Oct 292015

Naperville city officials have been playing with liquor ordinances and policy for years, tweaking it here and there, making it more and more confusing, while making liquor more and more available, at a quickening pace.

Watch and listen to Naperville councilman Kevin Coyne, as he summarizes the current code, ordinance, and liquor policy in Naperville:

Simplification of the liquor code has not been part of the equation, though mayor Steve Chirico, also the liquor commissioner, has that on his ‘to do’ list.

City officials most recent venture in the world of liquor is to now make the sales and service of alcohol available on Sunday at 7am when ordering a meal. “I’ll take a whiskey sour and a a shot of vodka, with a ham sandwich, and can you make the sandwich real, real small.”

Watch and listen to Naperville resident, Charles Brown, as he presents his common sense take on the issue:

Considering Naperville city officials seem to be focusing on transitioning Naperville from a kid and family friendly city to a destination for entertainment, why not simply stop the game-playing encroachment of liquor availability and make it available everywhere all the time.

Like hot lava flowing downhill from a volcano, which ultimately takes it course of consumption, face the fact, deal with it, and be done with it. Naperville has the real possibility of moving from Mayberry to Pottersville. And if not Pottersville, who knows, maybe we could become the new Las Vegas of the midwest.

As unlikely as that may seem, every ultimate destination begins with a first step. This is just one more step in that direction.

Oct 252015

Last weekend was my weekend to gather leaves around my home and rake them into the street at curbside. I take this chore as a personal challenge. As my dad would say, ‘if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right’.

I have a time-tested and proven plan which includes a weather report, working with the wind, starting in the back yard and using a tarp to drag the leaves to the front, and depositing them very carefully not less than 15 feet from the driveway. I also allow room for the garbage guy to get my cans without pushing through the leaves, and I give the postal worker room to get to the mailbox.  Here is the tricky part; trying to figure out from which direction the truck will be coming to vacuum the leaves. I never seem to get this one right, because inevitably the truck pushes the leaves towards the entrance to my driveway.

Then I meticulously rake the front yard leaves to curbside, allowing 12 inches from the curb to the 24 inch high pile of leaves stretching from lot line to lot line (again accommodating for garbage pick-up and mail delivery). The 12 inch path allows water to pass through. When I’m all done with leaf placement, I use my hose to spray a layer of water on the leaves, which stabilizes the leaves against the wind.

When done, I stand back to admire my accomplishment, and wait for the leaf guys to come rolling through. There must be a million leaves waiting to disappear. This year, within a few days, the leaf guys came through and again I guessed the wrong direction. By the time they were done, there was a trail of one million leaves stretching down the street blowing in the wind. Wow, what a seemingly waste of time, and taxpayer dollars.

The City of Naperville spends a lot of money trying to collect leaves throughout the city during a six week period in Autumn. This year the process began October 19 and ends November 30 and possibly sooner depending upon weather conditions.

Leaves are piled in the street at curbside and every two weeks trucks (leaf loaders), and vacuum units, come by and magically make the leaves disappear, according to city officials; what disappears are the budget dollars, while the leaves simply get rearranged in the neighborhood.

In a perfect world, the process works perfect, however leaf collecting is anything but perfect. Typically the first of the three drive-byes to pick-up leaves is too early and a small percentage of residents have their leaves ready. Most of the leaves are still on the trees. The second drive-by is a race between the residents raking leaves into the street, and the leave trucks circling the neighborhoods. And the third drive-by often-times doesn’t get completed due to inclement weather.

So are the residents really getting the best bang for their leaf-collecting buck? A million leaves stretching down the street would say no.  With a City budget deficit of $1.8 million, maybe our leaf collecting expense could be put to better use, by 1) chipping into the deficit, and 2) allowing residents the right to utilize municipal center meeting rooms without a fee to use the ‘peoples house’, a term appropriately coined by councilman John Krummen.

Those wanting to use a municipal center meeting room could simply bring a bag of leaves, in lieu of paying a fee. It’s a win-win-win. The good folks of Naperville could use what they ‘built’, city officials could save a bundle of money and use it towards the deficit, and we could get leaves off the street.

