respectfully address the city council with some great questions regarding Naperville’s pending electric utility rate change:

This was followed by Napeville Mayor Steve Chirico trying to answer those questions.

So far so good. However this is where it starts to go sideways when the mayor brings Electric Utility Director, Mark Curran into the conversation regarding Smart Meter “savings”.

Curran is an artist when it comes to double-talk, utilizing the principal “if you can’t convince them with facts, dazzle them with bull—- ” The promise that Smart Meters would save rate-users money, has not materialized. Not one dime has been saved, not a nickel, not a penny.

This was followed with some fuzzy math from Curran and the mayor.

Now this is where it really breaks bad as the mayor cuts off dialogue with resident Jim Hill and refers to ‘wasting the public’s time:

Since when is informing residents “wasting the public’s time”. I’m guessing the mayor would like to ‘have this comment back’ but video is unforgiving, once it’s out there, it’s out there. Typically Mayor Chirico is sensitive and gracious towards speakers, so this may qualify for a ‘mulligan’. No doubt it was out of character for the mayor.

Electric rates, up or down, have direct impact on every Naperville resident and business. The council spent “wasted” 53 minutes talking about approving another car wash on Ogden Avenue, but couldn’t invest another 10 minutes informing resident Jim Hill and the tens-of-thousands of rate payers about his questions and concerns.

Inviting resident Jim Hill to the mayor’s office for dialogue is cool for Jim Hill, but what about the rest of us. Can we all line up at the mayor’s door to get the same information. Hence why not have an official position of Residents Advocate at the municipal center. Some one who can get answers during the council meeting that all of us can hear. Someone who has the best interests of Naperville residents in mind.

In theory, each and every council member should be an advocate for residents, but in actuality, unless you have that bee-in-a-birdbath, it’s not happening. Council members seldom speak up in support of residents, and seldom challenge each other with stimulating questions and conversation, they tend to walk in lock-step and vote in unison.

Interestingly, this electric rate change could result in a slightly lower rate. I don’t suppose that has anything to do with the upcoming municipal election in 162 days could it?

Oct 132018

It worked in the 1989 movie, ‘Field Of Dreams’, “if you build it they will come”. Now Naperville city officials are banking on the perk, ‘If you pay them they will stay’. The City of Naperville is doing something most municipalities do not do; they are offering city employees a bonus program. The idea is two-fold, 1) give recognition to employees for a job well done, and 2) retain top employees thereby reducing turnover.

Naperville budgets $150,000 per year for bonuses, and bonuses range from $5 up to $1,000 with an annual limit of $2,500 per employee. The program has been existence for five years averaging about $70,000 per year in bonuses. Budgeted bonus dollars not used go back into the general fund. Just because the dollars are there doesn’t mean the money has to be used. Kudos for city officials for not using all the dollars available.

With the economy improving, and the unemployment rate down, retaining good employees becomes more important, so at first glance, offering bonuses to employees is not only a nice thing to do, it’s also prudent. However there are some downsides to the program including the following:

  • Unrealistic expectations. Providing bonuses can create a new benchmark which becomes the new norm. Employees can feel disappointed if they receive a bonus one year, and less or nothing the following year. It can result in a morale deflater.
  • Fostering employee competition. Rather than employees working together as a team, they can see it as competition with each other resulting in unintended consequences.
  • Bonuses are taxable. Employees can be disappointed when they realize the bonus is less than originally stated.

If this bonus/incentive program doesn’t work out, Naperville city officials can always revert back to the old way of doing things. The top-third of employees get a $25 gift card, the middle-third get to keep their jobs, and the bottom-third get fired.

Another option is to have the mayor or city manger give a motivational talk to city employees.

Oct 072018

It’s becoming a yearly event in Naperville, conducting more studies, with more expense, for city officials to figure out what to do with Moser Tower, which houses the Carillon. Watchdog has done a few postings about the Tower and its bells (The Carillon) during the past few years, and nothing has really changed.

In a nutshell, Moser Tower is falling apart. It could happen tomorrow, or it may take a hundred years, but this much is known for sure, it’s coming down sooner or later. What Naperville city officials don’t know is what to do about it. Do they want to repair it at an estimated cost of upwards $4 million, do they want to patchwork it with a repair here or there, or just simply tear it down, and sell tickets to the event during 4th of July festivities. Some well placed sticks of dynamite would make it a 4th to remember. I can see the marketing opportunity for city officials; “Naperville’s 4th of July celebration, nothing like it in any other town. Bring the kids, and your hard hats.”

