Dec 092018

The definition of ‘serendipity’ is ‘the occurrence and development of events by chance in a beneficial way’, or simply stated ‘a stroke of luck’. Naperville city officials might want to consider establishing a new Department of Serendipity within city government.

Naperville city officials are on roll of good luck. Earlier in the year, they called for resident-volunteers to create a group called ‘Drain Defenders’ to help unclog street drains of leaves and debris. When rain, a snowstorm, and ice hit Naperville November 25, it covered piles of leaves on about 40% of Naperville’s streets. Snowplows then pushed piles of leaves around many of which found their way to covering street drains. Bingo, Drain Defenders to the rescue.

Depending upon how many residents volunteered, Naperville has either an army of Drain Defenders (which is what is needed especially now) or if just a few folks volunteered, making the ‘army’ more like a gang. Either way, one Drain Defender is better than none.

During that same weather event, traffic signals became covered with ice and snow making it nearly impossible to see the stop-and-go lights. A few accidents occurred in Naperville, fortunately with no serious injuries. Apparently the problem was another ‘Trifecta of Nature’, 1) blowing snow, 2) it was wet and icy, and 3) newly installed LED traffic signal lights throughout Naperville don’t heat up enough to melt snow and ice.

Here comes the serendipity part, why not have city officials reach out for a new opportunity; a resident-volunteer group called ‘Traffic Signal Light Defenders’. Just like Drain Defenders, people can volunteer to clear off traffic signal lights. The city issued the first 100 Drain Defenders with a rake, a shovel, and a nifty orange vest, they could do the same with Traffic Signal Light Defenders by issuing an inexpensive tall ladder, an ice scrapper, a huge can of Rain-X, and florescent orange vest.

Naperville city officials have always wanted residents to be more involved with city government, this would help achieve that goal. The ultimate goal could be to have every Naperville resident volunteer to do something, in essence cutting expenses and lowering the budget. It would almost be like a colony of bees with everybody doing something.

There is no end to what Naperville’s Department of Serendipity, headed by its Director, could ask volunteer-residents to defend for including:

  1. Road-kill collector
  2. Street sweeping
  3. Code enforcement (neighbors not shoveling sidewalks)
  4. Mowing city property
  5. Changing street light bulbs
  6. Tax collector
  7. Court jester, during city council meetings
  8. City council member
  9. Timekeeper…residents can tell speakers when their 3 minutes are up during public forum. Better than paying the current time keeper.
  10. BS detector…they can Google every ‘fact’ the council states, if it doesn’t pass muster, an emoji of shame is shown over the person who made the fake statement.

To think it all started with Drain Defenders. Well, it actually started with Naperville city officials not having a better, well-thought-out plan for removing leaves from city streets.

Dec 022018

It’s been said that given a sufficient amount of time anything that can happen will happen. It didn’t take long for it  to happen in Naperville. November 25th, the day the Trifecta of Nature occurred;  rain, snow, and ice, on top of piles of leaves on the streets of family-friendly Naperville.

It was a beautiful sight, unless you had to drive or had leaves neatly piled at curbside. Over one-third of Naperville’s residents, primarily on the south side of town, still have leaves in their streets, but no longer neatly piled at curbside. The snow plows made sure of that by re-distributing the mess, much of which will find its way to Naperville’s street drains, where they may still be sitting until spring or when Naperville’s newly formed army of resident drain-defenders get to work with their rakes and shovels pushing it elsewhere.

Naperville’s curbside leaf collection program includes three leaf collections; one every two weeks scheduled to end this year on November 30. It ended five days early when Naperville had to convert all of its 22 trucks for snow plowing. So residents were left with wet leaves and soon to-be clogged street drains which can lead to flooding in spring.

Naperville city officials knew this could happen, but other than forming an army or likely a gang of drain-defenders, they did nothing to increase their odds of successfully keeping the streets clear of leaves. I don’t ever remember this being an issue when I was young, back when dirt was new. I do remember the autumn aroma of leaves burning, a sure sign that fall had arrived. I also remember the sound of fire engines racing through neighborhoods.