Oct 182015

It’s budget time in Naperville, which means it’s crunch time for the Naperville city council which means it’s time for residents to get crunched by city officials.

Naperville city manager, Doug Krieger, said Naperville has dug a financial hole, and the way to fill the hole is with cash, and the way to get cash is from Naperville residents and businesses. It always seems to be the same formula for government officials; squeeze it from the very people who did not dig the hole.

Watch and listen to Naperville mayor Steve Chirico, as he clearly states the challenge:

The City of Naperville currently finds itself with a $1.8 million budget deficit. This comes after city officials approved a first-time ever city sales tax, and raised the cost of trash pick-up by 617%. So what is the Naperville city council to do about this? Watch and listen as councilman Paul Hinterlong raises that question during the last council meeting:

One suggestion is to squeeze it out of groups wanting to use meeting rooms at the city municipal center. This would make it more difficult for individuals and groups wanting to help other individuals and groups, by charging them a fee to use the ‘peoples house’. At best that would bring in up to $38,000, and most likely far less, towards the $1.8 million deficit, which would be like trying to fill a crater on the moon with a couple of bags of sand.

The Naperville city council did make a huge effort to reduce expense by eliminating drinking water at the dais during meetings. At Costco’s current price for bottled water, that should save the city about $26.40 over the year. This definitely shows that council members are willing to sacrifice for the cause.

What the city council needs is some creative thinking for revenue and expense. Watch and listen to councilwoman Rebecca Obarski as she expresses this thought:

Considering that eliminating council-member drinking water during meetings is the best the council can do creatively thus far, and considering council members want to charge a fee for meeting rooms at the municipal center,  and considering council members should lead by example, here is a short list of possible revenue sources:

  • charge each council member $10 per seat at the dais for each council meeting.
  • sell advertising space in front of each council member’s seat at the dais.
  • sell advertising for a personal-injury attorney to be placed on each city owned ambulance.
  • rent out office space for council members at the municipal center for $500 per month each.
  • sell “Cops” TV show advertising space on each police vehicle, and replace sirens with theme song “Whatcha gonna do when they come for you, bad boy”.
  • sell Tabasco advertising space on each fire department vehicle.
  • issue each council member with a ‘NASCAR-like’ fire proof suit covered with local business advertising logos, for use during council meetings and special events.

The list of possibilities is endless.

Oct 152015

Brain teaser. Can you use the following words in a seven-word sentence: deduct, defense, defeat, and detail? Time is up. The answer is, ‘Deduct jumped over defense defeat before detail’. Now try this one, ‘Are Naperville residents being overcharged for garbage pick-up?’. OK, so that’s a trick question.

But it’s also a question that some Naperville residents are asking. It all started with one resident, that’s usually how things get started.

A Naperville resident went to work one day recently, and came home to find his electric was turned off. Thinking that Naperville’s reliable service had been interrupted in his neighborhood, he asked his neighbor and found it was working. He called the city, and was informed that the city had turned off his electric service because a deposit had not been paid.

He moved from one part of Naperville to another about 6 months ago, and thought the deposit at the previous address would be applied to his current address.Wrong. The City said a disconnect notice was sent, which the resident did not receive until the day after his electric was disconnected.

To solve the immediate problem, the resident paid the deposit in full, but then, to add insult to injury, the City hit him for a $40 reconnect fee though the disconnect notice arrived the day after service was stopped. I guess if enough residents get hit with a $40 fine, the $1.8 million budget deficit becomes more manageable.

When all the dust settled and the electric was reconnected and fees and fines flowed from the resident to the City, the resident began to research his paper trail of payments that evening. It was much easier to do with the electric back on; candles and flashlights make it so cumbersome when fumbling through bills.

Here is where it gets really interesting. When he reviewed his monthly utility bill, he noticed he is getting hit with a refuse charge. Not refuge, or refuel, but refuse as in trash or garbage. The issue is that the contracted company that Naperville uses is not the company hauling refuse in his area.

It’s possible this is an aberration, or a simple clerical mistake, something that can be simply resolved. However it’s also possible it’s widespread over a long period of time. It’s like dripping water, a little can be inexpensively wiped up quickly, but over a long period of time, it becomes a costly, major clean-up mess.

