Nov 302017

It might be time for Naperville’s Director of Public Works (Dick Dublinski) to take a long vacation or find another line of work. During the November 21 city council meeting he was questioned by Naperville Mayor Steve Chirico regarding the city’s autumn leaf-pick-up program. Dublinski had just completed a short presentation about the program indicating that he had a long list of tasks yet to complete in addition to leaf pick-up.

Watch and listen as Mayor Chirico makes a few comments about his observations of the current process and asks Dublinski if a report could be made about any other options:

Watch and listen as Dublinski responds to the mayor:

So Dublinski has been to many conferences and no machine exists than can get the job done. Is it possible that Dublinski has been to the wrong conferences? Is it possible that Dublinski is overwhelmed with his workload? It appeared that way when he listed his yet-to-complete tasks. Is it possible that Dublinski is simply burned out? Most of us have had that at one time or another; it’s understandable. But to say there is no other option, implies resignation to defeat.

What does the City of Chattanooga (population 177,000) know about leaf pick-up that Naperville doesn’t know? The answer is a different option for picking up leaves.

It appears Chattanooga’s process has many advantages:

  • Fewer people involved in the process
  • Leaves are picked-up and not simply redistributed on the street
  • Leaves don’t need to be raked into the street for pick-up, hence no drain blockage. Leaves can be raked in the area between the sidewalk and curb for pick up.
  • No need for a street sweeper

The Director of Naperville’s Public Works might be good at what he does, but if better is possible, then good is not enough. Mayors and council members come and go through elections and term limits, but department heads linger like gum on your shoe on a hot August day.

Naperville has had problems not only with the Department of Public Works but also the Departments of Public Utility –  Electric (Mark Currran) and the Department of Public Utilities – Water (Jim Holzapfel). Just as teams and corporations need to occasionally change coaches or managers for improvement, so should municipalities. If that doesn’t work, then it’s time to change the team’s general manager. In Naperville, that would be City Manager Doug Krieger.

Naperville’s non-elected leadership team needs to replace complacency with a good dose of creativity and energy. Chattanooga is serious about collecting leaves.

Nov 262017

The Naperville city council doesn’t take too kindly to the public forum portion of city council meetings. Why should they? Typically city council members have already made up their minds on most issues presented during public forum. It’s as if they see that portion of the meeting as an inconvenient intrusion to their agenda.

City council members may hear the presenters, but do they really listen, do they really care? It seems doubtful. When city council members are busy with their devices, talking to each other, or shuffling papers, they surely are not giving their full attention to the speakers. Often times, the only response a speaker gets from the council is a dismissive ‘thank you’ at the end of their comments.

During the November 21 city council meeting, Naperville resident Jim Haselhorst addressed the city council regarding the SECA (Special Events Cultural Activities) fund. Watch and listen as Haselhorst makes some spot-on accurate comments:

Haselhorst is absolutely correct. The last thing council members want to hear is criticism directed toward them. You can usually tell when a speaker’s comments make council members uncomfortable, because the speaker is dismissed with nothing more than a polite ‘thank you’.

Council members would probably respond to that by saying either 1) the speaker presented a comment, not a question, or 2) public forum is not a dialogue. That sounds plausible, but the facts are that council members have responded to presenters they like, or responded to comments with which they agree.

The good news is that presenter’s comments are on the record for all to hear, and those watching and listening realize the presenter has been shooed away like a fly at a picnic.

Sadly this Naperville city council, unlike other recent councils, has a group-speak mindset, walking in lockstep. Oh, there are occasional differences of opinion, and votes that are not unanimous, but when it comes to speaking up in support of speakers, most council members will not break-away from the group mindset. It takes courage to do that; something that some council members lack.

Nov 232017

The third and final two-week leaf pick-up cycle ends tomorrow November 24. The good news is that the city made it through the cycle without snow fall. Now the race is on to see if the street-sweeper can officially complete the process before snowballs start flying.

As with any job, there are three parts; preparation, the actual job, and finally the clean-up (street sweepers). The third leaf pick-up cycle occurred during and after rainfall causing the streets in Watchdog’s neighborhood to have a green/brown leaf-soup type of consistency evenly spread from curb to curb over the street.

During the ‘New Business’ portion of the last city council meeting, Mayor Steve Chirico made the following comment regarding his observation of the process:

It is reassuring to know that at least the mayor is aware that the current process leaves much to be desired, but until a better method can be developed, and it will, what we have now is about the best we can hope for, using the current method of leaf retrieval.

Nov 182017

Is it just me, or did anybody else notice the common theme between two articles on the front page of Naperville’s tenth council member (The Naperville Sun) last Friday? One article was titled ‘No Worse Fate Than Failure’, how the pressure to keep up is overwhelming students, and the other article was titled, ‘Report: City tops holiday spenders’, Naperville residents projected to dish out $2,381, highest in U.S.’

Friday’s ‘student pressure’ article was the first of a three-part series and I encourage you to read the articles. Kids are feeling pressured to excel in all aspects of their lives including grades, athletics, popularity, etc. Kids exert pressure on themselves partly  because they want to ‘make their parents proud’; they don’t want to disappoint them. Kids want to fit in with their peers, keeping up the image.

Parents, adults, residents, call them what you will,  are doing the same thing, not only trying to keep up with the Jones’s but trying to excel in materialism, popularity, and image.

WalletHub, a personal finance website analyzed over 500 U.S. cities and determined that Naperville residents will spend almost $2,400 this holiday season ranking Naperville #1 in the country. The City of Naperville relishes in being ranked #1 in just about anything. I’m not so sure that city officials should be tooting their horn on this one. Being ranked #1 in Family Friendly, or the Best Place to raise a family, or the best library system or school system are categories that Naperville previously ranked  #1, but no longer. Now we are #1 in holiday spending.

Just as kids are feeling the pressure to keep up the image, is that what we as adults are doing? Are we simply doing it to not disappoint others, especially our kids? Are we doing it to impress others with how good or successful we are? Maybe our kids are watching and learning from us; keeping up the image.

The Federal Reserve’s numbers suggest that many Americans are living beyond their means. The cost of living has increased 30% over the last 13 years, while household incomes have grown by 28%. We are trying to do more and more, and get more and more causing self-inflicted stress and pressure. It’s almost as if we are trying to race our own shadow.

Naperville city officials are doing the same thing. The more they get , the more they want. The more they want, the more they think they need. To what end? The difference is that their inability to separate ‘wants’ from ‘needs’ doesn’t cause stress or pressure for them, it causes it for the good folks of Naperville.

Maybe if the City of Naperville lightened up on us, and we lightened up on ourselves, then maybe the kids could cope better and feel less pressure and stress on themselves.

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.