Naperville city officials (who are they?) did say that if storm sewer drains need to be cleared. the city can help if it becomes an issue. It would seem to be a good idea to do it now, rather than waiting until spring flooding.

Apparently it became an issue last Wednesday when enough residents complained to the city and on social media, and city officials had no choice but to reverse its decision to cancel the last leaf pick-up cycle, and decided to complete the third round of leaf pick-up.

So now it becomes a race between trucks converted for leaf pick-up and trucks converted for snow plows intermixed with garbage and recycling trucks, along with drain defenders against lots of frozen and wet leaves which have been plowed all over the streets and squashed by cars, trucks, and school buses.

City officials said via a Naper Notify message, “Please note, depending on this winter’s weather, this may take into the early months of 2019 to complete.” That’s code for “it may take all the way to the beginning of next year’s first leaf pick-up.”

In the meantime, let’s hope the army/gang of drain defenders are up to the task of working overtime and have the ability to dodge trucks picking-up leaves.

Nov 252018

Why does the Naperville city council wrestle with problems? Why don’t they just apply Occam’s razor, and also simply adjust the norms. Occam’s razor is the problem-solving principle that the simplest solution tends to be the correct one.

This is exactly how the city council solved the problem of homeless people in Naperville; they renamed them street-dwellers, and bingo, no more homeless people in Naperville. How simple was that. Naperville needs an ‘Occam’.

No matter what the problem is, just adjust the norm. Let’s take the Fifth Avenue Development’s need for parking spots. Just say that 200 new parking spots are needed, but we are going to build spots for 400 vehicles. If the good folks of Naperville are given a choice between 200 or 400, they will be twice as happy with 400. Problem solved.

Or how about this one. Just say the development calls for a 50-story building, but we are going to approve a 6-story building. Make the people happy. So simple. So much time and money can be saved without endless talking and studies and surveys.

There is no end to what city officials (who are they anyway) can say and do. “We need to raise the sales tax by 2%, but we are only going to raise it 1%”. That would make the fine folks of Naperville dance in the streets wouldn’t it.

Between Naperville’s Occam and adjusting the norm, we’d have no problems, only solutions.

Considering this is Thanksgiving weekend, watch and listen to Jim Gaffigan using the ‘adjust the norm’ solution to weight control on ‘CBS News Sunday Morning’.

Why focus on the 70% when it’s so much easier to focus on the 30%. It’s so much quicker to simply adjust of the norm.

Nov 182018

OK kids, let’s take hot cocoa drinks and homemade cookies, to downtown Naperville and sing Christmas carols around the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Christmas tree. No more live Christmas tree in the heart of Naperville. It gives you a fuzzy, warm feeling doesn’t it. Maybe more fuzzy and itchy than warm.

Who’s brilliant idea was it to celebrate the season with an artificial PVC tree in lieu of Napeville’s long enjoyed tradition of a live evergreen tree, and why? Both answers are easy; 1) the Naperville Park District, and 2) to save money.

In a perfect world, the ‘life expectancy’ of an artificial tree is about eight years. The park district was able to purchase a slick 14-foot, polyvinyl tree for $3,400 using a cool 30% off coupon. Next year the district wants to purchase a 4-foot extension for about $3,200 bringing the total to $6,600 for an 18-foot tree. That equates to about $800 per year for the eight years compared to $2,000 per year for a traditional natural Christmas tree. That’s a savings of about $1,200 per year. That’s a nice savings until you realize that from that $1,200 you have to subtract the cost of erecting the fake tree and utilizing park district police. How many times have you purchased something like a swing set, with the words ‘assembly required, 5,000 easy pieces, no problem”.

Let’s be generous here and say $1,000 per year can be saved. Sounds like a good chunk of money, again until you realize the Naperville Park District’s budget is $39.6 million dollars per year. May not look like much until you write that number out…$39,600,000. That’s a lot of zeros. Getting a polyvinyl tree saves about .002% of the budget. That’s comparable to purchasing a $50,000 car and saving $100 if you get the cheap plastic floor mats that are so thin they have only one side.

There must be a better way for the Naperville Park District to save $1,000 per year rather than hoisting a polyvinyl Christmas tree upon the good folks of Naperville to gather around.