Time will tell, along with some good research. Until then, it remains a brain teaser.

Oct 112015

With the recent approval of Naperville’s first-ever municipal sales tax, the city still still finds itself with a $1.8 million budget deficit. Part of the ‘deal’ with residents was that the Naperville city council was going to explore and identify cost saving measures.

The city is reviewing it’s expenses, but not as quickly as it’s trying to figure out how to extract more money out of residents. This was apparent during the last Naperville city council meeting when council members all but approved charging residents, and not-for-profit Naperville groups a fee for using meetings rooms in the Naperville Municipal Center (city hall). This is expected, in a perfect world’ to net city officials $38,000 (about 2%) towards the budget deficit. But the words ‘perfect world’ and ‘government’ in the same sentence is an oxymoron.

What this city council decision will do however, is make it more difficult for people trying to help other people; each of which have limited or no resources. It would be similar a council member taking an umbrella away from someone standing in the rain. Not so City friendly is it.

The vote to ‘take away the umbrella’ was seven for, and two against. Council members John Krummen and Patty Gustin voted not to burden residents with additional fees for the use of municipal center meeting rooms.

Watch and listen as Krummen nails it perfectly when he states, “This is the peoples’ house, and it is wrong to charge the people to use their house”.

Thomas Jefferson couldn’t have said it any better.

Councilman Krummen later emphasized his point when he said the following:

This was followed by councilman Paul Hinterlong when he chimed in with:

Councilwoman Patty Gustin responded in part with the council’s sacrifice of having no water during the meeting as a cost saving measure:

Wow, now that’s a creative cost-cutting sacrifice, giving up water for two hours.

Councilwoman Rebecca Boyd-Obarski admitted that another council member ‘set her straight’ with the following:

How disappointing it is, that another council member can so easily convince Obarski to give up on the idea of making a positive difference by doing the right thing, only because it is too difficult to accomplish.

Obarski then stated the obvious with the following:

As if giving up water at the dais was not enough.

The discussion on agenda item concluded with councilman Kevin Gallaher providing voters with a classic example of his double standard with the following comment:

So it’s OK to charge ‘the people to use their house’, but he is offended that the Park District scooted him off the lined playing field. Based on Gallaher’s ‘yes’ vote for ‘people paying to use their house’, Gallaher should have tossed in $40 to use the ‘peoples playing field’.

If $40 is free…perhaps councilman Gallaher would be willing to give two 10’s for a five.


Oct 082015

In spite of what you may have heard, based on a council member’s comment, Naperville is not a sanctuary city, a term for some cities that have policies or laws designed specifically for not prosecuting unauthorized immigrants.

I’m pretty sure that if the price of ‘refuge’ went up, council members would get many phone calls.

Council member Patty Gustin’s comment was in reference to the September 15th city council meeting during the discussion on the increase of ‘refuse’ (trash) fees appearing on utility bills. It does make one wonder, if Gustin knows exactly what she is voting on.

We all have ‘mis-speaks’, however some of us have more than others, and councilwoman Gustin qualifies as one of those folks. The disadvantage of talking a lot, is there is more opportunity for an interesting array of mis-speaks, and Patty Gustin, is without a doubt a talker.

Gustin, along with councilman Paul Hinterlong make meetings much more interesting by just waiting for gems of genius to be spoken by either. Hinterlong has had some of the more brilliant examples of “what were you thinking” , when he and “police chief” Bob Marshall were hatching a “gotcha” scheme during a (recorded) council meeting, to entrap Uber for breaking a law or ordinance that didn’t exist.

I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to talk and remove all doubt”.

Not that I am suggesting Gustin or Hinterlong remain silent, because that would remove a lot of possible entertainment, but a little more thought before speaking for both might be a wise strategy.

There are two clear-cut additional reasons why less talking by both Gustin and Hinterlong would be beneficial:

  • meetings would end much sooner; home in time for the Cubs game
  • lights out sooner, cutting electric expense to help budget

Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and Joe Maddon would be proud.