The estimate to demolish is about $660,000. Considering the Carillon has 72 bells, if city officials could auction and sell each bell for $9,166.67, that would cover the cost of demolishing with 24 cents left over. Ticket sales would be clear profit. Rather than continuing to hire consulting companies (two companies totaling $168,000 over the last two years) providing no clear direction, simply hire a marketing company at a fraction of the cost, and be done with it.

Chances are city officials already know what they want to do with the tower which is to keep it at all cost. No city official wants to take the responsibility of making the wrong decision. Hence more studies, more expense, and less direction.

If they let it collapse, then an ‘autopsy’ of sorts would confirm what studies have been unable to do, which is to determine what the problem was. However, sticks of dynamite would take everybody off the hook, while creating a memory that would last a lifetime.

Let the auction begin, do we have a bid on a bell?

Sep 302018

It’s not often that an employee can retire and walk away with severance pay, unless of course you work for the government. It’s a sweet deal for the employee, and probably for the government, otherwise it wouldn’t occur. That’s exactly what happened when the City of Naperville parted ways with its Public Utilities Director of Water. Along with his paid-time-off hours, vacation hours, and sick time pay, he was given a $30,000 severance payment for ‘retiring’. Not bad if you can get it, and you can definitely get it when your work for the City of Naperville.

The definition of ‘severance pay’ is an amount paid to an employee upon dismissal or discharge from employment. The definition of ‘retirement’ does not include the words ‘dismissal’ or ‘discharge’. So which is it. Did the employee retire or was he dismissed/discharged?

Naperville city officials like to use the word ‘transparent’ when it comes to being open with residents about what goes on in the municipal center, and more importantly how tax dollars are spent. It’s obvious city officials are only transparent with what they want to be transparent about. Residents are on a ‘need to know’ basis, and apparently residents don’t need to know why and how this $30,000 was spent.

When Naperville city attorney Mike DiSanto was asked if it was customary for the City to provide severance payments to retiring employees, Disanto had no comment. Openness and communication skills have not been a strength of DiSanto which makes him a perfect match the position he has with the City. Some would say that DiSanto’s self-image is as lofty as his inability to be transparent.

Interestingly, the departed Director of Public Works – Water was recognized numerous times with bonuses for such accomplishments as working as part of a team with other city departments, and maintaining the city’s core values. One would think that would simply be part of the job description for anyone working in the Municipal Center, not something to be recognized with a bonus. Naperville city officials are liberal with bonuses and salary increases, and now severance payments for retiring employees. It’s easy for the city to give away money when it’s not theirs.

Naperville’s water department has had some missteps recently which helped create a $3-million shortfall in the budget if water-rate increases were not inflicted on businesses and residents of Naperville. Some of those missteps (screw-ups) included inaccurate reporting of revenue streams, non-metered water losses not being included, water meter inaccuracies, system leakage, and starting balances not being noted accurately. Other than that, everything was just perfect with the water department.

With Naperville city officials money solves everything. Simply continue to squeeze more out of residents for employee bonuses, severance payments, and hiring outside ‘experts’ and consultants to do the work of city officials, and let the city attorney say ‘move along, there’s nothing to see here’.

Sep 222018

The same week the State of Illinois OK’d medical marijuana as an alternative to opioids, the Naperville Liquor Commission sent the owner of a small chain of stores that sell hemp products , through the gauntlet and then out of town, when he requested to open a store in Naperville.

If you want a license to sell liquor in Naperville, it’s no problem. Naperville’s motto should be “You want liquor, we’ve got the licenses”.  Simply get in line, pay the liquor license fee, and be on your way. There is no limit on the number of liquor licenses Naperville can issue. Every time somebody wants a liquor license, the Naperville city council raises the limit by one. Just as Rome was built one brick at a time, Naperville’s tax base gets built one liquor license at a time.

If you want to increase the number of servings a brewery can offer, no problem. Just pop-in to a Naperville Liquor Commission meeting, state your case as Solemn Oath Brewery did, get the approval, and be on your way. Who’s next in line?