Consider this. Naperville Park District, Executive Director, Ray McGury, is the highest paid park director in the area with a base salary about $208,000 per year. If he made $207,000 per year, the good folks of Naperville could have a real Christmas tree. Would he miss the $1000 per year. It’s rather doubtful considering he gets $10,000 per year in deferred compensation, along with $7,200 in auto allowance for 2018. That’s $600 per month auto allowance. You can get a whole lot of auto for $600 per month.

McGury is hesitant to discuss his compensation. “I work for the taxpayers and their board of commissioners, so it’s not for me to comment on my performance” Apparently McGury is very modest about his accomplishments and very appreciative of the taxpayers. I wonder if McGury is appreciative enough to chip in $1,000 per year out of his own pocket, toward the purchase a real, live, 18-foot evergreen Christmas for the good folks of Naperville. Instead of calling it a ‘Christmas tree’, he could refer to it as the ‘McGury Tree’ and get a tax deduction.

Hot cocoa, home-made cookies, and a real evergreen tree in the middle of town. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Nov 112018

Naperville city officials are always saying something. Here are some recent comments from city officials:

  • “Naperville city officials have ID’d clogged drains as a major cause of roadway flooding.”
  • “City officials are aware that there is a second-hand market for commuter parking permits.”
  • “City officials would not comment on cases pending litigation.”
  • “City officials are looking for ways to cut expense.”
  • “City officials are more than confident that electric rates will go down.”
  • “Naperville homeowners are likely to see the city portion of next year’s tax bill increase for the first time in at least three years, city officials said.”

Who are these city officials, and exactly what is a Naperville city official?

I called the municipal center trying to get an answer, and no one seems to know. I started with the HR (Human Resource) department and nobody could define or explain what a city official is. I then spoke with the city clerk’s office, and again nobody had the foggiest idea. I figured the legal department would have to know, but again no success in getting an answer. In fact, the person I spoke to communicated with me as though I was looking for the legal department’s Holly Grail.

According to Google, by definition, a city official is someone who holds a position of authority. OK, so what does authority imply? Someone who gives orders or makes decisions.

About a month ago, I had to go to the Municipal Center to pick up some information and as I walked into the building, I heard a city worker (repairman) say, “Hey Jim, hand me that Phillips screwdriver.” That qualifies as giving an order, so would he be a city official? While I was in the building, two city staff employees were apparently leaving the building for lunch, and one said to the other, “Let’s go to Panera”. That qualifies as making a decision, so is that a city official?

I also spoke on the phone with the city manager’s office in seek of an answer to my question. She said an elected position is a city official. That sounded reasonable, until I asked her about the city manager, “He’s not elected, so does that mean he is not a city official?” I think she was done playing mental gymnastics with me, so the call respectfully ended.

I tried the city clerk’s office one more time, and asked if city officials are responsible for buying things and she said ‘yes’ until I asked about the person in charge of buying paper clips and rubber bands. Is that person a city official? She said not really.

I made one final effort to get an answer, and called HR again. I said, “If I wanted to send Christmas cards to city officials, to whom would I address them ?” The question was met with a long pause, and she said, “how about I find out and call you back?”. To which I responded, “No that’s O.K., but thank you, I doubt they would read them.”

Nov 042018

In two days the mid-term elections finally arrive. So much talk, so many mailings, so many candidates. With so many offices up for grabs, how is a person to know who to vote for. Frankly for me, most of the time I have no idea. I have a general idea, but I really don’t know for sure.

Some elections are easier than others for me including President, governor, senators, and city council, but for some of the obscure races it can be like throwing a dart on the wall. I look back on some of the candidates I voted for when I was young, and wonder, what was I thinking.

I remember being captivated in 1952 watching the presidential political conventions. I was only 8 years old but I couldn’t stop watching it on TV. So many people walking around, so many side conversations, people not listening while someone was talking, everybody was from the “great state of wherever” casting their votes for somebody, adding the votes, and then deliberations in a backroom somewhere, and then they’d do another vote. Lots of cigars and cigarette smoke with signs all over the place.