Oct 042015

Seldom do Watchdog postings not get some type of response from readers, either in the form of comments on the postings or emails about the postings.
With 370 postings, including this one, over a five year period, there has not been one comment from readers that was not approved for publishing, showing that readers are commenting in good taste.

For the most part Watchdog has made it a point to let the postings and comments speak for themselves, which then promotes reader interaction. Occasionally Watchdog will respond to a posting comment, and emails are answered when the sender makes a request.

Obviously the hotter the subject matter, the more often comments are submitted. Some of those topics include city council elections, including endorsements of candidates, smart meters, pending or approved ordinances, city budget, and expenses.

Not surprisingly, when Watchdog endorsed Steve Chirico for mayor, there was a strong response, not always flattering, but always in good taste. Comments included, “please get out of bed with Chirico”, “this is all happening under the leadership that the Watchdog glowingly endorsed” and my personal favorite, “Naperville Watchdog Turned Lap Dog”.

Council members, city officials, and candidates have taken exception to some postings, but again, all in good taste, and occasionally humorous.

Even postings of lesser importance including a reader who took issue with Watchdog’s most recent posting, “Naperville’s Newest Downtown Eyesore”. The reader stated that the city staff member mentioned was not the city’s project manager (which she was), and that an entire paragraph was “completely misleading” (which it wasn’t). Most importantly the reader took the time to read the posting, ponder it, and then follow up with his comments.

Watchdog readers are proof, that we can all agree to disagree without being disagreeable. The bottom line is that we are all in this together, all doing the best we can, to make things as good as possible.

Oct 012015

Have you ever realized that something in your home has been there for so long, that you don’t even know it’s there. And then one day you ask your wife how long has ‘that’ been there, and she says, “It’s been there for years”. My wife is far more observant than I am, so I tend to have this happen.

It happened to me bright and early last Saturday. I realized the day before that I had one of those little punch cards from Einstein’s Bagels qualifying me for a dozen free bagels. It’s not easy qualifying. I had to have my card ‘punched’ twelve times, which means buying a dozen bagels twelve times and then getting a dozen free. It took me years to make that happen, but it happened.

I drove downtown very early Saturday hoping to find a parking spot on Chicago Avenue, which I did. It’s not that difficult at 6:10am. I placed my order and then proudly handed the bagel guy my punched-out card as if it was the Holy Grail. He said, “wow, we don’t take these any more”. As tears began to well up in my eyes, he said, ‘but I’ll take this one’.

As I left with my freshly baked and sliced bagels, I felt like this just might be the luckiest day of my life. I mean, I found the card, a parking spot, and a bagel guy with some compassion.

It may have been the tears giving me a more clear view, but as I stepped outside, I looked across the street and noticed the building on the southeast corner of Chicago Avenue and Main Street was still unfinished, as it has been for years. The city council had glowingly given approval in 2012 for Empire by Ballydoyle  to open an eatery at that prime real-estate location. It’s 2015 and nothing appears to be happening. In fact, the restaurant space has been vacant since July 2010 when a fire gutted the former home of Rosebud restaurant. That location has also seen its share of flooding.

In essence, it has become the newest eyesore in downtown Naperville replacing the strip-center on the east side of Washington Street just north of Burger King, which was vacant for years before ceremonial destruction of the building facsimile during a city council meeting, when North Central College bought the property.

I called the City to find out what’s happening with the Chicago at Main street property, leaving four messages with various staff members and department heads, and I heard nothing but crickets. One staff member did say, “Oh, I didn’t know anything was at that location”, and another staff member tried to convince me the delay was due to weather. I suppose global warming or cooling is always a good excuse.

Then late Tuesday,  I received a call from Paul Felstrup, Project Manager. He proceeded to explain that things are happening on the south side of the building, at a slow but necessary pace. The development of the project has outlasted the original development manager (Anastasia Urban) in the city’s transportation, engineering and development department. Since the project was approved in 2012, Naperville has a new mayor, six of the eight council members are new, and the Cubs have gone from one of the worst teams in baseball to one of the best teams.

Whether the delay is on the part of the developer, or the City, one thing is for sure; at this point in the project, nobody has to be concerned about fires and floods at that location. And just like an eyesore, if you look at it long enough, it begins to blend in and look normal.