In fairness to Solemn Oath Brewery, their case presented by President John Barley made sense. If for no other reason, with the name John Barley, that in itself should qualify for liquor license approval; almost as good as Benny Budweiser. In time Naperville could have a thousand liquor licenses, why not, all it takes is one license at a time.

However, the Naperville Liquor Commission draws a hard line against approving a cannabinoid store at Washington St. and Chicago Avenue. The problem is not the location, it’s the idea that anything involved with hemp must be bad. Not surprisingly, one liquor commissioner voting in favor of the store was Pamela Davis, retired President and CEO  of Edward Hospital. If anyone on the liquor commission would know the fallacies, safety, and usefulness of cannabinoids, including a natural source of reducing anxiety and pain, it would be the person in charge one of the best hospitals in the Midwest. However her vote was steam-rolled by the commission.

CBD has some benefit for two rare and severe seizure disorders. Additionally, other forms of CBD have shown preliminary evidence for some conditions including multiple sclerosis pain, psychotic symptoms in Parkinson’s, and anxiety. Though the findings are limited in studies, numerous personal accounts, though anecdotal in nature, are promising.

In essence the Naperville Liquor Commission is picking winners (liquor licenses) and losers (CBD providers) based on fear of the unknown (lack of knowledge) about the benefits of cannabinoids. As the owner (David Palatnik) of the chain of CBD stores stated, “we sell the same items as Menard’s,  Target, Walgreen and Walmart. I think it’s unfair to small business”.

There was a time, not that long ago, when Naperville was on the cutting edge of new ideas and concepts, however now, as evidenced by the liquor commission vote, a dinosaur mentality exists among city officials. Picking winners and losers is not part of their job description.

Sep 152018

Once a year I get the urge to review family expenses. It usually happens after doing taxes. My thought is that there must be areas to save expense without sacrificing too much convenience or enjoyment. It takes about a day, but it’s time well invested. I was raised with the value that time is money, so as long as I can save more money than the time invested, it’s a good deal. I go through every category of expense, insurance, cable, food, housing, transportation, cell phone, auto, utility, etc. Even my land based phone. I like the land-based phone because when it rings I know where it is.

Naperville city officials insistence that so-called Smart Meters for electric would be a money saver for residents was, as expected, a total fallacy. City officials fought residents to the point that unless smart meters were forcefully installed on their homes, they would be arrested and thrown in the slammer, as some residents were cuffed and arrested. Another example where the City was sued and lost in court, along with its image of being a ‘family friendly city’.

Naperville city officials are reviewing services offered to residents in relation to the cost of those services. In other words, how much inconvenience are the good folks of Naperville willing to endure to save money.

One example of reduced service cuts causing ‘pain and discomfort’ for residents, cited by city staff is the average wait time for calls made to the finance department. In 2016 the wait time was 3-minutes, now in 2018 the wait time is 4.6 minutes; an increase of 60%. Sounds terrible doesn’t it, until you realize it’s an extra 96 seconds or less time than the time between innings of a baseball game. Staff also cited that the number of abandoned calls per day by residents increased from 44 per day in in 2017 to 52 per day in 2018, which equates to less than one per hour.

Just as there’s no crying in baseball, is dropping one call per hour, and waiting an additional 96 seconds anything to whine and cry about when it comes to saving some money. I think not.

The bottom line is why not survey residents online and see which services are most important and which are least important to them. Simply ask the good folks of Naperville how they want their dollars spent. It’s their money.

After reviewing family expenses, I asked (surveyed) my wife if she’s willing to make these changes to save money. She said, yes, if I’m willing sell my 1990 Volvo sitting in the driveway. Ten days later the Volvo was sold, after I came to the realization that my 10-year, and 8-year old grandsons probably wouldn’t want it eight years.

Sep 082018

Just when you think we can add some freshness to the Naperville city council with the spring election approaching, an old familiar face (David Wentz) pops up again, wanting to get back on the council. It’s the same feeling you have when you get gum stuck on your shoe during a hot August day; it and he just won’t go away.

Wentz sat (not served) on the city council from 2013 to 2015. His two-year term was two years too long, however he tossed his hat into the ring in the 2015 election, along with 19 other candidates for the eight open positions on the city council. Typically there are four open positions (as there will be in the next election) but because of a couple of referendums, all seats were open at that time.