Ultimately it came down to Dwight Eisenhower vs Adlai Stevenson. I would have voted for Stevenson which would have been my first mistake ever in voting, with many more to follow. I once heard if you are in your 20’s and you don’t vote liberal, there is something wrong with you. And if you are in your 40’s and don’t vote conservative, there is something wrong with you. I didn’t really get it until I was in my 40’s.

I also heard “how can you complain, if you don’t vote”. My problem is still not knowing for sure who to vote for in those ‘less than sexy’ races. My dilemma is if I don’t vote for those more obscure contests, then how can I complain, and considering I like to complain, I am compelled to vote.

So over the years I have come up with some voting guidelines that work for me when I’m not sure who to vote for:

  • Vote for the new candidate, not for the incumbent. There is always that element of hope with a new person.
  • Choose a female over a male. Sounds sexist, that’s because it is. Men seem to screw things up more than women.
  • Vote for a name that I can pronounce. Can’t go wrong voting for anyone named ‘Donald’ as in Duck, as long as he is not running against a woman, unless the woman is an incumbent. Yes, it does get tricky at times, but it’s not that difficult.
  • Vote for the candidate that is ‘easy on the eyes’. Even if what they are saying makes no sense, it’s more enjoyable watching them say it.
  • Choose a non-attorney over an attorney. There is a reason the United States has 10% of the world’s population and 90% of the world’s attorneys, and it’s not because they are effective leaders.
  • Never vote to retain judges. When bad guys keep getting back on the streets, there is something wrong with the judicial system, and that something is likely the judges.

Finally, if you have to vote for a goofy-looking, male attorney, incumbent, with a bad haircut, make sure his name is ‘Bob’ because you can never go wrong voting for a guy named Bob.

Oct 282018

In theory, something new usually sounds exciting, especially programs started by Naperville city officials. One of the newest programs is called “Adopt-A-Drain”. Participants volunteering will be known as Drain Defenders, that’s pretty catchy. The first 100 people signing up for the program will be provided with a free pair of gloves, a nifty rake and a cool reflective vest. The vest comes in handy in case you get hit by a car and land along the roadside. It’s much easier to be located that way. The idea is for residents to select a drain and keep it clear of debris in order to prevent clogged storm drains and thereby minimize street flooding. It’s actually a good idea, even if it only clears one drain, (preferably the one near my home).

There are approximately 56,000 storm drains in the city, and 14,000 (25%) have been identified as culprits for causing problems. The city budgets $1.1 million yearly for inspecting, repairing, and maintaining drains, or about $20 per drain. If the program works, the program could be expanded to all 56,000 drains with 56,000 volunteers. No doubt volunteer training day at the Municipal Center would definitely be quite a site to behold.

The City of Naperville has another program though not volunteered fueled. It’s the annual leaf pick-up program which is underway now. Here is how the six-week program works. Beginning on October 15 and ending about Thanksgiving, every two weeks for three cycles, leaves which have been raked into the street at curbside will be picked up or pushed around the street. Which means the neatly raked mounds of leaves will either be “vacuumed up” by a truck or evenly redistributed back onto the street throughout your neighborhood. So a two-foot high mound of leaves will result in 1/4 inch of leaves covering the street.

The leaf pick-up truck came by our neighborhood today. It’s easy to know it’s coming because it sounds like a WW-II German Panzer tank rolling through. If I didn’t know it was in the area, my two poodles would remind me when they run for cover. The truck picked up about half the leaves and the other half were re-distributed in front of my neighbors homes. Immediately afterwards, the garbage and recycling trucks came rolling through, smashing most of the remaining leaves into the pavement. It all seems to be well coordinated, with the end result being a newly brown colored street.

The real problem occurs if it rains before pickup, and leaves find their way to the drain. It’s even worse during the third cycle if it snows and covers the leaves including all the leaf debris covering the streets from the previous two cycles. There have been times when the third pickup did not occur due to weather conditions. Whatever debris remaining on the street finds its way to clog the drain.

So it comes down to this, it’s the Drain Defenders with rakes vs. the leaf re-distribution guys in German Panzer Tanks. If nothing else, city officials are providing great entertainment for guys like me.

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?