The referendums had to do with district representation vs. at-large representation. The initial vote by residents was a landslide in favor or changing at-large to district representation. City officials were not happy with the result, so they finagled another vote on the same issue, but this time changing the wording of the referendum, confusing enough voters so the result was to keep at-large representation. It’s much easier for ineffective council members to get elected from a large group of candidates, than for an under-performing council member to go one-on-one with a better candidate.

Dave Wentz would have come in first place with the most votes for city council in 2015 , except 11 other candidates received more votes than he did. In fact, Wentz came closer to finishing in last place (20th) than coming in 6th place. He garnered 4,678 votes equating to a measly 4% of the total vote. He explained his loss as wanting to ‘focus more time on his family, business, and community service projects’. Apparently by getting back into the political fray he’s willing to set aside family, business, and community service. His community service includes being chairman of Naperville’s Citizens Appreciate Public Safety Board. Let’s see a show of hands for all those against appreciating public safety.

Wentz said his reason for wanting to get back on the council was for “unfinished business”, which implies he actually started something on the council. The only business he started on the council was making motions to adjourn meetings.

No doubt that Wentz enjoyed being a Naperville councilman. All too often he had to remind businesses in Naperville with ‘ Do you know who I am! ‘ Apparently they did, along with a good number of Naperville voters on election day.

Sep 012018

Looking at your yearly property tax bill can be painful. If you have taken the time to notice where the dollars are going, you’ll see that more dollars are allocated to the Naperville Park District than to the City of Naperville, other than the pension funds for those two entities. Pension funds are to the budget, what the iceberg was to the Titanic.

If you are concerned about the plight of the honey bees, the fact that the Park District gets more dollars than the City is good news, since the Naperville Park District is taking active measures to help our little pollinator friends while the City has done the reverse by placing restrictions on where they live, where they fly, and how many there are.

In an effort to appease one resident’s complaint about a honey bee in her bird bath, and the mistaken belief that the birds and bees can’t coexist, the Naperville City Council ‘put the screws’ to the honey bees. A short lived victory for the city council members, and a long term victory for the honey bees because the council’s actions prompted residents to learn more about honey bees causing a number of residents to place beehives on their property including one in the vicinity of the complaining resident.

More and more cities and towns are supporting honey bees from small town West Dundee to Chicago. Amazing that Chicago aldermen see the benefit while Naperville city officials continue to be short-sighted. Most recently Des Plaines aldermen agreed that their city should allow beekeeping for educational purposes at park districts, schools, and other institutions. This opened the door for the Mount Prospect Park District to support beehives at its Friendship Park Conservatory. Bottom line, thousands more honeybees will be buzzing in Mt. Prospect and Des Plaines by next year.

In contrast to Naperville city officials, the Naperville Park District has been open-minded and has taken an enlightened, rational, and well-informed outlook to the benefits of honey bees. I spoke with Carl Gorra, Park Operations Manager, and he mentioned the Park District has been very active in supporting pollinators with small pollinator gardens throughout the district including the 525 garden plots. Additionally the Naperville Park District has hosted open house and seminars to other park districts in the area explaining why it’s a good thing to do. The park district has identified eight parks for sustainable organic fertilizer with more to follow. Gorra said, “what’s good for pollinators is good for people”.

When asked, what he would do if elected the ‘King of Naperville’, he said he would like it if more people would provide a little space in their yard for a few of the right plants for pollinators.

A few little known facts about honey bees:

  • They can fly a distance of six miles and up to 15 mph
  • A honey bee queen can lay up to 2,500 eggs per day
  • Bee venom therapy (BVT) can be used to treat numerous ailments
  • One of every three bites of food is due to pollinators
  • A honey bee visits up to 50 to 100 flowers during a collection trip
  • Honey bees must gather nectar from 2 million flowers to make one pound of honey
  • An average honey bee will make only one-twelfth of a teaspoonful (0.4cc = 8 drops) of honey in its lifetime
  • A honey bee lives only four to six weeks, whereas the queen can live up to five years
  • Honey is the only food that never spoils
  • Remember, honey bees are gentle and have no intention to harm you
Aug 262018

I’ve always preferred walking vs. running. Truth be told, sitting beats both, but it doesn’t do much for cardio. My good friend likes running, though I never see him smiling while running. The miles finally caught up to him with foot, ankle and knee issues, so he has resorted to using a bicycle. He doesn’t seem to enjoy that either. Maybe it’s just him.

I’ve decided to get back to walking. I tend to be obsessive/compulsive, so I walk any one of several routes, anywhere from 2.1 miles to 4.5 miles per day. Having not walked for a while, I’m sure the folks that used to see me probably thought that I had ‘checked out’. A couple of people, that I didn’t even know, were actually glad to see me again. It’s nice to see someone you think is no longer with us.

When I walked previously, I had my accessories with me, including a good pair of walking shoes, a little bottle of water, a small tape recorder in case something brilliant crossed my mind ( the recorder didn’t get much use), and my cell phone in case I planted myself horizontally on the ground (my wife thought that was a good idea). I’ve added one more temporary tool which I will get into later in this posting.

One thing that has changed since I resumed walking is the obstacle course on some sidewalks; low hanging tree branches, on the city owned parkway, blocking the walkway.

I called Naperville’s Department of Public Works to see if or when the city trims those branches for sidewalk access. I was pushed over to voice mail; it was early afternoon, so staff probably left for the day. I didn’t get a return call, so I tried again the following week. This time I had a name to ask for (Jack Mitz) and he answered the phone. He was a nice fellow, and proceeded to tell me that the city has about 500 miles of roadway trees to cover consisting of about 70,000 trees. The trimming cycle used to be about every five years, but now it’s been extended to about every 7 to 8 years.

He asked me the area of concern that I had, and I mentioned the north side of 87th street between Naper Boulevard and Wehrli. He thought it had been trimmed a few years ago, and he would look into it. I thanked him and that was it.

Knowing that it might be years before they get trimmed again, and knowing that I buy only ripe bananas because I’m not sure how long I’ll be around, I called him back and left a message asking whether or not it’s acceptable for a resident to trim off the more egregious branches to clear the sidewalk. I haven’t heard back from Jack; I’m sure I will.

In the mean time I have added one more accessory to my walk. It’s a ratcheting bypass lopper with telescopic handles for pruning. If the city gives me the green light to go for it, I’m ready for the challenge unless someone or the city beats me to it.

Aug 192018

Somebody is going to lose. That’s usually how it works unless an incumbent doesn’t have a challenger. Is there anything an incumbent likes more than running for office without an opponent.

Naperville’s municipal election is 226 days from today; April 2, 2019. Finally, someone has announced plans to run for a seat on the Naperville city council. Bruce Hanson, Naperville Planning and Zoning Commissioner, has thrown his hat into the ring, as the first non-incumbent seeking election.

Chances are with the weak assortment of four current city council members running for re-election, candidates will begin to follow the lead of Hanson and line-up for their chance to get one more vote than the person coming in fifth place. To get elected, you don’t have to get the most votes, just be one of the top four vote-getters.

It reminds me of the story of two fellows on a safari in Africa when they notice a tiger, a short distance away, looking in their direction. One of the fellows reaches into his backpack to put on his running shoes, and the other fellow says “there’s no way you can out run that tiger”, to which the first fellow says, “I don’t have to, all I have to do is outrun you”.

The four incumbents, Becky (sanctuary city) Anderson, Patty (can’t stop talking) Gustin, Rebecca (hyphenated) Obarski, and Paul (answer a question with a question) Hinterlong have yet to announce plans for re-election. Odds are that each will run, unless they know they can’t win, which means they will probably run. Politicians have a way of over-valuing their stock price. If all four run, along with one non-incumbent, somebody has to lose.

Anderson and Gustin appear to be the most beatable, while Obarski is on solid ground, and Hinterlong hangs around like gum on your shoe on a hot August day.

Bruce Hanson, an 18 year Naperville resident, enters the fray with a good resume ‘on paper’ including:

  • Secretary for the Naperville Planning and Zoning Commission
  • Naperville Public Library trustee
  • Served on the SECA (Special Events and Cultural Amenities) Commission
  • Chairman of Naperville’s Financial Advisory Board
  • President for Naperville United Way
  • Treasurer for Naperville Heritage Society Board

A lot of folks look good ‘on paper’, however it takes more than that to get elected. A good pair of running shoes would be advised.